“The crisis was a boon to graffiti artists. Abandoned houses, shuttered shops, crumbling walls: you could paint anywhere. The police stopped you but the most they could do was take you to the police station to check your ID. It’s the owner who has to initiate proceedings and it costs €300 [£265] to sue someone in Greece — more than the cost of repainting the property.”
Cacao Rocks (Jason to his friends) is putting the finishing touches to a composition, August in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius. He talks about the crisis in the past tense — a subconscious trait, I assume. Today, at just 31, he’s one of Greece’s most sought-after street artists, the enfant terrible of the Athens art world. He was banned from the Onassis Cultural Centre for sneaking into an exhibition — called No Respect — at night to pose naked with his girlfriend next to his own phallic exhibit.
At the age of 13, Jason was wrenched from the urban comfort of Piraeus where he’d started skating and tagging walls. His sculptor father moved his family to the village of Temploni, in Corfu. Within a few years a small surf-and-skate crowd had coalesced around him.
Some went on to make a name for themselves. Alex Pappas became rapper Kapa Raw, dividing his time between hip hop and extreme sports (he’s the current champion of the Mediterranean Surf Contest, held in Parga). Marco ‘Bartoli’ Moraïtis teamed up with Kapa Raw to form reggae-rap duo X-Equipo and went on to become a producer for label I Am Hip Hop. Christoforos Korakianitis became a photographer and digital artist, shooting 360-degree virtual tours for hotels and resorts, as well as creating a website giving Corfiot sights the same treatment.
Still, no one from the Corfu scene has become as successful as Cacao Rocks. A French Literature graduate with a French mother, he’s attuned to the Continental artistic mindset — not blindly in thrall to US hip hop. His graffiti has a Greek sensibility, so much so that critics often dismiss him as ‘too folklore’. “My own generation tends to mimic foreign styles,” he says. “I want the Greek tradition to continue in the contemporary sphere. I use four colours: the gold of the icons, the black of the priests’ garments and the white and blue of the Greek flag.”
Whatever the criticism at home, global buyers adore him: his summer 2016 exhibition, in one of Mykonos’s jet-set galleries, sold out. “It’s strange”, he muses. “A couple of years ago, I was selling my stuff for €300. Now it’s upwards of €3,000.”
Published in the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)