Global Journeys with Jill Dutton

Chattanooga, Tennessee: An Inspiring Journey into the Heart of its Art Scene with Local Artist AJ Azike

December 01, 2023 Jill Dutton Season 1 Episode 18
Global Journeys with Jill Dutton
Chattanooga, Tennessee: An Inspiring Journey into the Heart of its Art Scene with Local Artist AJ Azike
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Get ready to embark on an enchanting exploration of Chattanooga, Tennessee's vibrant art scene with local artist, AJ Azike. AJ opens up about his love for his city, the unique appeal of the Chattanooga Market, and the heartening experiences he's had selling his original artwork there.

We dive deeper into Chattanooga's thriving arts community, offering an insider's look at this unique city. Highlighting AJ's unique painting process and his philosophy on art, this episode is a testament to the transformative power of artistic expression. Hear about AJ's connections with customers, his commitment to selling only original artwork, and a poignant story about a young boy who found comfort in a painting of a cardinal.

Resources:

Chattanooga Itinerary
Find AJ:
Gallery by AJ Azike
Facebook
@ajazike • Instagram photos and videos
Read more about Chattanooga: Chattanooga (globaljourneyswithjilldutton.com)
Chattanooga, Tennessee | Things to Do, Hotels, Events (visitchattanooga.com)

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, the captivating travel podcast that takes you on an extraordinary adventure around the world. I'm your host, jill Dutton, and I am thrilled to be your guide through the mesmerizing tapestry of cultures, landscapes and experiences that await us. Global Journeys with Jill Dutton is more than just a travel podcast. It's an exploration of humanity itself. Through the power of storytelling, we illuminate the lives of the remarkable individuals we encounter along the way, whether it's through the eyes of a fishing guide, a distillery owner, a mixologist, a historian, chef, or even a farmer. Each person we meet adds a rich layer to the narrative of culture and place. In this podcast, we embark on a transformative journey where the focus goes beyond the typical tourist attractions. Instead, we dive deep into the hearts and souls of the places we visit, uncovering the hidden gems and untold stories that make each destination truly unique. Join me as we venture off the beaten path, seeking authenticity, connection and a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit. Together, we'll unravel the tapestry of cultures, one story at a time. Although my writing career began in the late 90s, when I created and launched a wellness publication called Evolving Magazine, since 2015 I've worked as a travel writer on a mission to seek out the locally celebrated foods, liquor trends, outdoor activities and stories of those I meet along the way. My work has been published in Wine Enthusiast, a far woman's world, first for women, insider road trippers, modern farmer chilled magazine and many more digital and print publications. I'm also the creator of Global Plates the people we meet, the food they eat a syndicated column. Creating this podcast is the next step in my journey of sharing the stories of the people I've met along the way. So pack your curiosity, leave your preconceived notions behind and let's embark on Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, where each episode promises to inspire, educate and awaken the wanderlust within us all.

Speaker 1:

Today's episode of Global Journeys with Jill Dutton takes you to the vibrant city of Chattanooga, tennessee, where the Tennessee River winds its way through a landscape painted with both natural beauty and artistic inspiration. But before we dive into the artistic wonders of Chattanooga, let me take you back to a serendipitous encounter at the local farmer's market. I visited Chattanooga in the spring and, since farmer's markets are a passion for me, it was a perfect time to visit for their strawberry festival at the Chattanooga Market. As I strolled through the market, captivated by the aromas of fresh produce and baked goods, the ripe and luscious strawberries we ate.

Speaker 1:

As we strolled, and the lively chatter of locals, my eyes were drawn to a booth adorned with captivating paintings. There I met AJ Ezekie. I was able to purchase a couple of his paintings to carefully take home with me to Kansas City. Today, we're not only exploring Chattanooga and getting an insider's look at the destination, but also getting up close and personal with this talented artist. So, without further ado, please join me in welcoming AJ Ezekie to Global Journeys with Jill Dutton. Aj, thank you for joining us today and sharing your insights on your art, as well as Chattanooga as a destination.

