Interview with Urban Heat Advisory

FROM ART TO ACTIVISM AND AWARENESS: AN INTERVIEW WITH GRAPHIC DESIGNER MARIA PAPAEFSTATHIOU

The use of art as a means to bring about awareness and activism to the many moral and social issues affecting us as a society is not uncommon when considering the performing arts (such as music and film). The artist is able to capture the attention of the audience and instill a passion to take a stand and become an activist for change. However, with art in the visual form (painting, graphic design, sculptured), there must be a strong connection between the artist and the viewer. A connection through visual understanding and recognition that forms and drives our consciousness. Images that draw us closer to the art and ultimately to the message being portrayed in the piece. For example, it could be the eyes of the subject in the artwork or the color scheme used that gives us a special connection to the art and ultimately a need to become more involved in bringing an issue to the forefront. The famous quote “Art Imitates Life” could not be more true right now more than ever, where our global society is in dire need of upliftment and a collective desire to bring about change.

The amazingly talented graphic design artist and activist Maria Papaefstathiou is a shining example of how some of today’s most acclaimed artist are using their artistic excellence to bring about awareness and activism to some of today’s most serious and challenging issues. Her work has been featured across the world – from exhibitions in Johannesburg, South Africa to South Korea to Mexico and Taiwan. Maria’s art can be described as boldly-radiant and detailed, but more importantly her works are thought-provoking, informative and educational.  She has joined countless crusades against injustice and inhumanity all over the world and raised awareness to some of the many social issues that plague those whom may not have a voice to be heard.

Maria is a native of Athens, Greece – which could only contribute to her vast knowledge and understanding of great art. Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world and a mecca of architectural history, archaeological study, and ancient art. At age 15, she began designing her own simple advertisements just for fun – which soon turned her attention to graphic design helping to fuel her passion for various forms of art. It was in 2011 when Maria designed her very first social design piece after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. From that moment forward, she has lent her artistic talents to produce artwork designed at raising awareness on many issues such as: poverty, rape, education, autism, lymphoma and breast cancer. Her artwork relies on her own formula for success – by creating strong and powerful images that bring attention to social issues. Images so powerful that they engage the viewer and make them actually read the message, which are often strong one-word messages that intrigue the viewer to research and grow interest about the issue being brought to light.

While browsing the internet looking for inspiring works, Maria stumbled upon a gallery of amazing posters on the Flickr account of Michael Thompson aka “Freestylee”. A native of Jamaica, Thompson was quite talented with graphic design and lived in the U.S. in Philadelphia. As an avid fan of reggae music, he began to grow concern and disappointment at how the culturally-rich and poignant music of his homeland was being exploited for huge profits in other countries such as England, France and America while the people of his country (where the true origins of reggae began) continued to live in poverty. This frustration sparked his vision to establish the International Reggae Poster Contest aimed at redefining the visual language of reggae and shining a creative spotlight on the music’s positive global impact. The poster contest is held annually across the globe raising money to help fund the Alpha Boys’ School in Kingston, Jamaica – a non-profit vocational and educational school for at-risk boys and young men from Kingston’s impoverished inner-city communities. Michael Thompson’s poster became the new school logo.

Through a mutual love of graphic art design, reggae music and raising awareness, a strong and productive creative partnership was formed between Maria Papaefstathiou and Michael Thompson. The realization of Thompson’s vision began to come to fruition, with the two producing a large collection of powerful artwork honouring icons in the reggae industry as Thompson also wanted to create a reggae hall of fame to give thanks to the many artists that helped make reggae music a global music.  Unfortunately, Michael Thompson passed away suddenly in 2016, leaving behind a large collection of mourning family, friends, fans and supporters of his work. However, his vision and passion still remain strong with Maria continuing to drive his legacy and carry out the International Reggae Poster Contest. Just recently, the IRPC hosted its 20th Art of Reggae Exhibition at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica and a beautiful tribute to Michael Thompson titled “Freestylee Roots Art Exhibition” in Kingston, Jamaica.

We at Urban Heat Advisory are forever grateful to have had the opportunity to know Michael Thompson aka “Freestylee”. Thompson shared his own wisdom and guidance with UHA during our initial launch which helped us on our own concept and vision. His mentorship and support was strong and assured, as he was always willing to share his knowledge and wisdom with those around him. We cherish the time spent with him at both his “World A Reggae” Exhibitions held at the Jamaican Embassy and OAS Headquarters in Washington, DC.  Urban Heat Advisory first met Michael Thompson in 2013 through mutual friend Tania Dwyer.  Dwyer, a longtime supporter of the International Reggae Poster Contest and The Alpha Boys School, refers to Maria Papaefsthiou as her best friend.

