Graffiti celebrated as part of hip-hop culture in live painting during annual event

As the 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival moves from Weinland Park to the Hilltop for this year's fourth annual event celebrating all things hip-hop, the things that have made it the city's freshest, most entertaining festival will remain. That includes, despite the loss of the walls at the former Rice Paddy Motorcycles location, live graffiti painting.

As a foundational element of hip-hop culture, the festival's founders were clear from the outset that graffiti would play a significant role in the event.

“Basically, we just said it cannot happen without [graffiti],” Justin Withrow, one of the festival's co-founders, said in an interview at Lookout Supply, the North Campus area art supply store he owns.

“That's why we started 2x2, to get the word out about the culture and the elements that come with it,” co-founder Josh Miller said. “All of the organizers all have an art background, and most of us have some kind of graffiti background, whether just picking it up during high school like me, or people like Justin who are still painting and making murals today. It's a really big focus for us, and the festival reflects that.”

“There are no rules that come with it. It's just promoting your own self-expression,” said Stephen Horvath, who coordinates live painting at 2x2 with Withrow.

Withrow said organizers recognize the importance of the practice, and refuse to compromise on the notion that graffiti is an art form, despite the existence of “softer” terms such as street art or muraling. The key, he said, is the nearly exclusive use of spray paint.

“There used to be just Krylon and Rust-Oleum, American Accents, that was it. I had to go to Kmart and steal caps and go to my mom's spray cans and steal her caps while I was learning how different things worked, different techniques,” he said. “I was a kid coming out of school, drawing dragons and shit in class, and I remember the first time I saw this dude painting these characters, these people, looking crazy, and adding these letters. I saw that and was hooked.”

At the first 2x2, the live painting was simply about assigning painters their spots and letting them go. In the ensuing years, “we've encouraged a little more design, a little more production,” Horvath said.

This year, with the move to the former Hillcrest Lanes site on West Broad Street, there is less available wall space for painting, so Withrow and Horvath assembled large wooden frames in the shape of cubes, with each artist getting a side on which to work. Being able to see live painting not just from behind but from among the artists should provide a new experience for viewers at the festival, if a less-than-ideal environment for many painters, who still prefer working on walls, Horvath said.

About 30 graffiti artists, both local and national, will be participating in live painting at this year's 2x2, including Withrow (who paints as Pezor) and Horvath (dr.sELr77), Etch of the Mural Machine, Big Meas of Sacred Hand Tattoo, Monster Steve, Chero, Kazer, the Kobra paint team and Osman Mohammed painting for Graffiti Heart.

Note: This version of the story contains a corrected spelling for Stephen Horvath's graffiti painting name.