As we have stated in the past, The Art Stories is a blog focused on art. However, there’s a sport we are absolutely in love with and that is skateboarding. When we heard that there is an exhibition in Thessaloniki that combines both skateboarding and art, we quickly reached out to Alexis Florakis, the creator and organizer of Skateboard Art Crimes to see what the exhibition is all about, and of course to get to know him a bit better. Here is our conversation!
Hello Alexis! Would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?
My name is Alexis Florakis and I was born in 1973 in Frankfurt, Germany. I’ve been into skateboarding and graffiti since 1984 and 1986 respectively and I’m still spending time with both of my two great loves until today, with the same enthusiasm and romanticism. I’ll leave the rest to those who happen to know me personally.
When did you start skateboarding and why?
I started skateboarding in 1984, the reason being that, just like every child, I was looking for an exciting and engaging game. I was a hyperactive child and traditional games and sports just weren’t doing it for me. Skateboarding was for me a big revelation, a great love that lasts to this day.
What made you stick with skateboarding for so long?
It’s a unique sport that evolves through each skater’s imagination in parallel with the urban landscape. Skateboarding offers unlimited creative opportunities and keeps your senses awake at all times. From the moment you land your first trick, you are hooked for life.
What’s the thing that makes skateboarding unique, compared to other sports?
Skateboarding has no boundaries, no limits. It is by default the most difficult sport in the world because it combines acrobatic movements with the use of an object, all by using your feet. It demands balance, dexterity, reflexes, good perception of space and imagination so that you can make use of your surroundings. It is a challenge that demands practice, patience and perseverance to land the trick you want. It’s the art of moving around the urban environment and using the architecture of the city as a giant skate park. Since everything around us is always in flux, skateboarding can never become boring, offering an everyday challenge that’s never the same.
Do you think the way skaters perceive the sport has changed since the time you started? If yes, in what way?
Everything changes around us. Everything moves in a fast pace nowadays; our lifestyle, the technology, the mass media, everything naturally contributes to this change. In the past you had to work hard, to become an explorer of the city and invent new tricks and spots to skate at. You had the chance to become part of the evolution. Now everyone is surpassing the basics; most of the time it’s photography they are into, posts and likes. That isn’t necessarily bad but this is how the sport ends up losing its essence and romanticism. There are a lot of people that start skateboarding but few are those who stay faithful to it for a lifetime.
How did you come up with the idea for Skateboard Art Crimes?
As a skateboarder and graffiti artist for so many years, this exhibition was only a natural evolution of what I was already doing. I spent 7 years in Germany where I took part in many art projects related to skateboarding and then came back to Greece in 2004. As soon as I returned, I got a job and held my first exhibition on the art of the skateboard decks in 2005.
My idea was to reach out to people through art and bring them closer to skateboarding. It’s common knowledge that skateboarding and those who practice the sport get a bad reputation. With this exhibition I wanted to break this stereotype so that people would start looking at skaters in a different way. I had three goals. First off, I wanted to get in touch with the municipality and give them the chance to get to know us with the hopes of building a common ground for future collaborations. That time was a dead period for any activity surrounding skateboarding and simultaneously the time for a rebirth.
My second goal was to get to know the parents of the younger athletes. It’s well known that a skate park is home to skaters of different ages, from 11 to 40+ years old, sometimes kids are left unattended and parents feel insecure about where their kids are and who they’re with; who gets to influence them. I think that this exhibition succeeded in easing the parents’ anxiety and in helping them feel more trusting. Last but not least, as a graffiti writer, self-taught street artist I wanted to show traditional artists that we have a lot to say and offer to art.
What is the meaning behind the title “Skateboard Art Crimes”?
The title of the exhibition is a reference to two artistic crimes that are part of it.
The first crime for us skaters is that we “destroy” new boards to use them as canvases for works of art. We have all been through the awful experience of not being able to replace a broken deck either because we didn’t have enough cash or because it was the weekend and we had to wait for the shops to open on Monday. In the exhibition we display new skateboard decks that we use for another reason that is unrelated to the sport.
The second crime has to do with street art and graffiti. There are a lot of traditional artists that believe that what we do isn’t art, but an art crime towards society, that shouldn’t take place whatsoever. We want to challenge them to come to the exhibition and face with our work.
Was it hard to get the exhibition ready at first?
Truth is, it was not. There was a lot of enthusiasm and lots of artist friends that supported the exhibition right off the bat. The idea was complete in my head and it was already very well thought of, so make it a real thing was a matter of good coordination and time. The hard part came later, when I had to try and keep up with the high level of production and find ways to keep the public interested so that they can wait for the next one.
What makes you continue this work so many years later?
