George Beleveslis aka WAKE is an active street artist with numerous paintings both in Greece and abroad. Passionate about graffiti he has also collaborated with other artists, bringing some color and emotion in grey city walls! Today he unravels his thoughts on urban art and talks about his creative explorations! Let’s welcome him :)
Hello George and welcome to EC! When did you start actively doing street art? Do you remember your first wall painting?

Thessaloniki, 1997. I was in the car with my dad driving to Kalamaria, when I suddenly caught a glimpse of a huge “Wall of Fame” under a bridge. For months, every time we passed by, I knew I only had just a few seconds available to see the painted walls through the window as we passed by. Not having a photo camera, I decided to walk to this place and document these alien things by hand drawing everything in my school sketchbook. For days and days, I was trying to understand and conceive all these arrows, stretched  geometries  and English words.

I hadn’t realized that a word is actually the nickname of a unique person (tag) and I considered graffiti as a random  multiplication of words, symbols and colorful patterns. Who? When? Why? How? Well, curiosity killed the cat!

Books and older friends cleared things out for me. In the end, this lead to my first wall painting, a bad copy of a wildstyle ('joser'). I remember the strong smell of the spraycan paint, my dirty clothes, the dumbed wall, the joy of vandalism and that incomparable feeling after I had finished. The world has never been the same after that. I was infected. I was a graffiti writer.

How do you think graffiti and the urban culture in general have evolved in Greece?

If we tried to criticize Greek graffiti as a unified whole, someone could say that it has failed to invent something new, something adjusted to our culture.

But, if we take into account the small size of our country and the lack of art facilities, the level of technique and painting skills here are actually awesome. There are more than 60-70 artists at the moment, who could stand up next to Europe's finest. Our problem seems to be the lack of cultural context and the low theoretical background.

Graffiti in Greece is more of a battle-art, meaning that the main motivation for getting better is the idea of being better than the next one. This has lead to an endless repetition of the same styles. In the end, I'm not really sure of what people think of the urban environment and our place in it in social terms.
For example, stencil, as a technique, somehow criticizes the mass production. It includes a strong social comment concerning repetition and simplicity due to the shortage of time in metropolitan cities such as New York and London. Obey and Banksy did it, we saw it in a magazine and placed it slightly differed in the Greek “village”.

We conceived “urban” as a trend, as drifts in the layout of a magazine  or a cool pair of sneakers. We forgot that “urban” should describe the way we re-manipulate urban environment, our choice to be creative users of a concrete machine.

Fortunately, no matter whether we did it the opposite way, I'm very optimistic that we will manage to redefine towards where the Greek urban culture is heading. There is lot of talent out there maturing and waiting to grow new potentials.

Introduce us to the Yakuza Crew (aka Yakuza Arterrorists). How did the team start out and what is your main target?

At first, “Yakuza” (http://www.myspace.com/arterrorists) was a word to describe and give identity to a bunch of new fellows that simply travelled through Greece to paint. It’s not a traditional graffiti crew among best friends, neither a project of an artistic collective with a specific aim.
Inventing the new “best graffiti crew” by joining our forces under one term, was not and never will be our intention. This meaninglessness set us free to interact with each other, and we are talking about 8 people with 8 different styles here. What seems to be our problem is actually our privilege, cause we somehow manage to control this diversity. Yakuza is more of an experiment that tries to break graffiti rules that are restricting, than just a crew that does “this” or “that”.  The resulted pluralism lead to several forms of creativity, from street and train bombing to legal wall paintings, from wildstyle lettering to character design, from vandalism to a gallery exhibition and vice versa. Yakuza is a process of creating potential and enjoying life through art.
Architecture is a field that inspires you. Talk to us about it.

So far, I've experienced architecture solely in an academic context, meaning that it was my studies that have covered a wide range of the term and not the building process.

All these years I have been experiencing an inner conflict, trying to merge my graffiti obsessions with architectural design, but all efforts seemed to result in exaggerating formalism in my projects. This lead to more search on graffiti and arts and resulted into primitive principles of design process, that I adopted.
Flexibility of the form and its understanding, juxtaposition of diverse elements, changes in scale and texture, and involvement of the user in sensual and semantic terms have been inspiring for both my art and arch projects, up to the point that I don't separate them into two fields anymore.
How would you describe your style and furthermore, where do you find inspiration for your art?

Art is primarily experienced in a state of contemplation, a form of unique awareness (optical or acoustic), of a single viewer.

Precise codes of behavior, such as silence and reverence, preoccupy a dipole such as “artist- viewer” or furthermore “producer-consumer”. This relation recognizes a kind of authority for the creator that stands  against the viewer.

