The story behind Art for All Peoples, the mysterious street art popping up across Chattanooga

Contributed photo / Anonymous street art found throughout Chattanooga.

You've probably seen Chattanoogan Eugene Peterson's (not his real name, but a self-assigned pseudonym) street art around town or on Instagram @artforallpeoples. Sometimes inspirational and encouraging, other times intended to make you think, smile or even angry, his pieces can be found tacked up along the streets in areas from North Chattanooga to East Chattanooga to St. Elmo (although they never last long there, he says, particularly if the art is related to Black Lives Matter) to Missionary Ridge.

"I've never been an artist in a 2-D, traditional way," says Peterson, whose foray into anonymous street art started in May 2020, around the time of the killing of George Floyd and the local Black Lives Matter protests. He wanted to do more, and he started projecting phrases - "Please, I can't breathe," for example - onto buildings, like the Tennessee Aquarium and the TVA offices downtown, using a wagon loaded up with a computer and a generator.

But he hated sitting around for hours and the potential for confrontation, so he started acquiring paintings from thrift stores, spray painting them a solid color and using them as canvases. Now he mainly uses old, donated campaign signs (people tend to break the framed paintings, he says).

He started out with social justice-related messages, but now he uses just about anything he likes - memes, phrases, doodles of cats. None of it is his own work; all of it is found by searching Google Images or Pinterest and traced onto a canvas using a projector.

He's done around 700 pieces so far, and his goal is to get to 1,000. Peterson says he won't necessarily stop there, even though poly spray paint is expensive and making and posting the art takes time. There are infinite resources for inspiring new pieces, and he says he's started to tag the artists online when he can find out where they came from.

Peterson says he randomly chooses where to put the art, and he's done it at all times of day - but typically he puts it up really early in the morning when few people are out. While he has been caught in the act a few times, the reaction is almost always positive.

Reactions are mostly positive on social media, too, although there are some people who object to the use of foul language on some pieces or others who express their belief that street art is defacing public property.

"I like when people get upset about it," says Peterson, who prefers to remain anonymous. "It's funny how the world is so angry for different reasons."