Speaker 2:

Hey, absolutely, it's a tremendous pleasure. I'm grateful to be here with you.

Speaker 1:

So happy to have you here. Well, first I'm going to ask some quick questions about Chattanooga before we dive into your artwork. The questions are designed to give the listener a quick insider's look at the destination and maybe don't go over a couple of sentence description for each one Ready.

Speaker 2:

Sounds good, perfect.

Speaker 1:

Okay, Thanks, Chattanooga a unique and appealing destination for travelers.

Speaker 2:

Well, all right. So destination, or I would say, I'd say number one. Number one, you know, would be the people.

Speaker 2:

The people are very warm and welcoming because, you know, anytime you travel somewhere, it's a, it's kind of a combination of you know out the cuff. It's like the, the physical environment, yeah, paired with the people right, and then the other things that come along with it are below. You know all the great food and all these kinds of things. But you know, anytime I've traveled around, I'm a, I'm a road tripper, so I love drive, you know cross-country, and it's it always comes down to you know, the physical environment and then the people, and then that just creates something so special here in Chattanooga as well as everywhere else. But in Chattanooga I found that the people are warm, welcoming and you know, and they have positive outlook on things and I think that also has something to do with the um, the environment, the, the physical environment itself has has. It gives us that as well.

Speaker 1:

I agree, I agree completely Wonderful, well, can you think of? You know so. When people visit Chattanooga, they go to the rock city and you know some of the typical things that you might expect, but are there any hidden gems or local favorites Maybe that visitors might not know about typically?

Speaker 2:

Yes, you know, there's a number of these. Now I'll give you, I'll give you my top three, maybe even my top five.

Speaker 1:

Oh great.

Speaker 2:

But you know, of course there's always, you know, the lookout mountain and the, you know visit, you know rock city, and then there's the uh, you know the hiking trails and things like that.

Speaker 1:

Yes, they're, they're all wonderful, I just meant yeah absolutely, they're tremendous, they're absolutely tremendous.

Speaker 2:

And, um, now, what I do is you know what I, how I see Chattanooga is there. There's a few, there's a few. Go-go to, of course, where we met, which was at the Chattanooga market, right.

Speaker 1:

There's that, yes, the.

Speaker 2:

Chattanooga market's a great place where local vendors, artists, crafts people, farmers, like it's a, it's a wonderful place. Yeah, really get to meet a wide range and a wide assortment of Chattanooga At the market and yes with other Chattanooga's that are coming to.

Speaker 2:

You know, buy their, buy their produce there's. You know, get their, their arts, get their crafts and then a lot of other. You know people that are traveling and and stop it in. I. I think the Chattanooga markets is phenomenal. It's the Saturday show at the aquarium and the Sunday as well, over at the pavilion. I'm gonna give that, I'm gonna put that on my top five. The next, the next portion I'll probably go with places that I like to, you know to, to grab a bite right. Yes, brew house is one of my favorite places. Brew house is right on the end of the walking bridge, the north side of the walking bridge which spans the Tennessee River. I believe it's one of the longest walking bridges, pedestrian bridges, in the country.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm.

Speaker 2:

I almost want to say it's a 0.45 Mile across. So it's just under half a mile across, I believe not totally sure, but but the combination of that bridge, which, the bridge itself, is the heart of Chattanooga to me.

Speaker 1:

That's how I love it.

Speaker 2:

It has a great energy. I love just being over the water in the morning, afternoon, the nighttime, and it spans both sides of Chattanooga but anyhow. So on the on the back side of that or on the north side of the bridge there's a place called brew house, wonderful place, the owner's phenomenal. It's a German style restaurant kind of bar. Great, great view of the pedestrian bridge there, the walnut street bridge, as well as the downtown area. I love that place. Food is great and I'm a huge fan of German beer.

