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Columbus Makes Art Presents Justin Withrow, Summer Jam West Muralist

Patti Von Niessen Patti Von Niessen Columbus Makes Art Presents Justin Withrow, Summer Jam West MuralistJustin Withrow is painting this year's Summer Jam West art piece.
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Summer Jam West is coming Saturday, July 13, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Westgate Park. It’s both an arts and music festival, and a non-profit organization committed to placing permanent, public art on the Hilltop. To date they’ve installed two sculptures, two major murals (one 80 feet long and one 95 feet long) and five eight-foot-by-four-foot art panels. The organization has commissioned Justin Withrow to paint the 2019 mural, “Peace Train.”

They first encountered Justin in the fall of 2018 as he setting up his paint supply shop at 3440 W. Broad St. Justin sells specialized spray paint and streetwear for graffiti artists. He’s a graffiti artist himself, and after stealing the hearts of Summer Jam West with his outspoken, rebel style, he was hired to paint the 110-foot mural “Peace Train,” and the art car, “The Grape Escape.” Summer Jam West caught up with him to discuss his work.

Patti: How long have you been a graffiti artist?
Justin: I’ve been an artist for 15 or 20 years now. Since I was a kid I’ve been attracted to graffiti-style artwork and the culture itself, which led to my style today. Graffiti has made me very well rounded with other art forms such as installations, sculptures, canvas, etc. So to label me as just as a graffiti artist would be incorrect.

Justin Withrow painting a mural
Justin Withrow.

Patti: What first attracted you to graffiti art?
Justin: I was first attracted to graffiti art when I took up skateboarding. I’d see these characters and stylish lettered pieces done around my hometown in spray paint. I would follow a tag, which led to something more detailed and after a while of exploring, I would eventually find a masterpiece or “burner,” as we would say, under a bridge or inside abandoned buildings.

Patti: Can you talk a bit about your style?
Justin: I guess you could say my style is “well rounded.” I have an abstract view of letters and a good eye for perspective. I’ve gradually gravitated towards designs and abstracts lines that still incorporate the letters but have become more of an image in the end product. I like the 3D perspective and aggressive lines.

Patti: What inspires you?
Justin: It used to be aggression. You know, where people didn’t want us skating and didn’t want to build us skate parks, didn’t want walls painted that were already trashed. Now what inspires me is seeing others enjoy it; seeing others want to paint, meeting and helping out new artist. And sharing knowledge about the culture. I also like being hired to paint walls because it validates that others believe in me, my style and know that my work will make a business one-of-a-kind and stand out from the others.

Lookout Supply, an art store on Columbus' Westside
Supplies at Lookout Supply.

Patti: Is there a difference between street art and graffiti?
Justin: Yes. Graffiti was something for the artists to enjoy and to possibly make a statement. Something out of the norm. It’s their own personal self expression and very letter-based. Street art is multimedia and well rounded. It’s taking an object and turning it into something else, using wheat pastes, much more image oriented. Street art is for the public and not font-based. I like to think that graffiti artists inspired street art. I think they paved the way for street artists, which in turn made the public more aware and accepting of graffiti art.

Patti: As an artist, what challenges do you face?
Justin: The biggest challenge is people wanting to pay for your time and product, but not your skill level. You need to figure out how to represent yourself, how you stand out from the others, how much to charge and how much to do for free so you’re still giving back to the communities that need you. You need to figure out your own way and your own path.

See Justin’s mural “Peace Train” at 2322 Sullivant Ave. in the Hilltop. Summer Jam West arts and music festival is Saturday, July 13, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Westgate Park at 455 S. Westgate Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43204.

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art and sharing information about exhibitions, performances, concerts and more at ColumbusMakesArt.com. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.

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