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Slovakia: Meet Erik D., Romani street artist

26.7.2017 8:22
The Romani graffiti artist Erik D. in Slovakia. (PHOTO:  Erik Demeter's personal archive)
The Romani graffiti artist Erik D. in Slovakia. (PHOTO: Erik Demeter's personal archive)

He is one of the most famous street artists in Slovakia and the only Romani man there to make a living as a professional in this style. Erik Demeter's fate is definitely graffiti.

The 34-year-old is from a family of business people and college graduates in Košice. His own future was supposed to follow in his family's footsteps, who wanted him to become educated and to get a job with a regular monthly income.

He was raised by his father and a grandmother who became like his second mother. Their rearing of him was strict, with very high demands placed on him, and as an only child he did not have an easy time.

His artistic talent was already apparent in primary school. His drawings captivated the principal, who urged Demeter's father to send him to arts school.

Demeter's father, however, saw his son's future in a more practical line of work, so he joined an apprentice program to become a cook or waiter. He never finished the program.

Graffiti – a symbol of rebellion

Like many other people, Demeter revolted during puberty and looked for his own path. On a walk one day he saw an image of a mummy created on a wall with spraypaint.

"That painting fascinated me, I couldn't take my eyes off it. I told myself I wanted to create something like that too," he recalls.

He did not hesitate long, buying spraypaint and setting off after his first illegal wall. At that time there were no public spaces set aside for graffiti, so several times he was brought home by police.

His father, of course, took that very hard. "I had drawn and painted since I was little, but when I began to do graffiti, my father didn't like to see that. At that time it was a symbol of something criminal. It wasn't easy with me, once I even spraypainted the facade of the school I was attending," Demeter recalls.

Demeter's father responded to that incident uncompromisingly. The graffiti artist had to restore everything to its original state.

Romani origin as an advantage

Among other street artists Demeter never experienced racist insults or unpleasant remarks. He himself considered his origin an advantage, as did they.

Demeter first joined a graffiti group together with another Romani friend, but that person soon left, so he became the only Romani graffiti artist in the city. He encountered racism in the outside world daily, but not in his crew.

"It never happened to me that somebody would come up and say 'look how that gypsy is painting' or something like that. That never happened. On the contrary, I was considered a star - the Rom who can paint well. In that world, it was my advantage," he says.

Artist or employee?

Demeter tried a coupke of jobs and worked in several European countries, but he was drawn back home to graffiti. Given his talent, he received his first commission immediately at the age of 18.

"My father and I liked to go to a certain restaurant, and I proposed to the owner that I would do a painting for him. He agreed, so I painted a woman across the entire ceiling for him," Demeter recalls.

Many people saw the painting and other commissions soon came his way. Demeter is one of the few graffiti artists in Slovakia who uses the so-called Wild Steel style.

That style has mainly to do with how lettering is created - the painting of faces and images is naturally an entirely other goal. Demeter has to first find inspiration, which he seeks not just at home and outdoors, but also through the Internet.

First he creates a design or sketch and decides what colors he will use. The spraypaint itself and its quality are the most important aspects.

The price of spraypaint is between three and 10 euros a can, so one high-quality painting requires between 150 to 200 euros' worth of paint. Spraypaint quality has to do with the pressure of the spray and the intensity of the color.

Spraypaint color must be rich and the lines sprayed very thin. Much also depends on the surface where the work will be executed.

According to the signature and the style, artists in the community are able to identify each other. Demeter uses the signature OAR.

The difference between an artist and a vandal

Today when Demeter sees a tagged building, whether privately owned or publicly owned, he shakes his head. "Today kids have the opportunity to use legal walls designed for them, to spraypaint their works there," he says angrily.

"We didn't have that advantage 20 years ago. When I see scrawls spraypainted on buildings it always hits me," the artist says.

"That's basically just vandalism," Demeter explains. Graffiti, however, is a kind of artistic expression that happens in a public space.

Its origins extend back to prehistory, as cave paintings can, in a certain context, be considered humanity's first graffiti. The term comes from the Greek word "graphein", which means "to write".

Today's graffiti is part of the so-called culture of protest and is frequently connected with the musical genre of hip hop. Over time graffiti gradually inherited and was enriched by other techniques such as wheatpasting, stickers, stencil graffiti, mosaics, video projections and street installations, all of which are considered so-called street art.

Demeter's family has accepted graffiti

After the death of his father, Demeter experienced a complicated period that his partner of seven years and his infant daughter helped him deal with. It is important to him that his family did ultimately accept the fact that he was not going to be a business person, a lawyer or a physician, but that he would be an artist.

"My family fully supports me today and that is very important to me," he says with emotion. He prepares his artworks today in a garage where he uses plasterboard and exhibits them through his Facebook profile, Graffiti OAR,

Demeter is always experimenting with new opportunities. "If you don't have talent then you shouldn't do graffiti - nobody wants to look at scribbles. If you have talent, then I mainly wish you luck, because that is very important. You can be as talented as Picasso, but without luck nobody will ever discover it and you will never make a name for yourself. It's necessary to hang in there, to teach yourself, to have friends, luck and patience," he says.

First published in Czech in Romano Voďi magazine (www.romanovodi.cz).

Stanislava Ondová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Culture, Osobnosti, Profil, RV



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