Speaker 1:

So yeah, yeah, big time fan. I think when we were there, we had dinner and then we walked across To get ice cream and I don't remember the name of the place, but it was. It was like two distinct, different neighborhoods, you know, and it was. It was very interesting. So, thank you.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so you got the ice cream from the side where, um, where the museum is. Um, yes, yeah, so there's so. And then that's the south side of them. When you cross over, you have Stone cup coffee or stone cup cafe, which is another one of those go-tos. It's right next door to brew house.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm you know, and as far as I go, they pair and accompany extremely exceptionally well. You get your coffee in the morning, then you go grab yourself a bite in the afternoon, or even in Washington with some German weak beer, you know, and they both have great views, large patios, large decks on the back there and then another place to eat. You know I like to eat. I didn't get this size overnight. You know it's sugar's ribs.

Speaker 1:

I'm going to use that one. I'm going to use that one.

Speaker 2:

Yes, you know it's a mission. I believe it's called Mission Ridge, easter Ridge, Mission Ridge. It's great, it's really great. You get an exceptional view of Lookout Mountain, signal Mountain, downtown Chattanooga, north Chattanooga as well, north Shore area, and it just sits in a space right off the freeway. And the food's great. You know rib places, what they're known for. They also have their own in-house sauces from the mild medium and you know, call the paramedic hot. That's great. But I'll say the number one thing though I mean the food's great, everything's great, view's great Is the service. You know I love being of service to others and so when you go somewhere and they just treat you like they love you, yes.

Speaker 2:

It's like I'm going to go back and I'm going to tell everybody I know. So if I had to run it down real quick, I would say number one is going to be that bridge, in my opinion, wallnut Street Bridge. Go for a walk across it, walk back, get that mile under your feet. Next place is going to be Stone Cup Cafe on the north side of the bridge, on Fraser Avenue. Next door to that on Fraser Avenue is Brujas. Wonderful people, great people there.

Speaker 2:

Yes, we still need one, you got to go Chattanooga Market for number four and number five. We're going to call it Sugar's Ribs. Great service, great food, phenomenal view, excellent, excellent, wonderful.

Speaker 1:

Thank you, aj. And then last question about Chattanooga and as it relates to art. So did you move there in 2020? Is that what I saw?

Speaker 2:

So I started art as a business, as a creative, as a business, in 2020. So this is my third year. Just October was my third year. However, I moved to Chattanooga about two years ago now, so about 2021.

Speaker 1:

Ok, Well, I was just curious then. So then how would you know living there, how would you describe the art scene in Chattanooga? It's kind of a small city but yet it seems like the arts are very prominent and important. So I'm just kind of curious what role you think it plays in the overall atmosphere.

Speaker 2:

I would say it plays a great role and it seems like it wants more as a city, as a city is kind of like a living entity to a certain degree, and it almost seems like it wants more. There's murals that are popping up and there are different events that are happening where they'll showcase artists, of course, like the Chattanooga market, but also at different locations that we typically wouldn't even think about. I mean breweries, distilleries, tap rooms, and there's even, like the Jewish Community Center here has a gallery in it Just really cool, you know, and I've exhibited there before and then there's just so much of it and it's not that it's not like a thorn in anybody's side or anything, it's like oh yeah, that's a great idea.

Speaker 2:

Let's do this Like it's open, you know, like open to, let's see what we can do.

Speaker 1:

You know, oh, I love it. I love it. Well, thank you for the look at Chattanooga as a destination. Now let's dive into your experiences. So, as we discussed, if you remember, I found you selling your artwork at the Chattanooga Farmers Market. I was there on a press trip and we had visited the market for the Strawberry Festival, and that is actually one of my passions is. Every city I visit I must go to the Farmers Markets, because I'm just that's great.

Speaker 1:

I love sampling local food and then also seeing the local artists as well, so I was so impressed with the bounty of fresh produce, but also the wide variety. There was art, and there was jewelry and there was pottery and so many wonderful artistic items there. And that's when we discovered you, and so I brought home two paintings with me. They hang in my living room and so I get to enjoy them every day and I just want to thank you for that, because it's really. I think of Chattanooga, I think of you, I just everything when I see those paintings.

