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

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All aboard! The Sylvan Supply Train Mural

Train Mural Nashville Street art

After Madison Mill closed its factory off Charlotte Avenue and moved to Ashville, NC in 2015, the dilapidated campus of buildings it left behind remained empty for several years. With its abundant walls and concealed spaces, it became a favorite target for graffiti taggers.

In 2016, Stonehenge Realty Group proposed turning it into a mixed-use project with retail and 400 apartments, but this stalled after significant objection from residents of the Sylvan Park neighborhood, where the old factory is located. The following year, Stonehenge proposed a new project to be called The Millworks on Charlotte that would only be offices and commercial space, minus the apartments. This project also failed to come to fruition, and it seemed the site might simply be torn down.

However, in 2018, Third and Urban, a real estate development company out of Atlanta, took over the site with their own plans for a retail and office complex. Before serious construction took place, the soil itself needed to be rehabilitated after sixty years of industrial production. But this time the efforts to develop the site finally bore fruit, and in August 2020, it opened as Sylvan Supply.

Which finally brings us to our mural. This dynamic portrait of an L&N Railroad engine barreling down on us is by the prolific local mural team Eastside Murals, who lately have been signing their work “Out East Boys.” According to the artists, the design was inspired by the rail lines that run alongside the complex and even go inside the buildings, no doubt put there to ease the delivery of wood and the shipping out of products when Madison Mill was churning out dowels for 60 years. The mural sits on the wall of a parking garage which faces down a long corridor in the middle of the complex. The effect is very much like a train hurtling down a tunnel, coming straight for the viewer.

This isn’t the only mural at Sylvan Supply. Indeed, this retail/office complex is something of an outdoor art gallery, much as it was when it was covered with graffiti art. I’ll be writing about the other pieces later, but just explore a bit and you’ll find the other art.

Located at 4101 Charlotte Avenue, at the corner with 42nd Avenue. The parking garage lies at the back end (south) of the complex, the part farthest from Charlotte Avenue. The corridor splits the main part of the Sylvan Supply down the middle. If you are coming from 42nd, just walk away from 42nd into the complex, and you will find it.

The Big Grey Bird of Elegy Coffee

Elegy Bird mural Nashville street art

I call this the Big Grey Bird because I own a copy of Birds of Tennesee and this screaming bird at Elegy Coffee doesn’t seem to quite fit with any of them. Maybe it’s a bird from somewhere else and maybe it’s a bird from the mind of the artist. To me, it looks a lot like a small parrot, but parrots generally have hooked beaks. But it doesn’t really matter, it’s still a great mural.

It’s the work of Nashville artist Brian Wooden. You may have seen some of his images of headless, sharp-dressed men around town, but he works in many styles, including a wild, cartoony style found on a mural further south on Gallatin Road at 1767 Designs

The choice to put a bird flying through a golden triangle doesn’t have much to do with the Elegy Coffee brand. Their logo is an all-seeing eye. But if you step inside, you’ll definitely see many touches of black, grey, and gold in their interior decor, so it fits with the cool, subdued color style of the restaurant.

This mural went up almost a year ago, and I confess I only noticed it a couple of months ago even though I live not too far away. That’s a feature of the pandemic. The pandemic blahs is also why haven’t been posting much lately, but there’s a lot of new work that came out this last year, and I’m going to try to get back in the swing of things and get it all on the blog.

Located at 2909A Gallatin Pike, right next to Walden Bar. The mural is on the south side of the building (that’s in the direction of downtown) and faces an alley that goes to the back parking lots. Free parking is hard to come by in this area, but there are plenty of paid lots along the alley that runs behind Elegy and Walden.

The flowers of 5th+Broadway

One of the largest developments of late in the Lower Broad area is the massive open-air mall, food court, and office building known as Fifth + Broadway, or just 5+B. It’s certainly been a hit with tourists, and it’s often packed, particularly on the weekends, even in these pandemic times.

And every new big project in Nashville needs murals, doesn’t it? The mall area of 5+B is L-shaped, and off the corner of the ground floor of the “L” is a covered walkway with a massive flower mural by Tarabella Aversa. Aversa is one of our more prolific local muralists, and flowers often feature strongly in her work, such as the double mural she did for Walden on Gallatin.

This mural, which went up back in March, is even more intensely floral, jam-packed with warmly colored carnations, with shades of pink, purple, yellow, and orange. A giant mural like this one can be a bit overwhelming for the selfie-seeker, so Aversa has added a black diamond near the middle to frame your next portrait.

