PHOTOS: Artists paint murals during Johnson City overpass | Living


Amid the loud bustle of traffic, massive murals depicting animals and plants native to Northeast Tennessee are taking shape under the Interstate 26 overpass on North Roan Street.

Johnson City has hired Felipe Ortiz, an artist originally from Colombia, to paint the pieces across four walls under the bridge. Ortiz has lived in Massachusetts for 20 years but travels extensively for public art projects across the United States.

Ortiz and his helpers, artists Mario Alvarez and Yeison Alvarez, who also goes by the name Gris One, have been working from 9 am to 7 pm every day since May 2 to complete the project.

They braved the hot temperatures again on Tuesday to continue their work, which Ortiz estimates is now a little more than halfway done.

“We expect that if we keep this rhythm and we have good weather, probably in another seven days we’ll be done,” he said.

This is the first large underpass Ortiz has painted.

“It’s a little intense just because of the fast-pace movement from the cars,” he said. “It’s also a little different because there’s not that much human interaction.”

One of the aspects Ortiz likes the most about painting outdoor murals is the feedback he hears from people walking by, and even though the underpass isn’t built for pedestrian movement, that facet lives on in the honks of approval he hears from passing motorists.

“As we complete the mural, we started seeing people react to it in a positive way,” he said. “It’s very inspiring.”

He hopes the art makes people feel welcome as they travel through Johnson City. In one mural, a gargantuan hummingbird approaches a cluster of blooming flowers, and in another, a biker blazes through a mountainous landscape.

“It represents a lot of the natural outdoors here,” Ortiz said. “There is specific flora and fauna that is … native to Johnson City and its surrounding areas. I hope that people have a positive reaction and can talk about it positively to other people that have not seen it.”

Ortiz has an ongoing show at the Rugosa Gallery in Eastham, Massachusetts titled “Explosive Nature.” It will be on display through Thursday.

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