Speaker 2:

So that's great. I want to say thank you, I appreciate you so much. I mean as far as the art goes and everything, I mean it's not like an easy thing to do. You know, I want to come up with things and come up with new ideas and come up with just subjects that are entertaining and keep that vibration high and everything. But I tell you, what does it for me is being able to share with others and somebody sees something that they're like you know what I got to have, that I mean it just makes sense, like you feel like you did the right thing. You're like, oh yeah, and it's almost, you know, and I don't want to sound too, too woo-woo here, too out there, but it's like it's like.

Speaker 2:

To me it gets so like spiritual in a way, because, like, there'll be times when it's, you know, it becomes, it might be a little bit, you know, it might be a little bit of ice skating uphill to get, you know, to get a few paintings done in a day, and then, when somebody comes in, so that's perfect, yes, that's what I'm looking for, and it's like, oh, it's like that's that makes it all worth it.

Speaker 1:

Oh well, I agree, and you do such a great job of I don't even know the word for it, but introducing someone to your art and the way that you, you know you take a picture together with the piece and it really connects the buyer to the artist.

Speaker 1:

No, no, no, trust me, I know exactly what you mean, but it was it made it so intimate and getting to know you, and so I really was impressed with the way that you display your work as well as interact with the public. I mean, that's not as important as your art, but it's such an important part of the process, I believe. So maybe tell me a little bit about your painting process. How did you get started? What led you to this? Have you always been artistic? Because I know I can't paint for my life.

Speaker 2:

I understand that Well. You know, everybody is in a certain way like there's creativity in everyone and it doesn't always come out with paint and a brush on some canvas. It doesn't always come out that way.

Speaker 1:

Right Mine comes out in words.

Speaker 2:

Yes, exactly, or whatever it may be. There's all types of wonderful ways to be creative. I mean telling, like being creative, and teaching someone's children the importance of going to bed early.

Speaker 1:

Or cooking, or gardening.

Speaker 2:

You gotta be creative to do these things. So, it comes out different, you know, as far as how I started. I mean, I was, I was, I was literally born this way. I was born this way and you know, and as a kid that's, that's pretty much all I wanted to do, to the degree of I would I would get in trouble at school sometimes Because you were doing math class drawing Snoopy, and they're just like hey that's not what we're doing here, aj. Oh, okay, all right. So I mean that's you know I've.

Speaker 2:

You know I've always wanted to do that. I found that it's like you know, it's soothing, but it's also problem solving, because the second that a person decides, hey, I want to create something, they've kind of put a problem in front of themselves, even if it's a blank sheet of paper, and they're like, okay, they put a problem there, so now it's time to solve it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah so as a kid that was. You know, that's what I did. I was one of the you know the kids, you know there's a term from you know, way back, called the latchkey kids right and get their selves to and from school, cook their own breakfast or lunch or whatever. You know, get home, lock the door, latchkey right. And so I was one of these kinds of kids and so I would, you know, get home and draw pictures, you know, and that's you know. I spent a lot of my, a lot of my day, you know, is drawing pictures and looking out the window and kind of drawing what I saw. We lived on a very busy road, so I got a lot of practice, you know excellent.

Speaker 1:

And then then your paintings and what you're selling now. I mean, did this idea come to you? Didn't you say as a business you started in 2020 of selling your works?

Speaker 2:

Yes, yes, yeah, so as a business, as a business starting in 2020, but you know, throughout this whole life, this whole journey that I've been on it's, you know I've done, you know, made gifts for people, whether it's birthdays, christmas presents. You know, if I'm working somewhere, they're like, hey, can you make a mural for the, for the shop, or something? Yeah, sure, let's do it. And then it was probably 2019-ish and I really started thinking. I was like, well, what am I going to do? What do I want to do here?

Speaker 2:

You know, I had, you know, worked in a few different fields, worked in. I was a real estate dude for a while, I was a teacher and martial arts instructor and did these things. And I was like what I really want to do? And ultimately it was. You know, you got to be who you are in this world and I had to. It took, you know, it's kind of sound strange, but I had to. I had to be courageous with myself to say this is what I want to do, going forward and in a lot of the, and what I mean by courageous is, you know, that's not, that's not a job that a grown man does, really. Let me go pictures you know, and so I had to.

