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Hundreds of street artists brighten riverfront in Paint Louis

DOWNTOWN – Every year during Labor Day Weekend, hundreds of street artists flock to the streets of St. Louis to participate in one of the biggest art projects in the country, Paint Louis. 

Internationally known, the four-day festival is widely popular for bringing together a plethora of muralists in an annual celebration of hip-hop. 

John Harrington, a hip-hop artist and one of the organizers of Paint Louis, explained that hip-hop involves four elements: graffiti, beatboxing, emceeing and dancing.

Harrington has worked with other Paint Louis members to organize the event along the city’s Mississippi River flood wall for the past 20 years. 

The project launched informally in 1995 when he and a group of friends would use the levee wall as a canvas. After inviting more and more people to contribute to the graffiti project year after year, the word spread, growing into a weekend-long festival.

“A lot of people from St. Louis don’t even know about this,” Harrington said.

Street artists from all across the world traveled to the Show-Me State for the art festival, Aug. 28-Sept. 2. 

Artists arrive on Thursday and begin buffing the wall and painting their designs on Friday, Harrington said. By Saturday, artists begin to paint and fill in their creations on the 20-foot-high wall. On Sunday, the finishing touches are added; and by Monday, artists and festivalgoers alike get the chance to enjoy the final product.

According to Harrington, 212 artists registered for the event. Actually, he said, 250-275 artists showed up to decorate two miles of the wall.

“As a citizen of St. Louis I pretty much rent this wall from the city four days a year, but you can come down here and paint anytime during the year,” he noted.

“It’s like the mecca of graffiti artists, street artists, muralists around the country, around the world.

“You’ve got people that come here from, like, Australia, saying, ‘I’ve been wanting to come here my whole life. I’ve been seeing the videos and the magazines and watching it on Youtube, and I finally was able to get enough money to come here,’” Harrington said in an interview.

“So for them it’s like traveling to Mecca, traveling to the graffiti capital of the world,” he said. “We’ve got every crew from all over the country here or a representative from most of the crews all over the country here.”

Jason Spencer, a St. Louis native and area artist, was able to paint his first mural on the flood wall this year.

“It’s been awesome so far,” Spencer said. “I got to meet out-of-town artists and paint beside some of my friends that are also amazing artists, too.”

Spencer describes his style of painting as bright, colorful and disgusting. He typically likes to paint works depicting giant monsters, aliens and similar characters.

“This is like one of the biggest monsters I’ve been able to do, because this scale of the flood wall is pretty cool to deal with,” Spencer explained.

Besides the breathtaking artwork, there was plenty of fun to keep the entire family entertained at Paint Louis 2019.

Festivalgoers enjoyed a Paint Louis Kids’ Zone equipped with cotton candy, an ice cream truck, face painter and balloon artist plus plenty of food and merchandise available for purchase.

A DJ provided the soundtrack for the other elements of hip-hop – the beatboxing, emceeing and dancing.

Harrington said Paint Louis 2010 was going to be even bigger and better.

“I would encourage people to come down and see the culture itself, because it’s storytelling through hip-hop,” he said.

“This concentrates on graffiti. You never really go to a festival or event where the art is the main part. And our canvas is a 20-foot-high, two-and-a-half-mile wall,” Harrington added.

Bria Gremillion

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