The reason why I continue after all these years is because I think I have a lot more to say and offer to the world concerning this great sport and of course a lot to offer to everyone that wants to spend time skateboarding. I think that I have gained so many things myself from this sport that I owe to give back (meaning: to others).
Do you think that skateboarding gets all the praise it deserves?
Skateboarding is not about praises or recognition from anyone, the only thing that’s needed is understanding and that what I try to do through my exhibition, to get people to understand why skateboarding exists. From that point on it is something much different for us, it is something entirely personal between each athlete and his skateboard. To be able to tame it, you have to come in alignment with yourself, to recognize your limits and open your heart.
What is it that you want to achieve with the Skateboard Art Crimes? Do you think that you have already achieved it?
I think that for the most part, I have achieved my goals (mentioned above). There might not be a lot of things that changed in regards to the Municipality and we might still be living in the least hospitable city for skateboarding in Greece but the only thing that’s certain is that they can’t question our existence and the high quality of our activities anymore.
More and more people want to come to my exhibitions and get into the wonderful world of skateboarding and most of them leave (meaning: the events) with the best impressions. My exhibition has been an educational destination for the Second Chance Schools and for people with vision impairments. This, alone, has been for me a big success.
What is the next goal for the Skateboard Art Crimes?
While the exhibition started as a strictly artistic event, the following years I have added two more sections. The first one is the “History” where viewers can enjoy a short retrospective of the greatest moments in the history of skateboarding both worldwide and in Greece, based on a multi-year research that I have been conducting, with text and images and the “Objects” where I present through my personal collection of objects the evolution of the sport from 1920 since today. The artistic part of the exhibition includes except for painted decks, a photo exhibition, sculptures, jewelry and a presentation of documentaries about skateboarding.
I try to enrich my collection for every new presentation and help people get deeper and deeper into the sport; I focus on a different aspect of skateboarding every time.
For the next presentation I have prepared, other than the art, a presentation of the first organized skateboarding team in Greece, the Thunderboys, formed in 1978, the first Greek skateboarding company, 303 Skateboards, founded in 1988, a feature on one of the most important figures in the Greek skateboarding scene George Karponis and in the Οbjects section I will present the genesis of the need for the creation of the first protective equipment and the importance of graphicσ under skateboard decks.
What do you think is the real value behind Skateboard Art Crimes?
The Skateboard Art Crimes exhibition isn’t a simple event. Its main focus is not quantity but quality, innovation and not copy. As an organizer/researcher I have full responsibility of the research and objective information. We live in a country where everyone is what they declare and they try to take advantage of history by mispresenting the facts to their benefit. There are a lot of those who call themselves fathers, godfathers, innovators, even just skateboarders that have never skateboarded for real, there are those who try to create memories out of events in which they have never taken part in. I have the obligation to put things in order. I have the obligation to shed all the prejudice that exists around skateboarding.
I believe that the real value of the exhibition has to do with the obligation I feel to transmit my knowledge. To give back even the few things I took, without forgetting who I am and what my place is in the community and everything has to be done with the same enthusiasm and love I felt the first day I had the chance to ride a skateboard.
The real value is to succeed while remaining selfless in what I do.
The real value is to learn to share our knowledge and experiences and in the end to always leave something behind for the next generation.
What is your favorite skateboard trick?
I’d say that it’s the Ollie, it’s the start of everything, the revelation to street skateboarding. It’s the key that offers you freedom, you can surpass every obstacle and continue your course. As soon as you learn how to Ollie there’s nothing stopping you; everything else are simple variations. I still remember the awe I felt when I saw someone doing an Ollie in front of my very eyes (that’s a great story!) and the feeling of finally doing it myself. Ollies are just like equations; if you don’t learn it right from the start, you’re doomed with the wrong results for a lifetime.
Do you feel lucky that you started to skate in the middle of the 80’s?
Truth is I do!
Skateboarding has lived four big changes in its short history:
The genesis and the fall during the 50’s/60’s, the Renaissance and the evolution of the 70’s, the transition to ramps (vertical skateboarding pools/bowls/half pipes) during the 70’s and 80’s and the evolution of Street (modern) skateboarding at the end of the 80’s and throughout the 90’s.
I was lucky enough to start skateboarding just before the big transition of the sport from ramps back to the streets, a unique experience that someone that hasn’t lived anything like it. And I’m calling it luck because I had the chance to live both of those big changes while on a skateboard. It was the Renaissance with a feeling of revelation for us.
Later I got to experience both of the two other transitions through my research in the history of skateboarding that I’m presenting in my exhibition, which makes me very happy.
Who are the skateboarding legends that influenced you the most when you started skateboarding?
In Greece we never had half pipe ramps and pools/bowls, we always skated whatever the streets had to offer and some makeshift constructions. It was natural that when I started (1984) I was more influenced by athletes of the street scene that at the time were none other than the members of The Bones Brigade Team of Powell Peralta, the best skateboarding team in the world.
