There’s nothing new about female street artists in 2016. Lady Pink – “The First Lady of graffiti” – paved the way for an array of influential female street artists back in the early 1980s amid the rise of subway graffiti subculture. But in light of recent political developments, the importance of freedom of expression through liberal art forms like graffiti has been thrown into sharp relief. Now, Graffito Books Ltd is celebrating 50 of the most powerful female street artists of our time with a new book,Women Street Artists: A Complete Guide, out in March. Among these exceptional creatives is Olga Alexopoulou, a street artist with a sharp sense of the social and political importance of her craft.
After growing up in Athens, Olga moved to the UK to study at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University. Despite her formal training, she says she was always drawn to graffiti: “It’s a much more democratic art form by nature of where it springs up. That to me is very powerful,” she says.
Olga’s works have been exhibited at the Nigbo museum in China, the Ethnological Museum of Thrace, and in galleries around the world. She has completed the largest graffiti in Greece for the European Maritime Day 2015 and was invited to the award winning Street Art Österlen festival, in Sweden. This month, she will speak about the future of graffiti at the University of Michigan as part of the Global Graffiti Project, reflecting on her art form’s growing importance in the current political world climate.
Lina Psaila: What drew you do the visual arts and graffiti in particular from a young age?
Olga Alexopoulou: It’s not a conscious choice I don’t think. You just find yourself drawn into visual arts, visual culture, I have always been drawing and reading about art. Graffiti was just an extension of that in the public sphere. Instead of drawing in my sketchbook, I drew something on a wall. And then things evolved from there.
Lina: Did you ever feel you had to prove yourself as a female graffiti artist just because of your gender?
Olga: My generation has benefited from the path that was opened by previous female artists, and so now it doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man street artist. Anyone has the freedom to go out and paint.
Lina: What are your main sources of inspiration?
Olga: I have always been drawn to the sea, but anything can give off a spark of inspiration. This is why my last solo show was titled something that roughly translates as ‘Quickening’, that point when your senses are heightened, and that becomes your point of departure into what inspires you.
“Graffiti is a much more democratic art form by nature of where it springs up. That to me is very powerful.”
Lina: This new book you’re included in will be released soon March 2017 by London publishing house Graffito Books Ltd. How does it feel?
Olga: Wonderful! It’s great to be included amongst women of great talent.
Lina: You’re giving a talk at the University of Michigan as part of [Graffito Books’] Global Graffiti Project. How do you view the future of street art?
Olga: From what I understand there will be a discussion on the graffiti scene in Greece, possibly Turkey. Street art can be political in many different ways, intentional or not. As for the future of graffiti, I do think that it will be fascinating as more and more people are becoming so passionate about it. The artists who are in it to make art are becoming stronger and more confident and those that are in it to make political statements are also working in a very energised climate. Graffiti saw a revival along with social movements like the Occupy movement, the Arab spring, the Gezi protests, among others. After the failure of these movements and the rise of the right wing across many countries, along with other extremely negative turns like Trump getting in power, graffiti has an even more critical role to play in the public sphere.
“With the rise of the right wing across many countries, and extremely negative turns like Trump getting in power, graffiti has an even more critical role to play in the public sphere.”
Lina: What has been your biggest challenge and proudest moment as an artist thus far?
Olga: One of the biggest challenges in being an artist is keeping the faith to go on when things are difficult. One of my proudest moments was finishing the mural in Piraeus, all 350 square metres of it, which is probably still the biggest graffiti on one wall in Greece. It was great fun doing the mural because the five-floor scaffolding had a great view of the sea.
Lina: What have you got planned for 2017?
Olga: I just finished a very demanding museum solo show in Athens, so with the exception of some group shows like the show ‘Dark’ that is coming up in an Athenian beer factory, 2017 will include lots of studio work until my next solo show in Istanbul in the spring.
Lina: If you could pick your ultimate favourite three visual artists who would they be and why?
Olga: The seascapes of Thierry De Cordier because he can turn waves into monuments. The black and white landscapes of Panagiotis Tetsis because they construct volumes and space so effortlessly. And the polaroids of film director Andrei Tarkovsky for the mystery they bring out of the landscape.
Lina: What type of music (if any) you listen to when you paint, draw, spray?
Olga: I find it difficult to concentrate with music on… which I know most people think is weird, but I would rather work with no music.
Lina: Why is graffiti important to you in comparison to other art forms?
Olga: Graffiti is like painting with no mediator. What I mean by this is that if you exhibit the same image as a painting in a gallery and on a wall in the street, people will react to it completely differently because the image in the gallery is mediated by the art world and all the intimidation that that brings to the average viewer. Graffiti is a much more democratic art form by nature of where it springs up. That to me is very powerful.
‘Women Street Artists: A Complete Guide’ is out in March via Graffito Books Ltd.