Flowers mural Nashville street art

I can tell you it works. This is a difficult mural to photograph, both because of the tight angles and overhead lighting, but also the people passing by and all the folks who want their photo with it. Many use the diamond frame, but some seem to prefer a field of flowers behind them.

Aversa also decorated some doors that are on the opposite wall from the main mural. The lighting for them is even more difficult, but I think my photos accurately represent what you’d see if you visited them. For other views, check out Aversa’s own post about the mural, which includes a shot of her working on it.

This quite beautiful mural and its smaller companions tell a larger story about what’s going in the mural scene in Nashville. Where there are tourists, there will be murals. Sure, murals go up for a lot of other reasons, but tourism drives a big part of the movement. And corporate sponsors are becoming more common. The vast majority of sponsors are still local businesses, but corporate sponsors are seen more and more, so much so that soon I won’t even bother to comment.

Located at the 500 block of Broadway. From either the Broadway entrance or the Rep. John Lewis Way North entrance, simply walk until you get to the interior corner, and you will find it. This is downtown, so lots of parking, very little of it free.

East Nash at Koi

East Nash Mural Nashville street art

It’s not often that I feature something brand new, but this piece is so unusual in Nashville outdoor art, I wanted to put it up right away. This particular style is simply not seen in any other Nashville murals that I am aware of it, and it really caught my eye.

It’s on the west side of Koi Susi & Thai on Main in, where else, East Nashville. It’s the work of John Ha, a Los Angeles-based artist with Nashville connections. Ha works in a number of styles and seems to be known best for his take on traditional Chinese and Japanese paintings of koi. This sign, however, is done in a style he calls his Geometrics. He says on his website:

My geometrics are less about the imagery and more about color association. The artwork is abstract and structural. The precision and accuracy in placement is key to a successful pattern. The prism of colors and sequence of shapes creates a retro movement with a modern feel. 

I think he’s right and I don’t think my photo does complete justice to the way this mural seems to shine and pop out of the wall. For anyone coming down Main from downtown, it does become a bright splash of color welcoming all to East Nashville and the Five Points area.

Ha does not have a strong social media presence, so I can’t say precisely how he wound up doing this piece at Koi Sushi & Thai. However, he clearly has Nashville connections, once having had a gallery called HA Factory on 5th Avenue. As best I can tell, it was open in 2011 and 2012 and perhaps longer, but has not been there for a few years (the site is currently a Boost Mobile).

Located at 923 Main Street. The mural faces west, towards downtown. It faces Koi’s parking lot, so there’s parking available, but if you want a clear view of it, avoid the lunch and dinner rushes.

McDougal’s on 12th

The pandemic was tough for restauranters, but some forged ahead and opened new places right in the thick of it. One such operation was McDougal’s Chicken, long a mainstay of the Hillsboro Village community (though sadly for me, it opened about a decade after I finished my grad work at Vandy, or I would have been there a lot). Last summer, McDougal’s opened a new branch at the heavily trafficked corner of 12th Ave South and South Street.

And as is the case so often these days, a new store means a new mural. In this case, a bright and colorful sign by Anthony Billups of Music City Murals. I can’t say exactly when it went in because I wasn’t doing a lot of driving around last summer, but I imagine it went in around the time of the new location’s opening last June.

Billups has taken the McDougal’s logo with its crowing rooster and red-and-white sign and expanded on it. The logo always had a Sun behind it, but Billups has added the rays of a magnificent sunrise, not unlike the rays found in his mural for Star Struck Vintage. I’m not sure why the chicken place has a flying pig, but that’s also a motif Billups has used elsewhere. There’s no need, of course, after the tornado and the pandemic (not to mention the Christmas bombing that happened after this mural was made) to explain what “Music City Strong” is about.

And of course, there is a Nashville skyline with its signature Batman Building. That said, if you are standing at this branch of McDougals, you can’t see the Batman Building. Also, the Batman Building is north of 12th and South Street, so the Sun wouldn’t rise in that direction, but it’s all artistic license and there’s no need to be picky.

I have featured the original Hillsboro branch of McDougal’s before on this blog. Early on in the blog’s history, I wrote about the giant metal chicken on top of their building, but eventually, I realized that those metal chickens are some kind of mass-produced product, and I stopped putting them on the blog.

Located at 901 12th Avenue South, at the corner with South Street. The mural faces 12th Avenue. There is parking at the restaurant. so why not grab some chicken and enjoy the art!

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.

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