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Thursday, July 18, 2024

When walls become canvases: Subsurface Street Art Expo returns  

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Due to this article’s nature, some sources wish to remain anonymous and gave the Recorder alternate names. 

Colorful murals of figures, shoes and even a goldfish now coat various walls in Fountain Square.  

Behind the new wall art is the Subsurface Street Art Expo., an event that started in 2002 to showcase mural and graffiti artists from Indiana to Japan, according to Dan Thompson, one of the event’s original founders.  

After taking years off the annual event, the Subsurface Street Art Expo is back, and, like the murals, it’s here to stay.  

“To me, I think that a modern city that’s growing and thriving needs to have this stuff,” Thompson said. “It’s signs of life for a city.”  

Three men stand and look
Dan Thompson and other artists work together on a mural at the Subsurface graffiti Expo. (Photo/ Kayla Barlow).

Thompson said the love and support he’s gotten from the community is important to him, and that he’s been able to help create a similar sense of community among artists. 

“For us to get together and paint, I love that, and we’re all grateful, and we all respect each other,” Thompson said. “But I’m proud of being able to do it here because when I was a kid, I didn’t even know you could.”  

“It’s breathtaking. I didn’t think it would be this mesmerizing,” said Nala Miller, an attendee. “This is just very neat, an experience that you would have to come see for yourself.” 

Jordan Johnson, who went with Miller to the event after finding out about it online, felt the same.  

artists spray paint a vehicle
Graffiti artists spray paint a FFDA vehicle at the Subsurface Expo. (Photo/ Kayla Barlow)

“I like this, this is a creative way to express yourself and give a vision off to the world and connect with people.” Johnson said.  

For community members, this meant seeing graffiti artists bring murals to life in front of their very eyes, a new experience for many.  

The event was the result of a partnership between BRIDGE Collective, Invisible Hometown and the Fountain Fletcher District Association (FFDA). It was funded with a $10,000 grant partnership to the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center through the Neighborhood Grant Program as part of an initiative to “help bring different community engagement activities and projects,” said Laura Griffel, district manager of the FFDA. 

“Supporting the return of SubSurface was high on priority list as an organization,” Giffel said in a press release. “Our district has such a rich history dating back to the early 1800s and we owe so much to the artists who have long called this neighborhood home. Celebrating street art helps to tell our story and connect current residents with our roots.”

The occasion included two days, June 7 and 8. The first day’s event was a gallery presentation of art and the second was a live watch party. 

At the watch party, walls became canvases. Community members watched artists make masterpieces while listening to the tunes of Derick Howard, “The One Man Band,” and enjoying food from Turchetti’s Delicatessen.  

a man sings and plays guitar in front of a mural
Derick Howard, “The one man band” performs at the 2024 SubSurface Graffiti Expo. (Photo/ Kayla Barlow)

The featured performer enjoyed performing while artists made murals behind him, making a stage like none he’d had before.  

“Being part of this is awesome,” Howard said. “I was super excited when I found out about it, and it’s actually my first show of the year.”  

As Howard performed, graffiti artists put on a performance of their own. Using spray paint cans sponsored by Mystery Fun Club and Higher-Grade Fountain Square, they painted walls and even an FFDA vehicle in vibrant colors and intricate designs. 

Each artist had the opportunity to express some part of themselves and their community. For artists like Timber of MFK (Mad Fresh Kicks) crew, who’s been a graffiti artist for 30 years, this meant an opportunity to show off new characters — and new shoes.  

“I want to show off that we’re more than just graffiti, right? And that I’m also trying to convey a message,” Timber said. “So, the characters and the portraits and things like that not only people relate to it easier and more, but it tells a story better.”  

Timber of MFK Crew spray paints a man holding shoes at this weekend’s SubSurface Expo. (Photo/ Kayla Barlow)

As part of his message, Timber includes shoes in his artwork for fellow “sneakerheads” who come to view the work. For his Subsurface piece, that meant having his character hold an Air Max one with a custom colorway.  

Timber said that besides having people recognize the shoes he features, he hopes his art evokes emotion, something he said is the purpose of art. 

“That’s what this is about. You can show up and do it in a beautiful way that’s creative and empowering people especially,” Timber said. “Little kids love this because it gives them hope, it shows them that you can be dedicated to something, really prove that it’s worth the journey, and art is a tough journey to go through.” 

Contact Indianapolis Recorder intern, Kayla Barlow, at kaylab@indyrecorder.com

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