I admire and respect a lot of skateboarders, each one of whom helped in their own way in the evolution of the sport, but if I have to shorten the list to those who influenced me from the beginning I would have to say:
- Rodney Mullen, because he was the inventor of modern skateboarding, a person that brought the evolution with his imagination and methodicalness brought progress
- Mark Gonzales for his artistic approach
- Natas Kaupas for his passion and his restless eyes
- Mike Vallely for his dynamism and focus to the sport
- Ray Barbee for the slow and smoothness of his tricks on the streets. When you saw him skate you felt a calmness and simplicity; you could say that he was the yogi of skateboarding.
I feel honored that I had the chance to meet most of them in person through my travels.
Except for the organizer of the exhibition you are also a participating artist in it as well. What does that mean for you, what do you want to show through your work and what are the works that are more special to you?
As a person and an artist, I couldn’t remain artistically uninvolved in an exhibition of this kind. The organization of an exhibition is a very serious process that comes with a great deal of responsibility towards the general public; everything has to be in a certain place and order. It’s a big challenge for me because I’m very strict with myself but the real magic is in the art, that’s when you become creative and if your creation doesn’t come from a place of love, then what you create isn’t art. There are many collaborating artists that I admire and every time I give my best so that my work stands equally among their own. At the start except for painting I started creating ready-mades from skateboard decks, designer lamps and hangers, I thought it was a smart idea since there was nothing like that at the time and the shape of the decks was easily molded. As time went on, I started focusing more on the message of the work. I want my work to speak to the observer without the addition of more materials. That’s where the level of difficulty rises, since you have to create a work of art from a skateboard deck only. That’s when four of my favorite works where created:
The first one is The Puzzle. It’s a unique piece and maybe my favorite. I cut a skateboard deck manually into puzzle pieces and then I glued them back together. The meaning behind it is that if you put together every piece of my life everything leads to skateboarding. It’s the only work that has been done only with a skateboard without the addition of other materials and has a certain symbolism.
The second one is The Hanger. There’s a saying that goes: “Skateboards are fun. Riding with friends is even more fun!”. That’s how the hanger was born, a deck cut in the shape of kids that are holding hands and whose shape ultimately forms a skateboard. The hanger symbolizes the teamwork, friendship, the bond and the love that have to bring us all together.
The third one is The Bones, one of my first works (2005), where I used clay to create a spine on a skateboard. The spine symbolizes that skateboard is a living organism that carries us on its back for many years.
You will get to see it in the next exhibition!
Skateboarding is a way or life or a sport, which is the most symbolic movement that you have done in relation to the sport and what did you want to show the world with it?
Skateboarding is a sport and depending on whether you are going to let it take up space is going to determine if it’s going to become a lifestyle or not.
In 2013 I climbed 8 hours till the plateau of the Muses (2650 m) on the mount of the Gods, Olympus, with my skateboard in hand. My goal was to take a picture doing an Ollie with Myticas, the throne of Zeus in the backdrop. It was the first skateboard that reached that height on the Mount Olympus. This was a dream I had after taking a photo with my skateboard at the Pyramids in Egypt. I wanted to pass on two messages; the first one that a skater can travel as much as it takes to discover new places and manage to land just one trick in each of those. The second has to do with friendship and reciprocity. All these years the skateboard carries us like a faithful friend and helps us travel so that we can discover new places. In return we have to give back to our friends, to carry them on our backs if needed, where they can’t go alone so that they can see new places through us.
**Due to the current situation in Greece with the CONVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition is cancelled but it will come back on show as soon as the circumstances allow it. Be sure to check out the official Skateboard Art Crimes facebook page, by clicking here to stay up to date with future announcements.
The artists that are taking part in this years exhibition are the following:
GUESTS: Dimitris Xonoglou , Aleksandra Miliopoulou. ON THE DECKS: Kostis Damoulakis, JASON, NASTER, NADE, MERLIN, RASEL, AMOK, PEROS, Alex Martinez, Gerbos, Petros Karajan, Marina Psimenou, ETHEM,Irini Adampa, Maria Tsakona, Alexis Florakis, Jeppetto, Dimits LIGHT BOX: Dimitrios Karanikas SCULPTURE: Panagiotis Paraschis PHOTOGRAPHY: Vaggelis Neofotistos LIVE PERFORMANCE: Still Life_(Fluxus) Yiannis Stamenidis, Kostas Margaritis, Kostas Papas, Anestis Ntouvartzidis
Those who are interested in Alexis’ work and the sport itself can find the relevant resources and information on his website www.alexisflorakis.gr .
Don’t forget to check out Alexis’ videos on Youtube:
DIY Skateboard Wall lamp
DIY Skateboard Hanger