Zak Smith in Conversation With Alexandros Vasmoulakis


90% of my street work has been made in Athens/Greece. The political and social situation there is pretty loose and that gives room for anomie of all sorts. It is not necessary to get a permission to paint in the public domain.

Zak Smith: First–for the people who don’t know–who are you, where are you from?

Alexandros Vasmoulakis: My name is Alexandros Vasmoulakis, I was born in Athens, Greece in 1980 and studied painting at the university. Currently I live in Berlin.

Smith: Like a lot of early 20th century artists like Balthus or Modigliani, your work almost always features these people who have a certain kind of face.  This sort of dark, kind of deep-eyed faces–like Kafka’s family or something.  Where do these faces come from?  Are they Greek faces?

Vasmoulakis: The process starts first of all by ripping pages from magazines, collecting fragments of other faces, mostly from glamorous ads.

The next step is the selection of the proper elements (mouths, eyes, noses) and the mix of them with my own drawing.

Actually it is a collage but it is not that obvious in the final project because it is all made just with ink and acrylic. The very first idea is to create something through the destruction of something else.

Smith: You use a lot of techniques associated with commercial art and illustration, but you pervert them away from their original purpose and message.  A lot of artists do that, but then they usually pervert it towards some other message.  It almost seems like, instead of trying to show the audience a simple, understandable, message–like advertisements and most fine art–you’re trying to destroy the idea of a simple message and just leave people with a picture.  Is that right?

Vasmoulakis: Well, partly yes. By keeping the message loose and general I intend to let the viewer include his/her own experience. This way gives room to ambiguity, vagueness and doubts. It’s one step closer to poetry.

Smith: It looks like you’re influenced by both Western illustration as well as the sort of more cartoony, edgy, satirical, illustration from Eastern Europe in the ’70s and ’80s.  Is that a conscious thing?  Is it because Greece is right in the middle of Europe?

Vasmoulakis: Actually Greece is at the edge of Europe and generally has more oriental and Arabic characteristics than European ones.

I’d say that first of all I am one more victim of globalization! My works have been influenced by artists and movements from all around the globe.

Smith:You have done a lot of street art but also some commercial work and you’ve sold things in galleries under the fine art system. It often seems to me that, with an artist like you the fine art system can be much more conservative than the commercial art system–do you find that to be so?

Vasmoulakis: No! It depends on how good and efficient your gallerist is.

For almost a decade I was working as a freelance illustrator and met very nice clients but very cruel and brutal ones as well.

There is a certain type of clients without any sense of flexibility which causes unpleasant collaborations. No doubt, both fields stink a lot and the artists have to compromise much but shit happens everywhere.

I do believe that, if you have the right gallerist, the fine art system is much better and less conservative.

Smith: A lot of your street art seems like it would take a long time to do–how do you manage it without getting arrested?  Or do you mostly do legal stuff?

Vasmoulakis: 90% of my street work has been made in Athens/Greece. The political and social situation there is pretty loose and that gives room for anomie of all sorts. It is not necessary to get a permission to paint in the public domain.

I have been arrested a few times though, but each time eventuated in discussions on art topics, with cops trying to understand what motivates some artists to work in the streets. Sometimes a visit to the police station can be entertaining.

Smith: You have a strong sense of geometry in your work–where do you think that comes from?

Vasmoulakis: I love triangles!

Smith:Can you pick an artwork, not your own, that you like, and talk about some things you like about it?

Vasmoulakis: Although it is not officially considered a work of art, it is indeed a masterpiece, a great performance!

This is the Christmas tree of Athens in December ’08 [more info here]:

It’s not only that I hate xmas or that I do love the beauty of destruction and violence… this performance addressed questions about social rot, disingenuous happiness and desires in the most sharp and eloquent way.

Zak Smith is an artist who first came to prominence with his mammoth work Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow. Smith's paintings and drawings are held in major public and private collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. We Did Porn— a book includng drawings and stories about his experiences working in the adult film industry— his third book and his first to include writing— will be published in July 2009 from Tin House Books. He lives and works in Los Angeles. More from this author →