Speaker 2:

I had to be courageous enough to step to myself and say don't worry about anything that.

Speaker 2:

Don't worry about the, the external look of it, you, what you're supposed to do, right and that and I was like, well, okay, you've got to be who you are, and that's so important to me is like, just be who you are like. Because when I look at it, I'm like, well, wait a minute, I stopped being who I was as a child to go and chase some money or chase some kind of respect or something you know. And and it's like, no, just be who you are, you're how you're supposed to be. And I tell you I feel the most fulfilled that I've ever felt in my life every day is is I'm grateful to be able to do what I do.

Speaker 1:

I love. That is a very powerful lesson because it's so true it does take courage to pursue what you're meant to do, what you're, what you're here for. You know I mentioned the the market is that the primary place where you sell your work is at the Chattanooga market.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so right now, that's, uh, that's primarily the primarily where I'm, uh, real able to find my work there. It's great, it's a tremendous opportunity. When I moved here, I didn't have a clue about the, the Chattanooga market. Now I was actually selling online. Only I was selling online. And then when I moved here you know, I moved here because, you know, originally I was born in the mountains and so I was like, wow, I get the mountains here, got a nice river, you know. And so I was like and then come to find out I was like, well, people are like, hey, you should go, maybe try to be a vendor at the Chattanooga market. I say, okay, let me go check it out. And, phenomenal, it's been something else. It's really helped me and as an artist and has allowed me to be a be of service to others in a greater, in a greater, uh, in a, you know, in a greater range.

Speaker 1:

Yes, yes, and and, like I said, that, that interaction that you offer is really makes it a fun you know to, to find your art and learn about it and and to purchase it from you. Do you have any fun or interesting stories about people that you have met at the market?

Speaker 2:

Yes, I have plenty, you know I have a whole bunch. I'll give you a couple though, okay. So here, going back to that kind of that spiritual kind of this, this kind of connection, that that happens right where. I'll make something and then someone will say, hey, you know, that's perfect, or you know, or almost something along the lines of like, how did you know? And those are the ones that always get me, you know, uh like uh, like, one time there was a.

Speaker 2:

I made a. I made this painting. I remember the night I was making it was late night. I was really, you know, I was real tired and I was like, let me get, let me get through it, let me get, let me get this painting done and maybe another one and I'll get some sleep. It was, it was a man on a, uh, on the, on the shore, fishing, um, with like kind of like, uh, you know, a landscape, semi cityscape, in the distance, uh, in a far in the distance, we just kind of sitting back, has this yellow hat on, and a girl comes up to me. I was like, how did you know? My grandfather used to fish and he used to wear this yellow hat. It was like what, the? What are you talking about, you know? And it was just like, like, stuff like that, it's like whoa oh, that is great and uh and this one boy.

Speaker 2:

You know there's one little boy, he, he can walk and over into the, into the, the tent, and he just kind of, you know, he walks in, he kind of he stands there and he's staring at a painting. I'm like, hey, what's up, how are you doing? And then he just okay, he didn't really say a lot and he just kind of staring at the wall. I was like man, what's going on here? And then his, his, his parents come in, or his, his guardians, rather, come in and they just walk in. They kind of stop and they're real still and I'm like, hey, you guys, all right, come on in, you know they kind of freaking me out, what's going on.

Speaker 2:

And the boy won't, he won't, he will not adjust his you know his vision. He's, he just like, stuck on this painting and I mean he goes walking over to and he's looking up at, I mean, you know, little guy, probably two and a half feet tall, you know it's really young and I. It was his guardians, maybe a family member, older brother, uncle, something like that, and and his wife and his guardian leans over to me and says hey, you know, his parents recently died.

Speaker 2:

And I was like what he said both of them, you know, and I'm like what. And he said that before, before they passed away, that his mother told him that every time you see a cardinal, I want you to think of me, and that's me thinking of you. And I had this painting of a cardinal that was there and I have, you know, and I have glasses on it, and and and. So the young boy, he wore glasses too.