“Maria has such a kind-hearted humanitarian soul – always striving to enlighten and awaken the world to the issues affecting society through her incredible artwork. She is the driving force behind the IRPC after the sudden passing of our good friend Michael, and has taken it upon herself to represent and fulfil the vision of the International Reggae Poster Contest.” – Tania Dwyer

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UHAWere you born in Athens, Greece? Have you always lived there? 

Maria: I was born in Germany to Greek parents and came to Greece to live at 4 years old. 

UHA:Does being from such a historic country with so many ancient landmarks inspire your passion to create works of art?

Maria: Being here and encountering the many different art influences from ancient times to the present have definitely inspired me. Even if I don’t consciously realize it, the images are engraved in my mind. 

UHA:When did you realize your passion and gift for art? What was your first significant piece? 

Maria: I’ve been drawing since early in my childhood, but what made me choose Graphic Design was my inclination around the age of 15 to design my own simple advertisements just for fun. Knowing myself and how easily I get bored with any kind of job, I was looking for a career in the future that could constantly inspire me. And I thought I would keep being enthusiastic about Graphic Design. The more I was getting into it though, the more passionate I became about all kinds of other art. One of my dreams is to one day have a big room full of works of art where I would spend all day. 

UHA:What directed you towards graphic design? Was there anyone specific issue that inspired you to concentrate on designing artwork that included a message towards social issues? 

Maria: My very first pieces of social design were done in 2011 after the big earthquake in Japan. Since then, I’ve designed posters on poverty, rape, lymphoma awareness, breast cancer awareness, autism and education. 

UHA:Your art is extremely powerful and captures the soul . On many of your pieces, the portraits are exceptionally detailed and so much is revealed in the eyes of the great people that you illustrate. Any specific reason for that?

Maria: Thank you for your wonderful words! I’m glad that you noticed the eyes in my portraits. Truth is, I spend more time on them the rest of the design because eyes reveal who we are. Many people tell me that I manage to capture their soul through my art. And it is said that the eyes are the window to our souls. 

UHA:Can you explain the process of being able to bring attention to the many social issues that affect us all by expression and communication of graphically designed illustrations? 

Maria: To bring attention to the social issues what you actually need is a strong image. Something that will capture the viewers attention and make them read your message. Then you need a strong message – even it’s just one word, anything you believe would intrigue the viewer to either search and read more about the issue you are speaking about or to motivate them to start thinking about it. 

UHA:The late pioneering graphic artist and activist Michael Thompson was, and will always be a tremendous source of inspiration and wisdom for us here at Urban Heat Advisory. We thought of him as a mentor and dear friend and were proud to have known him. How did you first meet Michael? 

Maria: I met Michael Thompson through my blog – graphicart-news.com. I was looking for inspiring works on the internet and stumbled upon Michael’s Flickr account and his amazing posters. One, two articles at the start. An interview later and a linkup on Facebook were the first steps to an amazing collaboration and friendship. 

Michael shared with me the idea to create the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC) as a platform to kick-start a catalyst idea and a global campaign to create a museum to narrate the experience of global reggae. A museum that will celebrate the richness of the music’s history and attract reggae-lovers from all over the world. Michael’s vision was to see the erection of a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum and Performance Center on the beautiful Kingston Harbor in the capital of Jamaica. 

Thompson, who grew up in Jamaica in the sixties, was disappointed that countries such as America, France and England were making huge profits from the island’s music. And the people of his country (where reggae music started) continued to live in poverty. At the same time, new great talents were rising… and that was the spark of his dream! 

    The International Reggae Poster Contest was established to help redefine the visual language of reggae and to shine a creative spotlight on the music’s positive global impact. The term “Reggae” to us represents all the popular Jamaican musical genres: Ska, Rocksteady, Roots Reggae, Dub, Dancehall and the unique Jamaican Sound System. As the world-famous reggae bandThird World rightly sings – “How can a BIG music come from a little island?”

   It is our recognition of what reggae has achieved globally that led us to launch the International Reggae Poster Contest. Reggae is no longer Jamaican music, but now belonging to the whole world. It’s music that brings people together. The theme of the contest – “Toward a Reggae Hall of Fame: Celebrating Great Jamaican Music” is the mantra that drives our work and the embedded message in the contest and exhibition. 

