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nashville public art

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

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Cinco de Mayo – East Nashville

When the local Mexican restaurant chain Cinco de Mayo opened a branch in the storied old stone building at 14th and Woodland (it will always be Radio Cafe to me) it didn’t seem likely they would get the splashy murals that are often found on Hispanic restaurants and markets. After all, who’s going to let them paint those old stone walls? But the solution was obvious – tack a board on the high fence that separates the restaurant from the house next door and let the artist get to work.

This mural/sign is the product of José G. Vera-González, a prolific local artist who has done work all over town, mainly inside Hispanic restaurants, but recently has begun to do more work outdoors. You should check out his giant Frida Kahlo portrait on the south side of Plaza Mariachi. Like that mural, this one features a lot of flowers.

This mural is also a little unusual. It is the only outdoor mural in town I am aware of that has glitter on it. It may not be apparent in this photo, but much of the paint making up the highlights of the plants and flowers and around the border has something reflective in it, and it gives off the appearance of glitter. It’s particularly noticeable if you drive by it a night and the reflective bits get caught in your headlights.

This is a relatively new mural, having gone up this May. One tradition of Latino artists in Nashville that Vera-González keeps up is found in his signature. There you’ll find his phone number. This is very common with the murals that are found on Latino and immigrant-owned businesses. You know, just in case you want to call him and get your own mural. Hey, he’s a good artist, maybe you should.

An aside – by profession, I am a professor of Latin American history. Just in case you didn’t know, the 5th of May is not Mexican Independence Day. That’s on September 16th.

Located at 1313 Woodland Street. Street parking is available on Woodland (but not 14th) and on some of the side streets. Depending on the time of day, you may have to walk a couple of blocks – or park right next door!

Diana Ross, Arcade Alley

Almost every new business in Nashville needs a mural it seems, particularly if they cater to tourists. That’s double so if you’re hidden in an alley and need to grab people’s attention any way you can. Sometimes the mural appears well before the business even opens. As far as I know, The WayBack PartyBar isn’t even open as of this writing, and it certainly wasn’t open in late March when the new mural was put in by Stephen Sloan, a Nashville artist who signs his work Never Xtinct

Diana Ross mural Nashville street art

It is of course a glorious image of Diana Ross. The mural is based on an iconic photograph of Ross that was shot as part of a portrait session in 1975 by Harry Langdon Jr. (And yes, for those of you with long memories, he is the son of comedian and early Hollywood star Harry Langdon Sr.) The original photo was shot in black and white, so the limited palette of Sloan’s portrait is true to the photograph it’s based on. The angular ribbon of differing shades of orange could be right out of a 1975 stylebook, the sort of graphic that might be part of the opening montage of a ’70s cop show. There’s a brief video of Sloan working on the mural on WayBack’s Instagram page.

Ross Portrait mural Nashville street art

Sloan has done other work around Nashville, including a mural in 12 South promoting the Nashville Zoo. He also recently contributed to a mural honoring Loretta Lynn at the Loretta Lynn Ranch in Humphries County. This is by the way not the only Diana Ross mural in town. There’s another by JamersonSGC (aka Charles Key) on Jefferson Street.

Ross Mural Nashville street art

Located at 217 Arcade Alley, about halfway between Church Street and The Arcade. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.

Southern Pride, Queer Pride (and Skittles)

June is Pride Month, a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. It falls in June because the Stonewall Uprising, a pivotal moment in the gay liberation movement, began on June 28, 1969. There was a time when major corporations would have wanted nothing to do with such a celebration, but times have changed. Skittles (a subsidiary of Mars) has perhaps an obvious tie-in with Pride as rainbows are central to their marketing and of course the Rainbow Flag is a key symbol of Pride. (The original, designed by Gilbert Baker, had been lost for 40 years but was recently found and is on display in San Francisco.)

For this year’s Pride celebration, Skittles has sponsored a series of murals by Queer artists. The project is called the Skittles QueeR Codes, and one of them is here in Nashville, on the side of the Germantown branch of Jack Brown’s. (The name of the series references the QR codes found on each mural.) The Nashville version is by local artist Sara Moroni, whose business name is Sara Moroni Pizza – “serving hot and fresh slices of art.” Why pizza? It’s a reference to the different kinds of art she makes. There are many kinds of pizza and many kinds of art.

