Before the internet changed the world, upcoming movies were announced by billboards, trailers, and posters lining the hallways of theaters. Blockbuster film posters in particular were selling left and right, with fans everywhere using them to decorate the walls of their rooms.
In the midst of all this media madness, Athens, Greece-based artist Virginia Axioti started handpainting some of these billboards — that’s right, no digitization required — to hang over the entrance of Athens’ Athinaion cinema, one of the oldest theaters in the capital city.
Her most recent work dazzled moviegoers as they lined up for the premier of Avengers: Endgame: the zenith of a 22-film dynasty introduced by Disney’s Marvel Studios more than a dozen years ago. Painting the film’s main cast of heroes posed in character-defining stances was no easy task for Axioti, whose previous paintings generally featured only one or a few characters. Although she still prefers painting simpler depictions, her portrayal of the Marvel film stopped many movie fans dead in their tracks, allowing them to appreciate a work of classic art, often forgotten in the mix of green screen and other digital wizardry, if only for a moment.
The 970-seat Athinaion theater was founded in 1960 by Axioti’s grandfather and great uncle, who wisely chose to build on a bustling intersection in the city’s Ampelokipoi district. Axioti is now co-owner of the theater, and it’s the only one in Athens that still displays handpainted billboards.
The handpainted billboards have been part of the theater’s appeal since day one, when they were mostly painted by Vasilis Dimitriou, a former boxer who, at 83 years old, still works with Axioti to make signs for the Athinaion. His artistic style is more comparable to contemporary graphic novels but every bit mesmerizing as Axioti’s.
More About Axioti
Virginia Axioti, 41, is a fine arts graduate who paints in a wide range of styles. She’s also a talented singer and musician, though creating billboard art does take up most of her time. She generally spends four to five days painting each unique poster, averaging around 20 or 25 a year.
Beyond the creative challenges behind each piece, the billboards are also a bit of a physical test for Axioti, since she has a diminutive frame and each billboard painting averages a little larger than 20 by seven feet. Her first billboard was painted in 1979 for Mad Max. Her subsequent billboards have paid tribute to all kinds of movies over the years, including Neon Demon, Sully, Batman vs. Superman, Glass, Mary Poppins Returns, Darkest Hour, Dumbo, Alice, T2 Trainspotting, Cold Pursuit, The Wife, Killing On Wheels, Aquaman, Rogue I: A Star Wars Story, First Man, the latest version of A Star Is Born, BlackkKlansman, Johnny English Strikes Again, The Crimes Of Grindelwald, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, SOLO: A Star Wars Story, A Quiet Place, Lady Bird, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Goodtime, Thor: Ragnorak, Bladerunner 2049, Victoria & Abdul, Dead Men, and Dunkirk.