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Nashville murals, street art, graffiti, signs, sculptures and more

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Industrial site

Tennessee Tough

This mural is hard to miss, given its enormous size (135 feet long, 26 feet high) and its prominent location right across Korean Veterans Boulevard from the Nashville Music City Center. Being that it faces a parking lot, it’s a little difficult to get a “clean” photo, but I finally caught it without cars. It was, not surprisingly, sponsored by the Tennessee Titans, and went up back in September as part of Titans Kickoff Week for the 2020 season. It’s the work of Mobe Oner (Eric Bass), one of Nashville’s most versatile muralists.

Titans Mural Nashville street art

The mural was inspired by Nashville’s response to the March 3 tornado and the pandemic. According to Titans Creative Director Surf Melendez:

“Tennessee Tough really just explains the resiliency of the people of Tennessee. Tennessee Tough are people who get their hands dirty for a living and do what they have to do, like our first responders, essential workers and teachers. Tennessee Tough is our football team.”

Titans Mural Nashville street art

The mural shows an unnamed Titans player with the number “615” (the Nashville area code) on his jersey. Below his arms are the names of all of the counties of Tennessee. Above his arms are a series of quotes from various Tennesseans (or in the case of John Lewis, people associated with Tennessee.) From left to right:

  • “Teamwork is what makes common people capable of uncommon results.” Pat Summit, from “Reach for the Summit”
  • “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Tennessee Williams, from “A Streetcar Named Desire”
  • “The triumph cannot be had without the struggle.” Wilma Rudolph, from a Chicago Tribune interview
  • “We’re ready to go to work for you because you’re our family.” Jon Robinson, from the press conference presenting him as the new Titans General Manager
  • “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” John Lewis (a frequent quote of his)

The mural includes an augmented reality experience, created by MVP Interactive. If you go to the Titan’s page for the mural, you can get a QR code which will start the process (click on “Launch Augmented Reality”). It works on pictures, so try it on the image at the top of the screen (if you are on a computer). The quotes pop out of the mural, and the football player becomes 3-D and spikes the football.

Titans Mural Nashville street art

This press release from the Titans includes a video of Bass working on the mural as well as discussing the process of creating it. He apparently had a lot of freedom in creating the image. You’ll also find an extensive photo essay of the mural’s creation there. The long-term future of this mural is perhaps questionable. The building it sits on, an office and industrial building, is a rare survivor from the industrial past of this neighborhood, and the land it sits on is undoubtedly worth millions – many millions.

Located at 424 6th Avenue South. That’s the address of the parking lot. It lies between 6th Avenue S and Rep. John Lewis Way South (aka 5th Avenue S), just south of Korean Veterans Blvd, and faces to the north. This is downtown, so lots of parking, not much of it free. If you are willing to walk a few blocks, there is some free street parking to the south.

Incline

Along the East Bank Greenway, which lies between the river and Nissan Stadium, there’s a stand of trees a little north of the Ghost Ballet sculpture (the red twisty thing in the picture above). At the north end of the trees is a giant gear ring embedded in the greenway, which not many people know is called “Threshold.” At the south end of the stand of trees, just off the greenway in the direction of the river is a less well-known piece appropriately called “Incline.”

Incline Sculpture Nashville street art

It’s a long metal beam with a gear wheel welded to it, that has rusted in the weather. There’s no fanfare to it, it’s just this thing sticking out of the ground, daring you to make sense of it. Like “Threshold,” it’s by Joe Sorci. It’s art based on found materials. Like Ghost Ballet and Threshold, it’s made from objects left behind by the barge companies like Ingram Industries that used to operate on the east bank.

Incline Sculpture Nashville street art

It was installed in 1999, and it’s the product of a grant from the Metro Development and Housing Authority (which may explain the lack of a plaque – Metro Arts is very good about signage). The only reason I know its name is it is recorded in the Metro-Owned Condition Assessment Report, published in 2017. Its condition was listed as good, noting that it’s structurally sound and has insect nests, notably in the gear wheel. (Be careful!)

