STMTS is a visual artist from Greece who creates paintings, street art and illustration.
Born in Athens in 1993 in Athens, STMTS (Stamatis) studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts and is best known for politically and emotionally charged, large-scale drawings of children that he wheatpastes – an ancient technique used to adhere paper using a gel made from wheat flour or starch – on various public buildings throughout Athens.
From a very young age, his works have appeared at various exhibitions, commissions, projects and collections in the USA, Europe and Middle East.
The impactful works of STMTS in the streets are some of the most recognisable and characteristic in the city of Athens, creating worldwide interest and featuring in such publications as the New York Times, the Guardian, La Repubblica, Reuters, Washington Times, Russia-24, Spiegel plus more.
His most well-known work ‘I Love Life’ has gone viral in recent years and is loved by people all over the world.
STMTS’s artworks have been exhibited at the Art New York, Art Miami, Art Wynwood, SCOPE Miami Beach, National Hellenic Museum (Chicago,US), The Benaki Museum, Onassis Cultural Centre (SGT)
His collaborations and commissioned works include those with musical artist Nicky Jam as well as ADIDAS, REEBOK, EDENS – Union Market DC, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), SOS Children’s Villages, Médecins du monde (Doctors of the World), Carpisa, Patakis Publications, Athens Concert Hall and Network for Children’s Rights.
Greek City Times was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to STMTS about his artistic vision, his perspectives as a Greek artist and where he stands on the graffiti vs street art debate.
How did your life circumstances influence your artistic vision?
From a young age, I was attracted and admired book illustrations, comic books and CD covers and built my own collection. I was not a very good student at school, as very few subjects were interesting to me at the time and we did not have any fine arts education. There was no exposure to museums or painting exhibitions so I would just draw in my notebook during class without thought as to any future career.
Later, in the last grades of school I learned about the Athens School of Fine Arts, where I could study fine arts and work on my craft with the intention of being a professional artist. While I officially began my career as an artist while still in the Athens School of Fine Arts, I obtained my degree and continue to work independently as a freelance visual artist.
How did you start in street art? Why did you choose street art over other traditional genres?
From a young age I enjoyed taking walks in the city of Athens to explore, discovering new places and neighbourhoods, finding new alleys, crossing new streets and sitting in various squares. I was always attracted to the urban landscape and street culture in general. It has always been a source of inspiration for me. Walking through the city, I always admired and was interested in the graffiti. Later, I learned about street art which is more relative to the visual arts. I was just excited.
Somehow, my admiration, interest and attraction for the visual arts and the urban landscape led me to take the decision in 2012 to try to beautify the walls of the city I live in through my art.Why are you drawn to your themes – especially of children?
What I attempt to achieve through my works is to create my own visual world through which I want to interpret the real world we live in. In this visual world that I am creating, the main characters are the child figures, where through them I interpret the world we live in.
Children as heroes function purely symbolically, reminding us of the meaning of the future, the innocence and the purity, but at the same time, I depict them looking powerful, decisive and having knowledge and a collective consciousness to discover and question our world, its origin and the future.
As a result, I want to create an ironic contrast in relation to the reality but also questions about the society, about human’s relationship with the nature and life issues in general.
I like creating thoughts and questions for the viewers, while communicating my ideas with them.
What do you think accounts for your success?
Oh, I really don’t know what the recipe for this is.
What I can say is that I just do what I like in my art. I follow my instincts and I always try to be honest and strict with myself trying to reach the next level of my art. I enjoy exploring our world and listening carefully to the voices of our times, but at the same time standing away and isolated from the worthless and meaningless noise.
What is needed to promote more artists of Greek descent on the world stage?
I think that more Greek galleries and Greek artists have to be more organised, coordinated and to have a focused plan. They need to participate more in important international art happenings and exhibitions so that Greek artists can gain exposure on the world stage and international art market. They could then catch up and evaluate new opportunities, ceasing to be trapped only in the domestic art scene and market.
Also, I think maybe it could be helpful for the Greek State to support the Greek contemporary art scene more by organising and coordinating more annual cultural and artistic programs with various creative projects and exhibitions in Greece that can attract international interest.
I believe that Greek contemporary art combined with the magnificent and internationally important impact which Greece has especially in tourism, could make our artists stand out and be promoted more to the visitors of our country, apart from the special and unique Greek nature – landscape, the wonderful and tasty Greek cuisine and of course the admirable Greek ancient history.
Are you living in Greece as an artist? Would you continue to live there? Why?
I currently live in Greece. I have Athens as my base but I am working mostly abroad. I have had to travel abroad several times for my job, but I am glad that I can have Greece as my base and from here, with the help of the internet nowadays, I have the opportunity to collaborate all over the world and my art can travel and be exhibited everywhere.
I will not easily leave my base in Greece to immigrate somewhere else. However, whenever I need to travel and stay for a while in another city for my job, I will do it. I really enjoy traveling and visiting new different places and getting to know new cultures. In the end, however, the feeling of looking at the Parthenon is something special to me.
What project(s) are you most proud of up to now? Do you have a project you would like to work on in the future?
I am not sure that I like the word “proud” but some of the more challenging projects that I have completed recently and I am happy with the outcome are: The cover art that I created for the album “Intimo” by the renowned American reggaeton singer NICKY JAM. Also the “dress up” with my murals of the multinational company’s KPMG offices in Muscat, OMAN.
From the earlier years, I was thrilled that I was chosen in 2015 as the young artist to exhibit my work next to the works of the legendary Greek artist – engraver Tassos (Alevizos Anastasios) as part of his big retrospective exhibition at the Benaki Museum in Athens, as he is one of my all time favourite artists and inspiration for me.
I can’t ignore my surprise of the success of my most renowned work “I Love Life” which I created back in 2012 on a wall in the centre of Athens and has since gone viral and is loved by people all over the world. People still want to purchase it as a painting or a print. I also receive photos from people around the world who have it tattooed on their bodies. Also, you can find it in various city centre markets around the world available as a t-shirt, phone case, cup, keychain etc. and has been featured in various international press, like in The New York Times as the cover photo of an article dedicated about the economic crisis of Greece in 2012.
I have many dreams about various projects that I would like to do in the future, but I also like to be down to earth, so right now the next project that hopefully will be completed successfully and which I am preparing right now is my first solo show in USA at Avant Gallery, which will hopefully happen in 2022.
Where do you stand on the graffiti vs street art debate? It seems most of your work is sanctioned and not “illegal.” Do you think street art adds to gentrification or can it be used to promulgate community spirit?
I stand out from this debate, for me it doesn’t exist. I like both Graffiti and Street Art, but I don’t like or support vandalism and I always respect the people’s property and the city. That’s why my works are always being created on inelegant and abandoned walls – buildings. Especially during the economic crisis in Greece, there were so many ruined and forgotten buildings and closed shops which created a depressed look. I like taking creative action by adding my art and converting them to something more interesting and beautiful for the people who are passing by.
I believe that Street Art should be used for sharing ideas, communicating messages or meanings, expressions for the people and to make the urban landscape more interesting and beautiful. So I think through this way, Street Art could both add to gentrification and can it be used to promulgate community spirit. It’s not really in my control.