Stencil Nation in Chattanooga's Times Free Press

Stencil Nation

Russell Howze encourages people to expand their idea of art.

Holly Leber

Original article found here.

Mr. Howze, of San Francisco, will visit Rock Point Books this Saturday to discuss his book, “Stencil Nation: Graffiti, Community and Art,” a photographic collection of stencil work done by an international collection of artists.

After seeing his first stencil in 1990, Mr. Howze became enamored of the idea of creating a historical document of a public, ephemeral art form.

“(I’m intrigued by) the impermanence of the art form in the streets,” he said. “It fades away and almost always gets painted over.”

Stencil art, Mr. Howze said, breaks the rules. The style differs from traditional graffiti. The work is mysterious, often done anonymously.

“Sometimes it makes absolutely no sense, sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s extremely personal,” he said.

Stencil art, he added, creates a conversation.

Artistic conversation is essential, said Amanda Galas, public relations and marketing director for Rock Point Books.

“Look at the incentives on the Southside for more artistic people,” she said. “We’re really trying to encourage artists to express themselves. (The work in ‘Stencil Nation’ is) not messy. It’s kind of modern, and it’s not gang-related or anything.”

Mr. Howze grew up in Greenville County, S.C., and has a history degree from Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. He has done some stenciling of his own but is primarily a photographer, documenting what he called an “amazing explosion of creativity.”

Stencil artists often use public spaces to display their art and not always within the confines of the law. Mr. Howze would encourage the naysayers to expand their concept of what art is.

“Some people say it’s not art,” he said. “Other people say it’s totally art.”

He added that some stencil graffiti artists have had the police called on them, but he finds bought and paid-for “visual pollution,” such as advertising, more offensive than graffiti.

“If (someone) has a problem with me doing one stencil in their neighborhood, maybe they should talk to the corporations who are putting up the billboards,” he said.


1Draw an image on a piece of stiff paper.

2Cut out the image (leaving edges intact).

3Apply a pigment (such as spray paint) through the spaces of the stencil to create the image.

“Obviously it takes some skill to cut out a stencil and to make a stencil image on a piece of paper,” said Russell Howze. “The first stencil I cut out was horrible.”

Source: Russell Howze