Incline Gear Nashville street art

There are two other small pieces by Sorci along the stand of trees. Near Threshold, there’s pieces of metal embedded in a concrete viewing ramp. Metro refers to them as an “Industrial Salvage Mosaic,” which apparently is not its formal name. It might not have one.

Industrial Mosaic Nasville street art

The other piece is large metal ring that serves as a bench. I don’t have a picture but will add one later.

Located on the East Bank Greenway, which parallels Titan’s Way. If you are on the river side of the stadium, Incline is almost directly lined up with the corner of Titan’s Way and Victory Avenue, which runs along the south end of the stadium. There’s some free parking for the park on the other side of the pedestrian bridge that lies south of Incline.

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Around the corner from one of the more spectacular murals in town is the façade of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery. Nelson’s is a revival of a family business first founded in Nashville after the Civil War by Charles Nelson. It became one of the only high-volume distilleries in Tennessee, and was distributed widely until the state of Tennessee instituted prohibition in 1909. A hundred years later, two of Nelson’s grandsons restarted the business in Marathon Village. You can read about its history here.

The central logo is based on a logo found on bottles from the original business, reading “Green Brier Tennessee” instead of “Nelson’s Green Brier.” (The name comes from the location of the original distillery in Greenbrier, TN). The sign, or really collection of signs, is by Bryan Deese, a prolific Nashville muralist. Like a lot of signs, it has no signature, but Nelson’s credits him on their Instagram page, and includes a couple of shots of him working on it, one which makes clear he had an assistant. Not every business does that, credit sign makers (and sometime not even muralists) so good for Nelson’s.

An odd aside – as I was leaving from shooting (and buying a bottle!) a truck pulling a large flat-bed trailer festooned with flags pulled up. On the trailer was a preacher, railing into his phone (shooting a video) against the evils of alcohol and the audacity of Nelson’s having its doors wide open (not the ones in the picture). They were open for COVID safety, presumably. The spirit of Prohibition than fist shut down Nelson’s is still around.

Located at 1414 Clinton Street, at the corner with 16th Avenue North. There is some street parking on Clinton, and some nearby paid lots.

Beer Strong (New Heights Brewing)

How can a mural on a little-used side street be seen by thousands of people every day? If that little-used street faces the interstate. Up on a knoll along Carrol Street, this Eastside Murals work faces I-40, on the south side of the downtown loop, at the very north end of Chestnut Hill. I only knew of it recently because I’ve been staying home a lot and I stay off Nashville interstates as much as I can under any circumstances. Because of the tight sightlines, it’s impossible to get a traditional straight-on photograph. I took the photo at the bottom of this post from across the interstate, through a fence (near Mulberry and 5th). If it looks a little fuzzy, it’s because I blew it up a great deal.

New Heights Mural Nashville street art

The mural features the logo and motto of New Heights Brewing Company. New Heights was founded by people who came from San Diego, CA, and the logo includes not only the Nashville skyline (with its iconic Batman Building), but also San Diego’s North Park Water Tower. The Chestnut Hill neighborhood New Heights is in of course has its own iconic water tower, at 4th and Chestnut. The mural doesn’t actually lie on New Heights’ building, which is located about half a block away down 5th Avenue. The building it is on, which has a large three-dimensional sign in its front yard that says “GPI,” is currently vacant.

New Heights Interstate

Located at 915 5th Ave South. The mural faces Caroll Street, facing north towards downtown. It’s most easily accessed using either 6th Ave South coming from downtown, or coming from Oak Street, off of 4th Avenue South. Street parking on Carrol is prohibited, but for the moment you can park in front of the GPI building.