Her contribution specifically addresses the issue of being LBTGQ+ in the South. “Proud to be Southern & Queer,” the mural declares. It shows some of the diversity of the Queer community in the South. Moroni wrote on her Instagram page:

I understood how important it was to take full advantage and represent as many Queers in the South as I could. So, I designed this mural to highlight the diversity of Queer voices here in the South—to be as inclusive and intersectional as possible.

To my knowledge this is Moroni’s first mural in Nashville. I hope we get to see more from her.

By the way, this is not the first corporate-sponsored Pride mural in Nashville. Instagram sponsored one back in 2017 that as of this writing is still up.

There are three other murals in the series. Jae Lin created one in Austin, TX; there’s another by ARRRTADDICT in Atlanta; and Marlon Davila (aka 7ovechild) painted one in Newark, NJ. It’s interesting how each one of these artists chose to explore the theme of Pride in their murals in distinct ways.

Before Moroni’s mural went up, there was a sign on the side of this building for Local 456 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. I never got around to blogging about it (I was hoping to shoot it without vines), but here is what it looked like. The “J.A.T.C” refers to their training programs, called the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. Local 456 has since moved out to Rundle Avenue (not far from Fesslers Lane and Elm Hill Pike).

Located at 1123 Third Avenue North, at the corner with Madison Street. The mural is on the south wall of the building, facing towards downtown and Jefferson Street. This is Germantown – there is some free street parking, but most available nearby parking is paid.

Smashville (The Stage on Broadway)

Sometimes it’s good to walk down an alley – you might find art! This particular alley is not super-secret. It lies between Ryman Auditorium on one side and a bunch of Broadway honkytonks on the other. And it contains one of the Smashville murals that the Predators commissioned Audie Adams to do around the downtown area. (Adams also goes by Audroc.)

This particular mural is on the back side of The Stage on Broadway, hence the logo next to snarling saber-toothed Predator. While usually I would crop a mural shaped like this vertically, I think the placement of this example, framed by the gutters and the gas meter, calls for a wider shot to give the full context.

The Predators have had a mixed season this year (2021), but as of this posting are still in contention. So why are they the Predators? What does that have to do with Nashville? When what is now the UBS Tower was being built in 1970, workers found the partial remains of a sabre-tooth cat, including some impressive fangs. Those bones are now found at Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators. Hey, the Nashville soccer team chose a coyote as its mascot, after the coyote that managed to get in to a bathroom at the Music City Center. (His name is Tempo.)

This is part of a series of similar murals. I know of at least three others: one in SoBro, one at the downtown Jackalope, and another on the south side of Bridgestone Arena, which I haven’t written about yet. Given its proximity to the Ryman and Lower Broad, this one may be the most accessible to tourists, at least the kind of tourists who are here for the Ryman and Lower Broad.

Located at 412 Broadway. That’s the address of The Stage on Broadway. The alley lies between and runs parallel to Broadway and Commerce Street. It’s closer to Broadway than Commerce, and it runs along the south side of the Ryman. If you can find the alley, just look for The Stage’s neon sign sticking out into the alley. The mural is right next to it. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.

Feelin’ Lucky – Hawkers

One of the many things lost as a result of the closure of the long-standing East Nashville staple Family Wash was the mural of a giant multi-colored mule by Herb Williams that once adorned its building. But with a new restaurant in that spot, we also have a new mural.

Hawkers is an Asian street food chain based out of Florida that opened in the old Family Wash site on Main Street a few months ago. As such, it’s no surprise that the giant mural provided by Mobe Oner (aka Eric Bass) has a strong Asian theme. As part of their branding, Hawker uses an image of the familiar Maneki-neko, the Japanese beckoning cat. Wait, that’s what they are called? I didn’t know that they even had a name, but I learn a lot writing this blog.

Hawkers Mural Nashville street art

And yes, beckoning cat, not waving cat. In Japan, that’s a beckoning gesture. They are usually white, which is the color for luck, and in the upper left corner of the mural, Mobe Oner has placed the slogan “Feelin’ Lucky,” hence the title of this blog post. The Maneki-nekos are supposed to be based on the Japanese bobtail, but the flesh-and-blood cats are not nearly as chonky as their artistic counterparts. Maybe it’s all the Asian street food.

