Urban Calligraphy / Simon Silaidis

Interview @ UrbanTales.nl

I try to get the exposure of a single person finding the spot that I decorated. That way I am sure the wall will “communicate” with them.

Simon Silaidis, takes calligraphic forms in to the urban landscape, having been influenced by his travels as a Graphic Designer. His work has catalysed an Urban Calligraphy movement and has been notably recognised by Philippe Starck, who commissioned him to create artworks for his architectural project, Le Nuage. We caught up with Simon to talk about his influences, creative techniques and the future of the Urban Calligraphy movement.

Hi Simon, we’re really excited to hear and share your Urban Tale…

Where are you from and where do you currently live?
I am from Athens, Greece. I feel lucky and proud that I live in the country where calligraphy and all basic forms of art were born. With my work, I have had the chance to travel all around the globe and meet people and civilizations I would never imagine.

For those that have not heard of urban calligraphy before, how would you describe your work?
Calligraphy is both image and text, considered by some the highest form of art. The way of taking one character and how it can be brushed seems limitless. Urban calligraphy, as the term suggests is calligraphy under rural, urban and suburban surroundings. It is unique calligraphy that escapes from the ink within the paper and the boring surroundings of a calligraphy lab and exposes itself in abandoned buildings, the streets and on all sorts of surfaces, trying to expose the atmosphere of the location through calligraphy.

Was there a defining moment, experience or person that influenced you to do what you do, or is there some other motivation that drives your creativity?
My influences started from my childhood as a graffiti artist, then later I moved to graphic design. Now with 17 years of experience, I own my own design company and have traveled and still travel a lot as designer. Of course I try to absorb things from the places I visit and try to combine them in my calligraphy; that’s why you will notice my style is characterised by a mix of Western-Arabic and Asian influences. I also lived for 3 years in Japan where I saw and absorbed many things relating to calligraphy. At that time I wasn’t actually doing calligraphy – I was only absorbing inspiration and techniques… It is good to “release” things at the right time.

What is the special significance of calligraphy and how does your art-form differ from graffiti?

Calligraphy needs lots of discipline. Once you get in to the art you have to change all the ways that you see it. You have to be very responsible with your decisions performing it. 
My art differs from graffiti in the first place as I don’t use the mediums or tools that graffiti artists use, I only work with brushes and acrylic paints. I don’t use the styles or techniques that a graffiti artist is using and the focus is not to place my name in public spaces.

Can you describe your process when creating a new work?

There are many factors I consider before creating a mural. Observation plays one of the biggest roles, but I really spend a lot of time getting the idea out of my head and on to the wall… What I mean is, that I try to find special spots where I intend to express the atmosphere of the surroundings through the art. I use a variety of brushes; my favourite colour is black because it remains a neutral expression to the viewer while maintaining a strict character. I try to keep all my works as sharp as possible and this means that it can take quite some time before reaching the result I want. I also prefer to work on the natural environment of a wall because I firmly believe that time is the best background for every piece, that way it blends 100% and creates a better physical appearance. When I return back after some time, I can see parts of the wall destroyed… This is art with the help of nature. A year ago I visited a place and I saw some people shooting some photos and collecting broken pieces from the ground around the artwork. I smiled and didn’t say anything to them.

Another consideration is to use only as much ink as needed to accomplish a wall. I manage to create all my big murals with only 500ml of paint. This gives me more control to know that all the paint I use is 100% important. I dry my brushes over and over in order to achieve as much sharpness as possible, since I work on un-buffed surfaces and want to keep the atmosphere of the wall as I found it.

For studio works I use mostly Iranian inks with bamboo pens. I filter the ink in a small jar with silk in order to clean the ink and have the best flow… Now you know all my secrets!

Actually there’s one more… I don’t sign my walls. My style is my sign.