I consider street art as a public narrative exhibition of artists' life, so in a way, I expose personal stories to the city.

In my paintings, I use big smiles as a symbol, to underline the fact that these creatures are actually posing for a camera lens, hiding the original story and waiting for the viewer to come up with their own. All my effort is to decompose the authorized relation between me and the public, with frames that are funny, re-readable and out of a serious official art context.

My influences are paintings of Huwndertwasser, patterns of Escher, Yue Minjun and anything else among the worldwide street art movement that has attracted my eye.

I find inspiration in my co-breathing with fellow architect Simao, listening to Larry Gus rehearsing in our living room, watching my parents’ marriage, in nice food, in love, in accidents, in gossip news on tv. I like the bad smell and yellow lights of Athens. I like  traveling and always getting back in Thessaloniki for a few days.
What would you say are the main “rules” for street art? Do’s and don’t’s?

The existence of do’s and don’t’s in street art movement is actually what slows us down. Although we claim that we break forms and rules and that we test the boarders between fragile terms, we are the ones that actually set new rules among our community. As a result, our creativity gets constrained and our work is being framed by rules of technique, themes and behavior in the street-art subculture. Such a cliche, but the only rule shall be “do not have any rules at all”. Observe, feel, act.
If you were to choose any fellow artist for a wall painting collaboration, who would you choose and why?

Undoubtedly, RTMone is a street artist I enjoy working with the most. Apart from being a best friend, he is also been a fellow student in architecture, so in a curious way we’ve learnt the design process under the same principles. Brainstorming, conceiving, sketching, traveling, locating the spot and finally painting for hours, street art is a mostly a process and not just the final result. RTM’s comics addiction, his clear outlines, his funky colors and themes have always been very influential in my work. He has had a great impact on me, and I somehow on him. A lot of good things that have happened the last few years through that.
RTM & WAKE @ Berlin
You also took part in the “Secret Wars” in Athens. How was the whole experience? Any backstage info?

Secret Wars is an international street art contest simulating - in a funny way - the conditions of the fights in Fight Club. Artists have to battle one to one, by drawing for 90 minutes with black markers on white walls, without using any sketches or pencils.

If you wanna know how it felt, just imagine a club full of graffiti artists and people related to urban culture shouting and applauding, lights and loud music, and you, standing alone on a stage, painting without undo’s, competing with one of Athens’ finest artist, Tam, and waiting to be judged by his fellow artists and Athens crowd (that was more possible to vote for someone they already knew.) Pretty hard, eh?
Neither Tam or me felt cool with the fact that we had to perform for 2 hours in front of so many people, for the first 10 minutes no-one could stand up and begin sketching! But as time passed, we started to enjoy the interaction with each other and the crowd. Finally, I was lucky to draw a little bit better and won, having the both the vote of the judges (Ozone and Sake) and the crowd. Although Tam’s work was for sure more bold and clear (almost like a digital illustration) I was told that I won because of small details in different textures, shadows and decomposition of my character’s anatomy. Ooops, architecture pops up again! :)

Well, maybe the fact that I gave 1.000 euros to each judge was also important…

Use a link to express your mood at the current moment. (image, link, video etc)

A song about my fear on what’s about to come.
Is there a particular project that is special to you and why?

“Playing Tetris”, a mural I made with RTMone in Architecture School of Thessaly University, that was filmed for ET3’s TV-show “Oxygono”.

The idea came up by observing the contrast of the 2 walls and the glass between them forming a “T”. Two multi-textured surfaces fulfilled each other, so Tetris, a pure architectural computer game, was the solution.

We used a strong pink background to shock the grey environment of the building, draw our default characters as players and set up a mural using real items for the first time. Lots of square pre-painted cigarette packets were glued to the wall acting as pixels, adding a third dimension to the viewer. The idea is that as the game continues, the walls of the school are actually  being demolished, decomposing the borders between the university and the public space.

The project was filmed from scratch, sketched by younger students and discussed among teachers for days. People also tried to take some of the “pixels” as souvenirs or hide silly small things inside the empty packets.

But most of all, it was pink. So pink, that the university’s 300 architects had to try really hard to cope with it for the past two years!

And last but not least … please give us a preview of your future plans and feel free to add anything else!

On the 17th of November (what a coincidence) I will be joining the army  for 9 months, hoping that this pregnancy won’t give birth to a monster!

Plans for endless sketching, reading, re-considering and a wild comeback to street art scene with lots of public projects and my first solo exhibition.

Till then i wish that you all cope with your dreams!

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