Another grand vision of the contest is to celebrate the amazing Jamaican institution, Alpha Boys’ School, which nurtured this music. Alpha Institute is a non-profit vocational and general educational school for at-risk boys and young men from Kingston’s impoverished inner-city communities. Since 1884, the Religous Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic order of nuns, have been running the school as part of their mission to serve the poor, the sick and the uneducated. The primary objective of Alpha is the empowerment and transformation of young men through education and skills training, particularly those who have little or no opportunity for education. 

  Since the early 1890’s, the Alpha music program has been the most prolific with graduates becoming respected internationally for their accomplishments in jazz, ska, reggae and pop music. From Blue Note jazz musicians like Dizzy Reece to ska music pioneers the Skatalites and reggae icons such as Johnny Osbourne and Winston Foster aka “Yellowman” (a 1997 Grammy nominee), Alpha’s past ‘boys’ are synonymous worldwide with the development of Jamaican pop music. Alpha is a “dream factory”, according to National Public Radio (NPR), for “legendary musicians” (Jamaica Gleaner) who “helped release the spirit of one of the most musical islands in the world” (The Telegraph / UK).

On my first trip to Jamaica, I had the pleasure of getting to know the teachers, the students and the buildings of the Alpha Boys School, where music is high on the curriculum. One of Michael Thompson’s posters became the new school logo. The poster was silk printed by the well-known printer “Tind” in Greece. This poster was the inspiration for talking to students and teachers about this method of printing. They immediately loved the technique and soon included it in the program when they began printing their first t-shirts with the new school logo to be sold online. 

UHA: Outside of art, what are your interests? 

Maria:  My first interest outside the world of art is the art of raising children. I mean my children. And then the art of giving. I believe this world can change if we all give to each other. And I’m not referring to money – but to love, help, anything each of us can share. Not everybody has money, but we all have a heart. Ad this art of giving is what made me accept Michael’s invitation to start the IRPC. From the very beginning, he said, “there is no money in it.”

UHA: What are your future goals? 

Maria:  Well, I wouldn’t say that I am a person with future goals. My only goal is to keep learning and to keep trying. I wish to have the strength to continue the International Reggae Poster Contest and to showcase the work of Michael Thompson. I have started a series of portraits on Greek cultural personalities. I want this to grow. Parallel to that, I want to continue working on Jamaican cultural themes. 

UHA: With the current ever-changing issues that we are currently plagued with, what role can the arts community play in shaping the future? 

Maria:   Designers around the world are using posters as a global platform to carry messages on several issues that are globally troubling. Successful posters, whether cultural or social, can communicate their messages to anyone in any country in almost any language. The poster itself and the art community will not change the world. But we have the most beautiful weapon to provoke discussion and challenge individuals to answer the call to action.

Interview with Urban Heat Advisory

Interview in “Artistic License”

Maria Papaefstathiou talking art, infringement and copyright.

CREATIVE

Q: Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

A: I am Maria Papaefstathiou, a graphic designer based in Athens, Greece. I studied graphic design in the early ’90s at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design of the Technological Educational Institute of Athens.

Only five years ago, I started exploring poster art depicting facets of global issues that I feel passionate about: global poverty, autism, rape, freedom of speech, cancer etc. I also design posters celebrating Greek music and the theatre heritage of Greece. That’s an ongoing project. And I also design posters about reggae music.

My love for the arts led me in 2010 to create a blog, Graphic Art News (graphicart-news.com), as a place to share any interesting artwork, design, or fine art photography worldwide that inspires me and which I think would appeal to other designers. These are projects that I find online. Many times, the artists ask me to feature them.

I am also the co-founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest (reggaepostercontest.com). This is an initiative of Michael Thompson who envisioned this contest as a platform for a catalyst idea – a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum erected in Kingston, Jamaica. This Contest also helps raise awareness for Alpha Boys’ School, which has played a key role in the development of ska and reggae music.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? And has the internet become a good or bad aspect to life as an artist?

A: Basically, I work on a computer, using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Sometimes, I sketch my ideas. Other times, I think of them as I’m going along. My works are influenced by cubism and futurism. I am very passionate about these art forms and I keep exploring ways to incorporate these elements in my own work.

Q: What do you dislike about the world of art?

A: I’ve loved to draw ever since I was a child. I remember drawing on rocks and then covering them with transparent nail polish to preserve my work. I am happy to still have one of those drawings. The nail polish did a great job!

When I discovered that there was a profession named “graphic design,” I decided that this was what I wanted to do for my career. So here I am today…

The Internet has played a big role for me.It allows me to escape my daily routine of working for someone else. I’ve been able to start doing things for myself as well: my poster art, the blog, the reggae contest etc.

The Internet is also my main tool to feed Graphic Art News. And it inspires me since everything is so easily available, with only few clicks… For example, I can study cubism, and find cubist artists from the past and also current practitioners.

