If the walls of Cyprus could speak, they’d be crying out for more than divisive slogans and political graffiti. ALIX NORMAN meets a couple whose larger than life murals are bringing a touch of happiness to the island
Street art was slow in coming to Cyprus. While other countries have been decorating their buildings with colourful works for decades (New York’s 40-foot tribute to the Notorious B.I.G.; Banksy’s Balloon Girl in London; Keith Haring’s Tuttomondo in Pisa), Cyprus tended more towards burning political slogans splashed across ancient stone walls.
But in the last few years, the island has seen a change. Along with Limassol Street Life and Ayia Napa Street Art Festival, we’ve seen Cypriot street artist Twenty Three going global, while the Byzantine-inspired murals of world-renowned Greek street artist Fikos decorate many a local building.
But now, there’s a new muralist on the scene – or rather muralists, plural: an unusual team whose massive works of art are fostering both beauty and connection.
Meet husband and wife Sascha and Tashi Stylianou, artists by profession and the island’s newest muralists. Originally from South Africa, they moved over in 2020, with one vision in mind: to make the walls of Cyprus more beautiful. It hasn’t been an easy journey for this duo; residents are still adjusting to the idea of several-storey art. But, just a few months in from the official launch of Art Murals Signs Cyprus, business is beginning to boom…
“Art should be an adventure,” says 51-year-old Sascha. “And for both my wife Tashi and I, that’s never been more true than in Cyprus! When we arrived on the island, we knew immediately that we wanted to explore the creation of art for everyone; works that kids to teenagers to grannies could enjoy, pieces that elevate local history and culture. And though it’s taken us a while to get the business up and running, we’re thrilled to be living that dream!”
The couple have both been involved in the field of art for their entire lives. Affable extrovert Sascha grew up in art school, his mother an art professor. Having studied commercial art, he’s an experienced hands-on artist, accomplished in a wide range of styles. The quieter, more introverted Tashi started out in graphic design, and has a background in digital art and creative direction. Combining their considerable talents, the two are now working on Cyprus’ walls, inside and out, creating stunning murals that delight both private individuals and the public at large.
“Schools, restaurants, businesses, hotels, villas – in just the few months since launching, we’ve been commissioned to paint every type of wall you can imagine!” laughs Sascha. “We’ve been to Nicosia, Limassol, Paphos, Larnaca and Ayia Napa. And we’ve got to see the island from a novel perspective – hanging high above the street, sideways over crowded corridors, and even slithering like snakes to paint baseboards and paving stones.”
On the building housing Nicosia’s Teriyaki Sushi, the duo dangled from makeshift scaffolding to create a sweeping Tokyo-style mural of a young woman backdropped by almond blossom. At the Garden Bar in Paphos’ Aliathon Resort, they created an outsize monochromatic Zeus that’s staggeringly lifelike. In Meneou, almost the entire exterior of the Dog Care Hotel Grooming salon is now a vibrant depiction of happy canines. And a daycare centre in Pareklissia has become a tribute to Paddington, thanks to the couple’s artistic skills.
“It’s not easy doing this sort of work,” says Sascha. “Most projects take several days, if not weeks, to complete. And there are so many facets to muralism. You have to be digitally adept to run the business and create the initial designs. You need to be a people person, because you’re dealing with clients and their vision day in and day out. You must be able to adapt to different briefs, various styles of art, depending on what the client wants. And you need to be in good physical shape: you’re running up ladders with huge spray guns or buckets of paint – and often, you’re facing down the elements…”
“Remember the school in Limassol?” Tashi interjects with a chuckle. “It was the height of August, and we’d been commissioned to create a massive seascape to light up a passageway. There wasn’t a breath of wind, the temperature was over 40 degrees, and there was dust everywhere. And there we were in our typical protective gear – long sleeves and cargo pants – with the sweat pouring off us as if we were in a shower!”
“Eventually,” grins Sascha, “we brought in a huge metal fan. And then we had to work against its power – not easy when you’re trying to spray paint tiny details. But we finished, and we’re hugely joyful to know we’ve helped bring a spot of cool, underwater magic to the school’s students!”
This is hardly the first time the duo have worked in challenging conditions. In 2005, the completion of a 7.2 square kilometre mural on the walls of Qatar’s Olympic ice-skating rink saw Sascha suspended from nine-storey ceilings in 50-degree heat for 90 days. And a more recent project for a villa in Alambra saw both quite literally climbing the walls as they applied massive amounts of gold leaf to a mural above an immovable, €60,000 pool table.
“It certainly keeps us in good shape,” says Sascha. “And it’s absolutely worth it to see the look on the client’s face when they see the finished artwork. Although we do a number of interior commissions for private customers, many of our works are in public places, so there’s also the ongoing satisfaction of knowing you’re brightening lives. It’s so satisfying to see people light up when they come round a corner and see a vast, colourful mural. I sometimes think we’re in the business of generating not great art, but great emotions.”
Always working to the client’s brief – “artists can often be a little precious,” smiles Sascha. “We’re not like that at all!” – this lovely couple are already looking into collaborating with local municipalities, ministries and other muralists: their charm and talent uniting communities island-wide.
“Because isn’t that what murals should be about?” Sascha concludes. “Isn’t art about bringing people together? In a world that often feels disconnected, on an island that’s been too long divided, murals have an immense power to bring harmony and connect communities.”