Christina Majic continues work on her piece for the fourth annual Urban Art Throwdown as the sun begins to set on Friday evening. (Photos by Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press)
For some, there may be a fine line between what could be considered an act of vandalism and a work of art.
But, for Eva Hunter, the difference between the two can be summed up in one word — permission.
Using that notion, four years ago, Hunter and other members of Keep Johnson City Beautiful started the Urban Art Throwdown, a two-day art competition set with a focus on street art, or graffiti, set against the background of the Blue Plum Festival.
“I think graffiti begets graffiti, (and) in an area, it contributes to blight,” Hunter said. “The difference between graffiti and art is permission. That’s our slogan.”
The throwdown, which began its fourth year Friday and will conclude later today, offers urban artists a chance to compete against each other in a public setting. Hunter said she anticipated as many as 20 artists to compete in this year’s event, which awards cash prizes of $400 for third place, $500 for second and $1,000 for first.
In addition to offering cash prizes to local artists, however, Hunter said the event is used to show children that urban art can be more than an activity that results in a misdemeanor offense.
“We continue to work with the juvenile court system and the Johnson City Police Department to encourage young kids not to get arrested doing it, but to find a mentor like these guys here, who are commissioned artists, who will train and teach this as a positive art form,” she said.
While Hunter said the event was designed to foster artistic expression, she added that the original idea for the throwdown came from the Keep America Beautiful program Graffiti Hurts, which works to prevent and eliminate graffiti.
“We took that Graffiti Hurts program and we tweaked it into this positive expression of urban art,” she said. “When it’s done on this platform, it becomes urban art.”
Beyond the competition, however, urban art is expanding to more mainstream venues. According to local artist and throwdown contestant Daruth Padilla, urban art is being recognized as a legitimate medium by the professional art community because of the work of people like Shepard Fairey — who created the “Hope” image used by President Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign — and Banksy, a renowned British street artist.
“Very educated, savvy artists use graffiti as a medium now,” Padilla said. “It has always had the ‘cool’ factor. People are familiar now with graffiti, and they see that it’s not necessarily scribbling and ruining people’s property, but it can be very, very artistic.”
Though Hunter said she expected more artists to begin their work today, several artists turned out as the event opened Friday. A’Darius Banner, a sophomore at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, began painting an image of his brother Friday afternoon. For Banner, whose work includes the mural of Martin Luther King Jr. next to Taste Budz in downtown Johnson City, the competition represents the best of what urban art has to offer in that it shows art to everyone.
“What I like about urban art the most is that it’s out for the public to see,” he said. “It’s not like an art piece in someone’s house; that’s the whole point. Multiple people can see it on a daily basis.”
Padilla expanded on Banner’s notion of public viewership by saying that, at times, watching the other artists can be the most rewarding part of the competition.
“To be around other artists and the inspiration to just walk around and see what they’re doing ... that’s the best part,” Padilla said.
One artist Padilla may be keeping a particular eye on is Christina Majic, his wife, who he met during the throwdown in 2011. The two have participated in the throwdown every year since then, and, according to Majic, began their own contest in its midst.
“(In 2012), he got second, and I got third,” she said. “Last year I got second, and he got third. So now it’s like our own competition.”
The main competition will extend through 7 p.m. today, when judging will commence. The winners will be announced at 8.
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