Q: What is the toughest thing about being an artist?

A: I like artists who express themselves honestly, whether the world likes it or not. So, even if I see things I dislike, that’s just my totally subjective response. But, I hate arrogant artists…

Another thing that irritates me very much is how easily our work can be copied. The Internet is a big tool for us but it can also become an even bigger enemy.

Q: What’s your message to the World?

A: Fall in Love with Art!

Love it with all your heart.

Explore art! Then, make it your own.

And never, ever, give up trying…

Never count the hours you are giving to it. It will pay you back one day, in abundance!

INFRINGEMENT

Q: What was your first case of a piece of art being infringed upon?

A: My first case was one of Michael Thompson’s artwork, actually. Not mine. We saw it happening twice. Someone was printing a couple of his designs on t-shirts and selling them online.

He took them down immediately when we took legal action. Another infringement was someone else selling a t-shirt on a crowdfunding website. It came down the moment I sent proof that the art was Michael’s.

Q: How did you feel about someone stealing your artwork and making money from your hard work?

A: Angry…Irritated… But staying calm and patient is the best way to deal with it. I think about it and try to come up with a good strategy. I usually send a note informing them of the infringement and asking them to stop. If they don’t cooperate, I consider how much of my time pursuing then is going to consume. Is it really worth it? Or will I spend more money than what I’ll lose from illegal sales of my artwork? So it’s constant ambivalence about the right response…

Q: Do you feel it’s a necessary part of the market, to allow for free advertising?

A: I wouldn’t say necessary. But I believe the Internet is the tool of our century with the constant threat of infringing, unfortunately. e worst thing is the immorality of it all. It is not a question of IF someone is making money out of it or not. e artworks from the International Reggae Poster Contest have been stolen and used everywhere. They’ve been sold as posters and also used to promote reggae events. It frustrates me! And it frustrates the designers as well. But what can one do really? And how many infringers can you spend time chasing? Personally, I send messages to them, letting them know that we know. And we hope they will behave themselves. And most of them do. Because most of them don’t even realise what they are doing! They think since it’s on the Internet, it’s for public use.

Q: What would you say to the infringers if you had the chance?

A: What I am telling them already. To stop doing it! To honour the artist and take down the stolen work from their website. What I would like to see, though, is much more public education about intellectual property. For instance, how do we know we can’t smoke in a specific area? Someone told us not to. On radio and television, in newspapers and with signs in public….There has to be a way to educate the world about not stealing intellectual property. Public education is the right tool.

Q: How do you think this situation could be resolved?

A: One is what I’ve just said: public education. Then, artists can start a whole campaign. “Stop stealing”! Right? You have already designed a poster to protect your designs! Michael Thompson has made a whole series.

Why not other artists? Why not start building a platform with works about infringement and other legal issues? The messages should be clear and straightforward so everyone can understand why it’s a crime to steal other people’s works. There should be documents on the platform ready to be downloaded for every victim to use to save their artworks. Besides, how many of us can a afford the lawyers? A collective platform is a great start…

COPYRIGHT

Q: What is your view on copyright?

A: I agree with it. Artworks, designs, music, patents, lyrics…Everything must be copyrighted. For our own protection! It’s our seal, I believe.

Q: Have you ever innocently, or without knowledge of copyrighted laws used other’s material for your own work?

A: No. I mostly derive images that I want to use from stock photo galleries. But I have been asked to use other people’s work, photographs, actually, in my projects and, of course, I decline. I mean, if I’ll do it, then what worth do my own words have?

Q: How do you protect your own work against copyright theft?

A: I am not protecting my work as efficiently as I would like to. e best way is to have a lawyer copyright every single piece. But that’s not an easy thing to do… Not for me at least. So I am using only Creative Commons.

Q: Do you think companies on the web do enough to protect artist’s work?

A: No…I don’t think they do. But, again, I don’t know what more they can do than to state that all artworks are copyrighted by the artists. I am against the use of watermark over the artwork. It detracts from the beauty of the art, I believe.

Q: What do you think about Creative Commons and Public Domain?

A: I think they are trying to do a good job. But I have been a victim there too. Not personally, again, but one of our poster contributions was submitted to the Creative Commons by an imposter! Not by the artist himself! And I am 100% sure of who the owner of the artwork is…If I remember well, I wrote to Creative Commons about it, but I got no response. is I find really disturbing. All the same, it’s good to have the Creative Commons copyright symbols on your website. It’s like a ‘beware of the dog’ sign outside your yard.

