Three large pieces of white paper, fastened together with tape, sit on the floor of Virginia Axioti’s apartment in Athens. Standing next to the fireplace, which is hidden behind one of her huge paintings, the Greek artist mixes colors and prepares her brushes. She is about to create something in a beautiful old-school art form that is rarely practiced today.
Axioti is the last person in Greece who makes hand-painted movie posters. Athinaion Cinemas is the only cinema in the country — and one of the few worldwide — that continues to use the nonprinted billboards to advertise films.
Today Axioti draws her first line on the 20-by-7-foot paper, which in a few days will become a gigantic Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker billboard.
She literally grew up inside Athinaion — it’s been in her family since her grandfather and his brother started the cinema in the 1960s. “I’ve seen so many movies that I feel my whole life is like a movie,” she says.
This past summer, Axioti became the cinema’s solo artist when 84-year-old Vasilis Dimitriou, who’d been creating the posters since he was 14 years old, decided to retire. “I have painted more than 80 posters since 2015 when I first started helping Mr. Vasilis,” Axioti explains. It depends on the movie, she adds, but the large pieces take up to four to five days to complete, working for about five hours daily.
Up until the videocassette generation of the ’90s, hand-painted posters were the norm for small cinemas in Greece. But when video clubs began to open, the old-school movie houses began to shutter and those remaining turned to printed posters, which were much easier to produce.
But Athinaion Cinemas has never opted for the newer, cheaper posters. “Fancy vinyl clothes were never our favorite,” Axioti jokes.
When a movie finishes, the hand-painted posters are taken down and returned to the artist. Both Dimitriou and Axioti have sold a few of their posters, including a handful to the cinema, but the majority are kept at their apartments. “Ideally, I would like to choose some of them and have an exhibition,” Axioti says. “I would like to find a big place that can host as many as possible, and I want to invite the cast and crew of these movies.”