Being pleasantly surprised, is one of the most appealing aspects of travelling. A chance encounter in an alien culture or with exotic wildlife, unexpectedly discovering a shrine or maybe stumbling headlong into a full-blown carnival. This is the kind of travel serendipity which can change a mundane trip into one filled with memories, which last a lifetime. Finding a 3 kilometre street art gallery on the Kalamata to Sparta road in Greece qualifies as a welcome surprise for me.
I was visiting the Peloponnese, driving the main road from Sparta to Kalamata. Having just reached the top of a steeply winding mountain road, I was looking forward to reaching my eventual destination of Kardamili soon, only anticipating some great views of the ocean to make the drive more pleasant.
Discovering nearly 2 miles of colourful and graphic graffiti decorating the retaining wall along the road distracted me enough to park up, walk the length of the surprise art gallery, and grab some photographs. There is a mixture of dark, almost macabre images, alongside more vibrant and colourful murals, with ecological quotations and messages liberally daubed between them.
The images are the work of one talented artist, Kostas Louzis aka “Skitsofrenis”, skitso meaning sketch in Greek. Kostas is an artist with a message, he’s been displaying his art here since 2008, his work communicates messages of ecology and warnings for society.
The murals have a definite theme; they portray a struggling planet, a world in pain, with scenes of pollution and burning forests. The Dark Knight is a character repeated regularly, however there are also messages of hope. They feature brightly hued flowers, children planting trees, displaying an interaction between innocence and malevolence.
The project is of course sponsored, Kostas didn’t just decide to drive up here one day with his spray paint cans and randomly start leaving his very personal mark on the roadside. This canvas is provided with backing from a Greek-American foundation called “Plant Your Roots”, who have a stated philosophy:
“to combine the ancient values of respect for nature with the Olympic ideal of volunteerism. We promote the spirit of reconciliation and coexistence between humans and our natural environment.”
Those are worthy goals and this roadside street art is a great way of highlighting it. Unsurprisingly it’s not all been plain sailing, Vandals ruined Kostas early art, and he had to patiently restore them several times. Even now some of the written messages are probably not all the prose of the artist. Written in a mixture of Greek and English some are less poetic or insightful than his own. He is now beginning to gain recognition, securing commissions and has even featured within the pages of the German magazine Stern and Reuters news agency.
The road is not the busiest, but still provides a suitable canvas, allowing plenty of admirers the opportunity to view it. I was still passed by several dozen vehicles travelling in both directions during my stroll along the wall. I wondered how many actually paused to enjoy the unexpected art gallery, whether it distracted the drivers or disturbed their passengers uninterrupted views of Kalamata and the coast.
It was of little significance; it distracted me enough to spend nearly an hour walking along the road, admiring and taking pictures of this street art gallery. The short road trip around the Peloponnese was proving a joy, surprises like this were part of the reason.