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Hill City’s Graffiti Gallery defies boundries of typical art galleries

With a goal of offering “contemporary art for urban living,” Graffiti Gallery: A Hill City Art Joint opened this fall in conjunction with the annual Association of Visual Arts Gallery Hop.

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Graffiti Gallery owner David Jones focuses on “contemporary art for urban living.”

“I really like abstract art,” said owner David Jones, whose gallery reflects that affinity, though it does contain some representative works, such as those by artist Jim Tucker. “I felt like we needed to carve out a niche.”

He said he recognized that Chattanooga lacked a gallery focused on modern art and decided to fill that hole.

“My wife and I collected art for some time and got to know some artists really well,” said Jones. “I wanted to see if I could start this on a shoestring, and it seemed to all come together.”

The intention behind the gallery and its name were to use the wall at the corner of Spears and Chambliss avenues for installation pieces, which are painted on removable panels and are for sale.

“We’re trying to build a market in Chattanooga for buying street art,” said Jones.

Several local artists including him have works in the gallery: Kevin Bate (well known for his Frazier Avenue murals of innovators), Robert Bivin, Patrick Nelligan, Tony Mraz, Jim Tucker and others. The outdoor gallery on the corner includes works by Chattanooga native David Ruiz and local street artists Seven and Rondell Crier.

A different artist’s work is featured each month in the gallery, with an opening held the first Friday of the month (skipping January). Seven is this month’s featured artist.

“We’re event-oriented since we don’t get many walk-ins,” said Jones, although he keeps books and magazines in the gallery for people to come by and read, relax and enjoy the atmosphere. The gallery usually has around 150 people come through during openings, he added. “We’ve started to engage with the neighborhood; a lot of people walk Spears Avenue.”

Jones said he hopes the addition of Publix to the neighborhood will increase foot traffic.

“I think we’re well positioned,” he said of Graffiti’s location.

Through a Community Cultural Connections Grant from Allied Arts, Graffiti plans to block off Chambliss and hold an event this spring for neighborhood kids with graffiti artists David Ruiz and Seven.

“The concept is graffiti as art,” said Jones. “We wanted to connect the dots between graffiti and street art.”

He said the difference is graffiti is about tagging or getting one’s name out, which Seven sometimes does, as can be seen on one of his installation pieces outside.

Several of the artists were concerned their installation pieces would be tagged, including Seven, and requested plastic be put over the pieces to protect them. Others, such as Rondell Crier’s 3-D piece, are an ongoing experiment to see if the gallery’s honor code (lifted from the city of Toronto’s graffiti code) posted outside will prevent tagging of the works.

To be in line with the code, an artist would need permission from the property owner and would refrain from writing over someone else’s work.

“I would be surprised if they don’t get tagged,” Jones said. “Everything is speculative as to whether it gets messed up; it’s just one of the risks.”

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