Much of your work is set against what look like derelict or abandoned spaces. What is it about these locations that draw you to them?
As I mentioned, the most important thing for me is how my work blends with the environment. I really don’t give much attention to painting in more central spots; this is something too common with many other artists – everyone trying to get as much exposure as possible. I try to get the exposure of a single person finding the spot that I decorated. That way I am sure the wall will communicate with them. I get many emails from people or groups like abandography photographers that explore these kind of spots writing back to me about the way the mural spoke to them. This is my reward, the communication. Art, after all is all about expression and communication and that’s why I spend so much time to find the ideal location that can merge perfectly with the art – not the other way; finding a place where many people can see it.

How do you choose the words that to use in your works and is there a special significance?

I collect all emotions that surround me – bad or good, I keep them all. The words are a combination of my life path and the atmosphere of the spot that will accommodate the Art.

The size of your written pieces demand a lot of controlled movement, is this something you are conscious of and if so, can you tell us more about this aspect of the work?
This is one of the things I love the most. The way I have to work my brain and all my body in harmony to accomplish this. As I told you, I work on 100% of the wall texture and I don’t buff anything, I have at the same time to be very careful about any mistakes I might make. Mistakes happen quite often because to be on a ladder all the time demands lots of balance and stability. Also the arm movement is limited as you are working on a piece of ‘paper’ that goes wide in all directions. So you have to invent different movements to draw everything. Sometimes the movements are the reverse of what they would be when working on canvas or paper. All these problems I have to face every time I make a new mural help me get better and better. We have to see always the good things from the 
challenges in front of us!

You state that one of your missions, is to see an urban calligraphy movement, is the art form already gaining popularity and if so, are there any new artists that stand out?
Many people tag me on social media, either for me to see their artworks or because they are replicating my techniques. Many of them have bought the Urban Calligraphy custom brushes that I have produced to help them with their journey. The brushes have traveled all over the globe and I don’t run this under any distribution company, everything leaves direct from the studio. All of this shows me that my influence and responsibility to inspire grows more and more. There are many talented Artists out there and I am happy to see they serve the same art I love.

Your own work caught the attention of Philippe Starck, who selected you to create work for his project, ‘Le Nuage’, in Montpellier, France. What was it like to work alongside such a design icon and what did you learn or gain from this experience?
I feel so blessed that once again calligraphy returns me this honor and this is one of the reasons I love to serve this art. When a big name like Philippe Starck trusts you with one of his favourite projects, it requires a lot of responsibility; you have to bypass yourself in order to reflect back the honor. The building is unique and innovative – an enveloping, inflatable membrane in the form of a cloud, from which it takes its name. The project included calligraphic works on each of the five floors of the building and took 12 days – I worked on it more than 18 hours each day. This project not only allowed me to take my art to the next level, but also pushed me to a next level too. Nowadays there are also times I face difficult things with my art, but when I remember the days at Le Nuage I get courage.

What projects are you working on or currently planning?

Last year I released the Urban Calligraphy Brush Project, http://shop.urbancalligraphy.com; a series of custom calligraphy brushes that I developed with the purpose to help all people who want to push the limits of their calligraphy. The skill of every artist is important but another important factor are the tools. This project took a lot of time and even now I look again and again to see if something can be improved – so this is always an on going project. As well as this, I have new murals coming up and also a film that I have been preparing for almost a year. The film is coming early 2017 and will have a lot of action, with the focus to 100% inspire the viewer.

Do you have any long-term ambitions, either personally or for Urban Calligraphy more generally?
Honestly, I think a reason that things are going better and better is because I don’t look to earn something from calligraphy. I don’t focus on money or commissions and it hasn’t been a living for me for already over a decade. I am a successful designer, with my own creative studio… This allows my main focus to remain inspiring people thought the art-form.

The UT final-five

Favourite album?
Enigma – The Fall of A Rebel Angel.

Favourite book?

Yojokun, Life Lessons From A Samurai.

Most inspirational city?
Kyoto, Japan.

The artist you would most like to collaborate with?

One word with special significance to you?

All contents © Urban Calligraphy Simon Silaidis
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