Speaker 2:

Oh and he was just like that, you know, he just looked at it and he looked up at his, at his guardian. He might have been like an older brother, maybe an older cousin, uncle, something like that and he was like, yeah, well, let's, let's, let's get that. And it was. There's things like that that are just you know. And then after that, so I started painting all my birds with glasses on them.

Speaker 1:

Oh really, oh my gosh, what a touching story.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, let me tell you, there were other people in the tent to looking at artwork and we all kind of like, oh, we all kind of got choked up a little weird, just like whoa, oh, but I mean I mean there are things like that and just like paintings, that.

Speaker 2:

Or people say I mean that's, that's exactly what I needed, that's exactly what I'm looking for and of course, I keep my price points, you know, exceptionally low compared to, you know, a lot of other original art, because I only do originals and no prints, no reproductions, and a lot of that is. I want people to be able to have access to original artwork because originals give off a different vibration, literally a different vibration, you know yes. Adams, and you know things like you know they're.

Speaker 2:

They're, they're built up, they're textured, and you know, and I'm fired up when I make them, you know I get fired up and I really get to work in there and you know. So it's different, there's a different, different vibration than I've. You know that a parent and there's nothing wrong with prints. That's the wrong with print.

Speaker 1:

No, I I agree with you 100%, though I treasure the two that I bought for me. I really do well, I think that's perfect and unless there's anything else that I forgot to ask you. But how can listeners find you, is it Instagram?

Speaker 2:

Well, yeah, I mean, instagram is number one for me.

Speaker 1:

So what's that?

Speaker 2:

It's a j a z I K e E on Facebook, instagram and then my website, aj ziki dot com. Okay, my website doesn't get all the all the attention that it used to get, because now I sell a lot more at the Market person.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, then then then the website. But a website has a few, has a few items there, and then you know, I I'll be doing a little bit more on there because I do like the, I do like the website and that's how. That's how I started and I have a. I have a whole Shipping doctrine that I set up and I put a lot of work into it.

Speaker 1:

So oh, excellent and I'll include everywhere. I'll include links in the show notes as well, Okay but, that just made me think to ask is the Chattanooga market opening year round? Do you know it's?

Speaker 2:

not. So they're pretty much March, april and then roll through December. So December is the, is the Chattanooga markets, like it's premier kind of show, where it's the first three weekends in December. So it's like Saturday, sunday, saturday Sunday, saturday Sunday and it's at the convention center versus being at the pavilion. Okay, yes, so I mean it's a, you know it's. It's a great showcase of a lot of the wonderful talent that we have here locally in Chattanooga.

Speaker 1:

I agree, and that gives you January, february, march to really Producing, get calm back and restock.

Speaker 2:

That's right.

Speaker 1:

Catch my breath for a little bit, you know Well, AJ, thank you so much. I loved hearing your story and I'm so pleased that you were here today. So thank you.

Speaker 2:

Hey, jill, thank you, I really appreciate it. It's all the listeners out there, you know. I appreciate y'all as well, and you know make it a great day. Make it a great day because you have the power to do so excellent.

Speaker 1:

Thank you. You too. As we travel on this exciting podcasting journey together, I invite you our incredible audience, to be a part of it. Share your own travel stories, insights and recommendations with us. Whether you have a hidden gem in your hometown or a dream destination, it has captured your imagination. We want to hear from you. Your suggestions will help shape the future episodes of global journeys with Jill Dutton, guiding us towards extraordinary locations and experiences that deserve a spotlight. Remember, this podcast is not about just the host or the guests. It's about the collective exploration and discovery that unites us all as wanderers in this vast world. So reach out to us through our website, social media channels or email and let your voice be heard. Send your suggestions to me at Jill at global journeys with Jill Dutton. I can't wait to hear from you until next time. May your travels be filled with endless curiosity, open hearted encounters and transformative adventures. Safe travels, fellow explorers, and keep wandering.

Chattanooga intro
Chattanooga's Art Scene and Painting Process
Finding and Embracing Artistic Passion
Selling Art at the Chattanooga Market