By the tracks

It’s been a few weeks since I post any “wild” graffiti to the blog, though for all I know this was done with full permission of the owners. Owners of what? Hard to say. This piece is found on a small concrete building that lies at the corner of 11th Avenue North and Harrison Street, just below the tracks. This is part of an industrial area squeezed between what developers like to call North Gulch to the south and Hope Gardens to the north. It’s an area that has resisted development, a pocket of warehouses and factories a few blocks from the State Capitol. Two long-standing industrial firms are found right across the street. On both sides of 11th Avenue going north and to the east along Harrison Street, is the “campus” of John Bouchard and Sons, a machine shop and iron casting factory that goes back to 1908.  A little farther down Harrison, on both sides of the road, is a branch of U.S. Smokeless Tobacco. While the company goes back to 1822, its Nashville factory on Harrison only goes back to 1996. But its presence suggests this small area will remain industrial. A large plot half a block north of the graffiti mural was recently leveled, tearing down what used to be a Goodwill warehouse that had been severely damaged by fire. The new owners of the site? U.S. Smokeless Tobacco. So, no condominiums, at least not yet.

The little concrete building itself is probably railroad property, though abandoned. For a long time, it was completely screened by trees and occupied by at least one homeless individual. Today, the trees are gone, and a security car is often parked next to it, no homeless to be seen. On the other side of the tracks lies Solis North Gulch Apartments, which start at a little over $1500/month and go up quickly, but the corner of Harrison and Eleventh is likely to stay out of the development craze for some time to come.

UH Graffiti Nashville mural street art

Located at the corner of 11th Avenue North and Harrison Street. Street parking is available, but be aware large trucks come through here frequently.

A bull on Charlotte

This bull with the peony in his mouth perched high above the Cumberland appeared on the outer wall of Elemental Arthouse’s factory store a few weeks ago. Why this bull is apparently standing on one of the arches of the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge is unclear, but images of animals, often surreal, are common in the work of the artist, Jessica Fife. A bull with a peony in his mouth also evokes the story of Ferdinand, the peacefull bull who had no interest in fighting, wanting only to smell all the pretty flowers. Elemental Arthouse has more to do with iron bridges than peaceful bulls. They bill themselves as people who “turn homes and businesses into a work of art,” though wood and metalworking. Signs, furniture, and all kinds of decorative designs are made in the warehouse building this small storefront it attached to. The hashtag that both EA and Fife use for this mural is “#bullsitwall.” I tried to come up with a clever blog title around that but didn’t come up with anything I was comfortable using. Apparently, the plan is that EA will make a bench to go in front of the mural so people can sit and have their photo taken. Hence, “bullsit.”

Fife, who teaches art at Austin Peay University, also has written that she has recently bid on more murals in Nashville, so hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of her animals in odd places!

Bullsit mural street art Nashville

Located at 4206 Charlotte Avenue. The mural faces west, away from downtown. Street parking is available on 42nd Avenue, and to some extent on 43rd. The mural lies between these two streets.

Music in black and white

Altru Creative mural street art Nashville

Usually, if I’m having trouble researching an artwork, it’s because I don’t know who the artist is. But the signature for Eastside Murals is very clear here. No, what took some digging was figuring out what Eastside’s client, Altru Creative, actually does. Check out that website. Music business, check! But what they do in the business isn’t all that clear, even if you read all their blog posts. However, their Facebook page is more helpful, as they’ve checked the categories Advertising Agency, Media Agency, and Music Production Studio on the “About” section. Those categories would seem to include promoting music shows and festivals while working primarily in the worlds of house, electronica, dance, hip-hop, and R&B. That triangle in the middle is their logo, and their name is tattoed on the DJ’s hand, so it seems this counts as a sign as well as a mural. It’s Nashville, so of course, there’s an image of the Batman Building, but also a crane with a wrecking ball, which is also very much a symbol of today’s Nashville.

Located at 1036 West Kirkland Avenue. The mural faces the road. There is a large gravel parking lot, and street parking is available.

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