The rise and fall of the man who defined street art in Cyprus [PHOTOS]

When fate led him to Cyprus 22 years ago, he never imagined his presence would challenge a nation’s stance on graffiti and pave the way for a culture of acceptance, defining the trajectory of street art.

Achilleas Michaelides, widely known as “paparazzi,” stands as the forefront figure in Cyprus’ street art scene.

His creations have evolved into landmarks across all major cities, extending their reach to European streets. Refusing the accolade of being the best, he reflects, “If they tell you you are the top and you believe it, you have lost the game,” recounting his struggle with addiction and subsequent incarceration during his peak of fame.

In conversation with Phileleftheros, ahead of his solo exhibition in Limassol, Michaelides delves into his impoverished upbringing in Georgia, his artistic origins in Thessaloniki, and his transformative journey in Cyprus that propelled him to fame.

“I was born in 1982 in Tbilisi. When communism fell in 1991, my parents migrated to Greece for work, leaving me with my grandmother from ages 9 to 12. We resided in a Greek enclave, but soon, the neighbourhood emptied, leaving behind a sense of desolation. Poverty was rampant, and every school day was a challenge. Despite the hardships, I had a penchant for drawing, starting formal art lessons at the age of 9.

“Upon relocating to Thessaloniki, I continued my artistic pursuits. However, traditional art forms failed to resonate with me as a teenager. Influenced by renowned graffiti artists, I embarked on my journey into street art, signing my work under the pseudonym ‘paparazzi’ after hearing Xzibit’s song.”

Initially met with familial opposition, especially from his father, Michaelides recalls his early struggles, “I remember begging my mother for money at my first festivals. Poverty fuelled my creativity as I sought alternative means of expression. By 17, my work garnered attention, steering me towards a path of recognition.”

His father’s relocation to Cyprus in August 2002 marked a pivotal moment in Michaelides’ life.

“Arriving in Cyprus, I encountered a burgeoning hip-hop scene with nascent graffiti culture. Collaborating with fellow artists like Yannis Hadjipanagis (ed. Pest), my work gained traction. However, a run-in with the law in Nicosia thrust me into the spotlight.”

Following a brief stint in England, Michaelides returned to Cyprus, embarking on a tumultuous journey marked by success and self-destruction.

“As accolades poured in, I succumbed to vices, spiralling into a cycle of substance abuse and recklessness. It took a harsh wake-up call, including a stint in jail and my father’s battle with cancer, to set me on the path to recovery.”

The turning point came during his tenure as the artistic curator of the Ayia Napa Street Festival, where he encountered sober, successful artists, reshaping his perspective on artistry and lifestyle.

“Through the festival, I witnessed the transformative power of art and sobriety. Inspired by newfound role models, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery, reclaiming my identity as an artist.”

Now, with projects spanning across Europe and a forthcoming solo exhibition in Limassol, Michaelides reflects on his journey with gratitude and humility.

“The exhibition, themed ‘vandalize,’ serves as a satirical commentary on consumerism and materialism. By ‘vandalizing’ renowned works, we challenge societal norms and invite viewers to reevaluate their relationship with art and possessions.”

Scheduled for April 5-7, 2024, at the old SODAP factory in Limassol, the exhibition promises to blend street culture with gallery art, celebrating the evolution of Cyprus’ art scene.

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