Hawkers mural Nashville street art

Only some of the cats in this mural are actually doing the traditional beckoning gesture. We seem them dancing, cooking, stuffing themselves with ramen, and taking selfies. The biggest one of all, appropriate to Nashville, is playing a guitar. You can watch a video of Mobe Oner working on the mural on his Instagram page.

Hawkers Mural Nashville street art

I had to take these pictures at an angle because the cramped parking lot and the addition of an upstairs patio. I was sorely tempted to stand on top of Bolton’s next door, something easily done, to get the picture, but I didn’t, and neither should you. The building is also home to part of the 615 Center complex, as you can see by the sign right next to the Feelin’ Lucky logo.

Located at 626A Main Street. the mural is on the west side of the building, facing towards downtown. There is retail and street parking available nearby.

Ham Baby

Back in 2008, Mitchell Delicatessen opened at 1402 McGavock Pike and quickly became a neighborhood favorite. They became so popular that by 2013 they needed to move to a larger space, though just down the street and across Riverside Drive, to 1306 McGavok. Not long after that, Mitchell’s acquired a mural on its west side (see below). I never wrote about that one, mostly because I never got around to finding out who the artists were. I was informed by Kim Radford, the creator of the newer mural featured above (it went up in April and May, 2018), that the original mural had been done by some of the employees at Mitchell Delicatessen. By 2018 the old mural had begun to deteriorate, and the owners were ready for a new one.

Old Mitchell Mural Nashville street art

The old mural had been a little obscure in its imagery. The sandwich and the guitar are obvious, as was the sunrise based on a Tennessee state flag. On the other hand, why the original artists chose to include what appears to be a large cockroach and some Pac-Man like figures is less clear.

Radford’s mural is a different story. She chose to call it “Ham Baby,” and boy is it ever. This is a deli, and of course they serve a lot of ham, but a giant anthropomorphized sow with a “Greetings from Nashville” bikini definitely has presence. Her wink and flower tattoos only amplify the over-the-top nature of this fun mural. You can see closeups of the mural on Radford’s Instagram page. Indeed, she put up a whole series of posts on the mural’s creation. See links below.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve.

Both of my pictures of the two murals are taken at an angle because of a fence and retaining wall that separates Mitchell’s parking lot from the driveway below and which obscure a more direct shot.

Located at 1306 McGavok Pike. The mural is on the west side of the building (in the direction towards Gallatin Road). There is some limited parking at Mitchell Deli. Be aware that the parking at the end of the driveway in the alley is reserved for another business. There’s paid parking to the east just off Riverside, on the other side of Village Pub.

Dolly at TailGate Brewery

One trend in Nashville outdoor art I can definitely support is the spread of portraits honoring Dolly Parton, like Kim Radford’s and the one by MuckRock. Now, both of those are on walls, and may be a little more permanent than this one. That said dumpsters are heavy, so this one will probably stick around a while. (By the way, I grew up calling them “dempsty dumpsters,” a corruption of the brand name of the original line of dumpsters, “Dempster Dumpsters.”)

Now, technically, I should have saved either Radford’s or MuckRock’s for today, as they are both women artists and today is International Women’s Day (and my father’s birthday!), but honoring Dolly is certainly in the spirit of the day, as she has long been a supporter of women’s rights and is something of a feminist icon, even though she’s careful about using the term “feminist.”

Dolly Parton Mural Nashville street art

This piece appears to be signed “ALORD 20,” which confused me for a bit until I remembered that Drew Lord is the art director of Tailgate Brewery and responsible for all their art. The dumpster, you see, is located in the parking lot of their Demonbreun Street location (right across the street from the (in)famous Musica statue). The mural includes some outlines of the pickup truck that serves as one of Tailgate’s logos (look under the name “Dolly”). That this work was done by Tailgate suggests it has some staying power, certainly as long as Tailgate Brewery remains in that location.

Dolly Parton Mural Nashville street art

The mural is based on a widely distributed photo that is probably from a 1970s promotion shoot. I have not been able to find who the photographer is, but Parton herself tweeted a copy of it on August 8, 2018, which apparently was International Cat Day. Her caption? (Or is that “cat-tion”?) “Just kittin’ around!” But of course.

Located at 1538 Demonbreun Street. The dumpster with the mural is in a small parking lot next to the traffic circle where the Musica statue is, and sits at the exit from the parking lot onto 16th Avenue South. There is parking in this area, but most of it is either pay lots or belongs to nearby businesses. Grab a brew and enjoy the art!

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