Re-thinking the wall: Chilean and Greek street art at Brown

Grace Monk ’18, a comparative literature concentrator and Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) fellow, hosted three visiting street artists to Brown between April 9 - 11, as part of the conference "Re-thinking the Wall: Chilean and Greek Street Art at Brown." Simek, a street artist from Athens, gave the Watson Institute’s central staircase a new look by creating a mural with tape that emphasizes and complements the dynamic angles of the building.

After the conference, we had the chance to speak to Simek and Grace. Simek shared his passion for geometry as well as his love for the spaces he works in. He also described how street art in Athens has been shaped by the recent influx of refugees into Greece. Grace recounts the serendipity of discovering Simek and ultimately her thesis topic. Here is a condensed version of that conversation.


Q. Why street art? You went to art school, and you probably tried a variety of different mediums. Why did you return to street art?

A. (Simek) I don't want to say that I do street art. It’s okay for people to say I do street art, but I like to say I do murals.

Q. You said that going to school completely changed your style and the way you approach art. What changed?

A. (Simek) Graphic design school was something that I was thinking about from the beginning. Before, I did posters and music covers. With geometry, it's like a new love came into my life.

Q. And you just fell in love?

A. (Simek) Yes. I love all the progress that I'm doing in the works on paper, the works on canvas, or woods, or walls. I like that you must always think about the space before making a piece like the one here at Watson.

Q. You also studied a variety of different styles. Is there one style or artist that has influenced you in particular?

A. (Simek) MC Escher for sure. American artists, too, like Frank Stella and Sally Wood. I travelled a lot in northern Europe, and they have an amazing school of graphic design. The cubist style is very inspiring for me.

Q. You mentioned that abstraction is magical for you because people can take what they want from it. But is there anything you want them to get from it?

A. (Simek) Sometimes, yes. But if people understand the meaning by themselves it´s better. I never explain what exactly I have made. It's interesting for me to leave it for people to imagine.

Q. What is it like to work in a space like Watson that is not public?

A. (Simek) When I work in public urban space, it feels more like my hobby. Here at Watson, I was thinking more about this space and how to fit my work into it, taking into consideration that a lot of students walk in this area. When I paint outside in the streets I don't think so much. It's more free.

Q. You worked with two artists form Kurdistan through an NGO collaboration. Has the culture changed since refugees have come into Greece? I am curious about the political climate, and what art does for those interactions.

A. (Simek) It was really interesting for me because now I imagine what it would be like to be a refugee and looking to find your way as an artist in a completely different country and culture. The refugees are a good example for life because they tell me lot of stories about they keep themselves strong and always helpful. One artist from Syria who hardly had any money and was experiencing homelessness gave his money to another person that was homeless. These are crazy life stories about how to find your voice as an artist and give back to the community.

Q. Is there anything else you want to say to the Institute or to the students?

A. (Simek) It's an amazing experience for me to be here because I love universities in general. Last year I was at the Polytechnic University in Valencia. It's amazing. It makes me want to study again. And of course I would like to thank Grace for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to come to the US, which I haven´t been to before. It was such a great time and fantastic project.

Q. Grace, what is your background and how did you get interested in street art in Greece?

A. (Grace) First, I got involved when studying abroad in Chile. I received a grant from Middlebury College to study street art. Upon my arrival, there was a strike at the school for 5 weeks, which meant that the semester started late. I started a series called Memorias del Territorio, a series of murals that had to be related to the history of the location where they were painted to instill them with cultural memory. I received grants from Brown to pursue this work. Johanna Hanink from Classics at Brown was extremely helpful. She does work on Athens, which has become a street art capital. This is when I started thinking about similar economic situations and through funding from Brown spent last summer in Athens.

Q. How did you become involved with Simek?

A. (Grace) I saw his work around Athens and got really into it and asked another artist who he was. He gave me a name and an email address and I just emailed him and contacted him on social media to do an interview. I went to his studio to do interview and got to see all his work. I used the quotes form that interview all over my thesis

Q. What in particular about his work spoke to you?

A. (Grace) Of all the artists I met in Greece, Simek works the best with space. He is the most thoughtful about the impact of abstract art on the urban environment it is in. He says that his art has a therapeutic effect on chaotic urban space.

- Amelie-Sophie Vavrovsky '18