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Plum paradise for artists

Jennifer Sprouse • Jun 2, 2012 at 10:01 PM

The sounds of spray painting filled the air upon entering the colorful Urban Art Village Saturday afternoon at the Blue Plum Festival.

Twenty-four artists, hopeful that their two day creations would win the Urban Art Throwdown this year, worked to the beat of the music, adding little touches of paint as festival-goers gawked at each piece.

Each of the artists were given a 6-by-8 foot canvas, strung off the ground, as well as cans of spray paint provided for the competition.

The start of the Throwdown looked iffy as competitors showed up to sketch out their pieces Friday afternoon, as their work area was temporarily under a downpour. When the weather lifted, the artists got to work.

Chris Witkowski, spokesman and council member for the Urban Art Throwdown, said Friday that all of the artists were using different methods, such as freehand, brush work, stenciling and freestyle graffiti.

Unlike last year’s music-oriented theme, Witkowski said the artists could paint whatever they wanted as long as it was tasteful.

“As long as it’s in a positive light, we have children here,” he said. “We want to be able to do this next year.”

Brandon Marshall, a graphic designer from Memphis, said he researched a little of Johnson City’s history before coming to the graffiti competition.

“I wanted to combine kind of my interests with what this festival represents and what I think Johnson City is about,” he said. “I looked into it and it seemed like there was definitely a lot of musical heritage and Johnson City seems to be really proud of their musical heritage.”

Marshall said his central figure in his piece was Blue’s singer Blind Lemon Jefferson, who was a street performer in Johnson City at one point in time.

His piece, mostly blue and white, was uniquely constructed and admired by many passing through the Village on Saturday.

“I like to work in a lot of layers and just use words that are meaningful to the festival and meaningful to the city, like pride, community, heritage,” Marshall said.

He said that since he had arrived in town with his girlfriend at 4 a.m. Saturday, he’d been rushing to catch up and finish in time for judging, but had otherwise enjoyed his time at the festival.

“I had no idea what to expect, but it’s (Blue Plum) a lot bigger that I thought and everybody just seems really supportive and friendly,” Marshall said.

One of the sponsors of the event, Kelly Davis, owner of Backdoor Records, said Saturday night that the competition, minus the glitch with the weather, had gone rather smoothly.

Tagging himself as one of the innovators for getting the Throwdown off the ground, Davis said he hoped the competition would help explain to those unfamiliar with the art form that graffiti, as well as graffiti artists, do not necessarily have to be compared to vandalism.

“That’s really what I want to do, is bring attention to these people. They’re real artists,” he said. “Doing things like this, I think, brings a positive attention to it and not just the negative.”

Marshall’s piece, titled ‘Heritage,’ was announced the winner around 8:45 p.m. Saturday night. He won $1,000, a gift certificate from Artopia and a spot in the East Main Street breezeway where his art will be hung for a year. Marshall’s art will be joined by five other artists’ work that were voted into the top three for either the people’s choice or academic choice.

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