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Artist Profile: Justin Tolentino

February 3, 2006

Justin Tolentino started writing graff sometime around middle school. In his own words, he says that he went from “just scrawling on the walls all the way to clean lines, pop art, faces, and other iconography.” Graffiti style is ever present in Justin’s work and its always there as an influence. Now as a curator for Lemp Art Stables, Justin is helping shape and define the local art scene in St. Louis, getting people to talk about graffiti in more positive and constructive ways. A good example, for the 2002 St. Louis Art Fair he helped work on a community art piece that captured peoples responses to and about 9/11. He asked people to write down their emotions, thoughts, and ideas, which he then translated into graphic images. The images and words were then layered to create a collective collage that communicated through the elements and style of graffiti. More recently, he was part of large exhibition that transformed an abandoned downtown mall into a vibrant art space. He contacted us a little while back and we took the opportunity to ask him some questions…

You recently worked collaboratively with Peat Wollaeger on an installation for an art exhibit sponsored by artdimensions. Can you tell us a bit about the site, the installation and working with Peat?

the site of the installation is the st. louis centre an old mall in downtown that has fallen to the waste side over the years of downtown st. louis losing and now regaining a positive vibe… artdimensions has a large formal gallery space for proper showing and during this event there were several other space artists revamped to their taste to sell and show off their work…working with peat is great… peat is my partner in crime in st. louis as far as street art and shows we take part in all over the world…

What is going on in the St. Louis scene art scene? How did you get involved with Lemp Art Stables and how do they fit into the art community there?
well its on its way, thanks to artdimesnions and some other galleries that showcase younger more hip art… the lemp art stables was just another space that artdimesions revitalized and turned to a young art mecca but as you know when someone finds out that you have a good thing going people wanna take it way from you… so artdimensions in the face of adversity has taken on new and stronger galleries in more up and coming areas in st. louis…
What is the general attitude towards graffiti/street art in St.
Louis? New York, along with some other cities, is facing a serious
crackdown on graffiti, is St. Louis experiencing the same?

its frowned upon… we held the largest graffiti competition wall in the nation and when the city got bombed up they started cracking down… but that was back in 96-98 the city has a small amount of graff heads but the diversity of work is lacking… but i think if would be great if there were more bill-post, stencil, and taggers out there… it would make my day doing any type of traveling…shit, i get geeked seeing big ass super-soaker tags…
How have you developed your style over the years? Who/what
inspired you to go out onto the streets?

every day life, people i meet… situations in my life that i have a hard time explaining in words… over the years i feel i just have been developing line and shape using only two colors… this graff artist stun from Minneapolis inspired me at a young age and made me wanna go out there and get up… and seeing twist, Chicago’s graff, and, mike giant made me realize how diverse this all could be and that it could be about more that just writing my name…
Do you find yourself trying to “say more” with your work when it is in a gallery?
no i think that im trying to express the same type of message on the streets as in my gallery work…

The Woostercollective recently had tremendous feedback when they posted stories about the Playstation street art campaign. What was your reaction to the ads? Did any show up in St. Louis?

i understand doing corporate work, if you love your art and you love making it, thats all you wanna do, and if you can make money doing it more power to you…just make sure you dont have any issues with the company your working for…and i didn’t see any in st. louis…
What do you have lined up for this year?
trying to develop further as an artist and make lots of work… i have like 50 new ways of doing paintings in my head and i have to let them come out one by one… the only problem is i cant paint as fast as i come up with them…im working on a new show at in park city utah… and im going to horn island again do a show in memphis with Jonathan lee and several other amazing artists… oh yeah and if you can get it check out my spread in the mag outta sydney without-reason
Whose work should we be looking out for?
chris burch at another st. louisan
john lee at boy from the old schooll
Thanks go out to Justin for answering our questions!
Be sure to check out his site–
and click here to find out more about Art Dimensions.
Here is a link to Lo-Fi St. Louis, which has a great video that documents Justin and Peat’s collaborative show.


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