Q: What do you think of artists that abuse this feature?

A: Well, let’s simply say they are NOT artists.

 

Interview with Artistic Licence

Interview with Greka magazine

Graphicart-news in Grekamag

“Since I started this blog in 2010, I have featured more than 800 artists from around the world”…
The following interview was recently conducted by Costis Pierides, from Greka magazine, about my blog and poster art and published on the website grekamag.gr. The following text is a translation from the original interview which was published in Greek. Photographs are by Aleksandros Akrivos.

Graphicart-news.com interview by Costis Pierides 

Maria Papaefstathiou made her love for graphic design and poster, a very successful blog. Presents and essentially detects the most innovative and interesting posters worldwide. Innovative ideas, international championships, competitions, festival posters, a microcosm of graphic design and aesthetic perfection. I met her and talked about all of them and about her future plans. Posters and graphics ie.

“I started my blog in 2010, but initially I was not quite so focused. It’s about a year that I started to feed it more systematically. My goal is to feature 4-5 articles a week. but of course, it’s not always possible to keep it on schedule, with all other projects running at the same time. I am working as an art director at Stamoulis Publications in Athens, Greece, but also as an artist, designing posters for social issues. And from there my hobby is my blog. I do not publish my own projects there, instead, I feature works that I love and inspire me and that I believe will inspire others too.

As a designer, I have participated in several social awareness exhibitions such as. In 2011, with the social activist artist from Jamaica, Michael Thompson, widely known as Freestylee, we launched an international competition, named International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC). I discovered Michael through my blog, searching for new articles. His work blew my mind since I saw it on Flickr. I had the honour to interview him and since then we collaborated with the IRPC, and other design projects.

For me, graphic design is a tool of communication. Posters are those I create to express my thoughts but also to find peace in my soul. It is a passion. It is not just something to fill my time but it is a way to fulfil myself. When I design something that is too challenging, to get it right, I feel very exhausted for a couple of days but at the same time, it is what excites me. Sometimes, I feel like my soul feels thirsty, then I know it’s time for a new poster.

This feeling is something I didn’t have in the past and I think that what is happening now is an indication that I will not stop creating and will not ever give up this blog.

What makes me feel awesome when I publish a new article is to see the first visitors coming from America, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, UK, Carribean, Japan, almost every corner of the world. I feel as though they passed the door of my house, to come in and say hello. It’s a wonderful feeling to hear so many “Hello”! The next is when you hear “thank you” is undoubtedly the largest payment. Actually, it is the only payment I get from this blog as I don’t use it as another income, and if I receive something that hardly covers the cost of maintenance. Neither ever care to see that. It’s just a great love to share such beautiful artworks and make happy so many new talents.

The world has accepted the blog greatly. The blog has tremendous traffic to the extent that I initially could not imagine. There are many artists who have asked me to do articles and tributes to their work and this is a great honour for me.

The first graphic designer to give significant support came from a friend of mine, Vasilis Magoulas aka VamaDesign, who was extremely supportive in the early stages of implementing the blog. I am grateful for this assistance. Since then I have received enormous support from the Greek visual artist Charis Tsevis. Charis who live in Athens is one of my most ardent supporters, and always find time to sit for coffee to discuss the blog’s progress. When I got involved in the world of poster design, I was also lucky to have many good supportive friends who advise and helped me transition on this new creative path. Some of those who were instrumental are Andrew LewisRoy VillalobosYossi LemelRichard Doubleday and Michael Iva. I have to thank them all.

There are some of my posters for which I am very proud of because they were used to raise awareness and funds for charity. One of my most memorable poster design was for the great liberator Nelson Mandela; for an initiative titled the “Mandela Poster Project.” My poster was chosen from among 700+ global participation. Today this poster travels to various countries of the world from Africa to Greece, also to many online design magazines and blogs. These posters were used to raise money for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. I am also proud to contribute my Reggae posters to our International Reggae Poster Contest, to raise money for a very important but needy school on the Island of Jamaica, the Alpha Boys’ School, this school produced some of Jamaica’s greatest musicians.

Recently I have begun designing a series of posters celebrating a very special music for me “Rebetiko”. These posters honour the Rebetiko musicians and their amazing contribution to Greek music and our popular culture. The project is still in progress and I am very encouraged by the support for the art so far. My design techniques draw strong influences from the Cubism and Futurism styles, for example, the posters I created on the subject of, SolitudeRape and the Fifa World cup 2014 were designed using those two influences.

I would love to express my biggest gratitude to my friend and partner Michael Thompson who inspired and encourage me to confidently explore my hidden skills.

Interview with Greka magazine