PingMag has been thinking a lot about calligraphy. Tokyo seems to be bursting with calligraphy exhibitions these days and we recently interviewed Takahiko Watanabe, one of the emerging talents in the field.
And then when we heard about a movement called “urban calligraphy” we were naturally intrigued. What could it mean? Something that combines urban street art, graffiti and calligraphy?
Greek designer and artist Simon Silaidis is returning to Tokyo to show his latest work from the Urban Calligraphy Movement. PingMag spoke with him just before the start of his exhibition at the Kojimachi Gallery.
We understand you’ve only recently started this street art project. What led up to this?
I started back in 1998 after visiting a graffiti festival in Athens. After that and until 2001 I was experimenting with a variety of graffiti styles. I stopped for at least six years in between, because graphic design came into my life at the end of 2001 and changed it forever. I travelled a lot as a designer and in 2007 I finally came back to Greece and got involved again. Now I am the one of the people behind the Urban Calligraphy Movement.
I’ve had my own creative studio for the last twelve years focusing on graphics design, web design and short film production related to graffiti and street art. You can think of me as like a Swiss Army knife. [Laughs]
You work on abandoned buildings and public places. What kind of sites?
I try to create my work in places outside the city walls, usually on mountains. I don’t like to paint on the typical places other people paint. Sometimes I drive my car several kilometers to explore the best spots. I try to find places that if someone visits them they would never expect to find an art piece there. And the older the place the crazier I get when I decorate it.
You wrote that Urban Calligraphy uses materials nobody would think they could be used. What kind of materials?
The brushes are standard sizes. For large-scale murals I use custom brooms. This way I can use them as brushes and I can produce different brush stokes as contrasts on the mural.
Perhaps this is a silly question. Is it graffiti or calligraphy or street art — or all three?
Nothing is silly. It’s a combination of calligraphy and street art. Since I’m not using spray on my works, it cannot be graffiti. In calligraphy you must have full control of the brush. If you control the brush then you control your work. So what really attracted me is being more accurate with the things I do and at the same time also creating art.
You used to live in Japan. Did you ever do anything similar in Japan?
My life in Japan was 100% for business. I had the honor to be there for my design skills as a designer. I can say that this was one of my highlights of my career.
Always I take steps after a lot of thought. I want to be sure I can control something well before try to expose it or take it to a higher level. This is one of the things calligraphy also requires and I always have it as rule. I wasn’t ready at that time for something like this. So now I feel it’s about time. That’s why I am back. [Laughs]
Did being in Japan inspire or inform your work at all?
Japan as a country is full of inspiration. Everything you see around you is something unique. Of course, I try to absorb everything every time I visit Japan. Even the way of life in Japan is an inspiration for me. They try to always be perfect in everything. This is something I try to do as well in my work.
I understand you mix a lot of influences — Asian and European and Arabic?
Correct. My style is a mix of Western, Asian and Arabian calligraphy. I try to find abandoned places and turn them into a piece of art with the calligraphy. I create my works in studio with ink and bamboo pens, and for something on a wall I use materials such as flat brushes and large brooms.
How did the current exhibition in Tokyo come about?
Montana Colors JP (a graffiti spray distributor) has always supported my art and I really thank them for everything. I got an invitation from them for a solo show and we arranged it. They have also organized me to do some murals inside Tokyo. Makoto and Kenshiro are doing a great
The exhibition will take place at Kojimachi Gallery. I will show a variety of studio works and a special new project with the use of calligraphy. Unfortunately I cannot ship many of my artworks because the destination is quite far from Greece. After that, trips inside Japan will follow for new murals in the Tokyo area and Hiroshima.
What can we expect at the current exhibition?
The inner side of the Urban Calligraphy. I am not often making canvases because I focus 100% on urban exposure of calligraphy.
You are Greek. Have the recent economic and civil troubles in Greece affected your work?
Urban Calligraphy is not about money but about serenity, the inner voices of my soul. I don’t make calligraphy to earn from it. I am already a successful designer. I believe this is one of the most positive things for art to go higher. For me the earning comes through the exposure, a mural is a bigger, louder canvas. I don’t let my work get affected by life problems. This is my escape, my freedom.
We live in a crisis brought on us by the EU. They designed a Europe for the strong and disregarded the weak. My perspective is that Greece is the experiment by the strong economies of Europe on how to impose on the weak ones. Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain will follow. People should unite against the experimental purposes of the few.
What are your future plans for the Urban Calligraphy Movement?
At the moment a new film is ready with dirt bikes and a very big ramp construction decorated with my calligraphy. We filmed that for a bike show in a Greek airport and it came out tremendously. Also in Tokyo I will make another film on Japanese culture, plus about what I will do there.
Thank you, Simon Silaidis!
August 10th to 20th