Graffiti offers emerging Chattanooga artists a place to show their non-representational works

Graffiti offers emerging Chattanooga artists a place to show their non-representational works

May 12th, 2013 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

"In the beginning #4" is a blind embossed intaglio/charcoal.

"Table for Two" is an acrylic/graphite/charcoal/sand piece.

Tony Russo is the featured artist at Graffiti in North Chattanooga.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

* What: Graffiti, a Hill City Joint.

* Address: 629 Spears Ave.

* Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.

* Phone: 400-9797.

You don't have to look far or hard to find graffiti in Chattanooga. You do have to dig a little to find Graffiti, a Hill City Joint, however.

And people are.

Co-owner David Jones wasn't sure how much demand he might find when he opened a small art gallery specializing in locally made modern art on a side street in North Chattanooga, but he's already talking about finding a bigger place.

Granted, just about anything would be bigger than the 500-square-foot space the gallery occupies in an old house on Spears Avenue, but Jones has been thrilled by not only the number of visitors who have come by but also by the number of artists.

Since opening in September, Jones says he has sold about 27 pieces and, since exposing the artists was more the goal than selling art, he's happy with those numbers.

"I love what you can find there," says artist Jan Chenoweth. "Especially the bargains."

Among the artists currently showing there are Fennel Blythe, Jim Tucker, Seven, Kevin Bate, Rondell Crier and Tony Russo, the featured artist this month.

Russo might be the poster boy for what Graffiti is all about. He graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1986 and worked as a graphic artist, primarily in printing, for 25 years or so. While his degree is in graphic design, he studied intaglio printmaking -- printing in which the image is sunk below the surface -- sculpture and painting at UTC, then spent more than a year traveling and living in Greece, Crete, Europe and Scotland.

"I didn't create there, I absorbed," he says.

Marriage, four children and a career dominated his life until about three months ago, when he decided it was time to make art with a new client in mind.

"If I created anything in the past, it was for someone else," he says. "I wanted to make something for me."

He did a few paintings and sculpture pieces and wanted someone else's opinion, so he called his mentor at UTC, Alan White, then asked Jones and fellow artist Tucker if they would stop by.

"I wanted an opinion, and that was all I wanted," Russo says. "I had no intention of showing."

Jones liked the piece and asked Russo to showcase a few pieces at Graffiti. When Russo showed up a few weeks later, toting an intaglio piece he'd done with charcoal and graphite on some embossed paper he'd had for awhile, Jones asked him to be the featured artist in May.

"I started playing, and the next thing I know it was like a metamorphosis," Russo says of the intaglio pieces.

"I like them and just think Tony is very talented," Jones says.

Russo ended up with eight of the intaglio pieces, all of which share a similar theme. He has 13 total pieces in the spotlight gallery at Graffiti.

The idea behind Graffiti is to showcase emerging local artists, particularly those who create non-representational, or abstract, arts.

"There isn't really anybody pushing it in town, and we'd like to be involved in developing the artist," Jones says.

For Russo, who has sold two pieces through Graffiti, the whole experience has fanned the creative flames.

"Having someone buy my work makes me feel good that someone is willing to put out money for something I created," he says. "What I'm having the most fun with is what I'm doing right now, which is creating what I want. If people want to buy it, I'm fine with that, but if they don't, I'm fine with that also."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6354.