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The Commodore Grille, Part 1

Because I took a break from the blog for a while, I’ve missed some new art. But I also have a back catalog, if you will, of older art that still needs to make it to the blog. And the double mural at the Commodore Grille is an important work I should have put on the blog a long time ago.

What makes this work important is its location, for the Commodore Grille sits in the Holiday Inn building on West End. This makes the murals at the Commodore Grille some of the very first murals on a building owned by a national chain in Nashville. Depending on how you define “major,” it might also qualify for the very first on a building owned by a major chain. This mural and its companion (which I will feature soon in an upcoming post) were done by Mobe Oner (Eric Bass) in April 2019 in honor of the Grille’s 50th anniversary. As such, they beat out the mural at our local branch of Top Golf by a couple of months and the one at the Kroger near Five Points by a few more. The only mural at a national chain in Nashville that appeared earlier that I am aware of is the one at what used to be a Holler & Dash and is now rebranded as a branch of Maple Street Biscuit Company. That one was created by Meghan Wood of I Saw the Sign in early 2018. Ashley Bergeron of The Studio 208 helped Mobe Oner get the Grille and Holiday Inn to take this leap and put local art on a national chain.

It’s also an early example of an interactive mural, or at least it was. At one point there was a stool in the middle where people could get their picture made between the two songwriters. While the famous wings mural was probably the first intentionally interactive mural in Nashville, as a trend interactive murals didn’t really take off until around the time the Commodore Grille murals went up. (The Gulch wings mural went up in 2016, around the time I started this blog.)

The anonymous songwriters in this mural are an obvious theme for the Commodore Grille, as songwriters’ nights and open mic nights are a regular feature of the entertainment there. If you want to see a very different version of Nashville music from the one found down on Lower Broad, you might want to check out the Commodore Grille.

Located at 2613 West End Avenue. The mural faces west towards 28th Avenue South. This is a busy area with lots of parking, but most of it is tied to local businesses. You might try the parking garage on the 2500 block of West End or look for street parking on Vanderbilt Place a block south of the mural.

The Local Distro Youth Mural

Back last summer, in June, a bright, vibrant mural appeared on the side of The Local Distro in Salemtown, facing onto their outdoor dining area. It was the product of many hands, a true community mural put together by a number of artists, nonprofits, and the children of the neighborhood. (According to the Tennessean, many came from the nearby Chetham Place housing community.)

(I have been having technical trouble with featured photos. If you don’t see the full mural at the top of the post, scroll down to the bottom.)

Leading the project was the artist Omari Booker, who just happens to be a graduate of Tennessee State University’s Art Department (being a TSU History prof, I’m more than happy to point to the success of a TSU grad). Other artists were involved, including Lee Ann Love, Devone Marie, and Dough Joe. But as a community project, the mural also is the product of local youth, brought together by My Canvas Youth Arts (which was co-founded by Love). Family and Children’s Services also helped sponsor the project.

You the Mural Nashville street art

Booker and thirty-four youth artists worked with art therapist Devon Billions-Gomez of Inspritus, a social services non-profit, to develop the themes for the mural. The ideas they developed focus on many prominent current issues, such as police brutality and the work of Black Lives Matter. The tornado represents the March 2020 storm that devastated much of North and East Nashville. The mural was officially unveiled on June 13, 2021.

Youth Mural Nashville Street Art

Booker is no stranger to this kind of work. He participated in the “We Are Seeds” community mural in 2019, which was also a youth collaboration, and he recently collaborated on a piece at the Oasis Center that I will feature later.

Youth Mural Nashville street art
While I can’t identify the young woman, given Booker’s work in the past, she is likely one of the youth artists.

I almost made the mistake of saying this mural was in Germantown, but the blocks bordered by Rosa Parks Boulevard, Hume Street, 3rd Ave North, and the interstate are Salmentown, a neighborhood chopped up badly when the interstate was built.

Located at 614 Garfield Street, at the corner with 7th Ave North. The mural faces 7th. Street parking is available on 7th, and if you are a patron of the Local Distro, behind their building.

Youth Mural Nashville Street art

East Nashville Rising

Lockeland Phoenix mural Nashville street art

Life has been turned upside for everyone since March 2020, but East Nashville started this strange period even bumpier than most. The March 3, 2020 tornado hit the neighborhood hard, and since then there have been many tributes to the rebuilding and the resilience of this side of town, notably the “Nashville Strong” mural at Boston Commons. More recently, a bright, multi-colored tribute to East Nashville’s comeback appeared at Lockeland Table.

About a year ago, Cara Graham, co-owner of Lockeland table, asked Emily Harper Beard (who works under the name e.f. harper) to do a mural that represented East Nashville’s strength and resilience. Beard hesitated at first because she didn’t want to compete with the mural that was already on Lockeland Table’s main wall (a painted sign from when the building housed a hair salon). Also, she was reluctant to paint on the building’s brick wall.

An answer came from Andee Rudloff (who has been featured on this blog many times) – aluminum panels from the local branch of Jerry’s Artarama (who has their own post-tornado comeback mural I need to feature). From there it was a question of design, and Beard settled on a phoenix image she had created in college. The phoenix, of course, is an ancient and potent symbol of rebirth and renewal. The hashtag on the mural gives this blog post its title.

On August 15, 2021, Lockeland Table’s ninth anniversary, Beard, her brother, and Rudloff, as well as many people from the neighborhood, gathered to paint and mount the mural, which has become an eyecatcher at a busy intersection. Here’s a video and slideshow from Lockeland Table depicting the creation of the mural. The restaurant has had tables along that wall since the pandemic began, and if you show up early (maybe you need a reservation?) you can get a table right at the mural.

Located at 1520 Woodland Street, at the corner with 16th Street. The mural faces east, away from downtown and Five Points. There is street parking available, but you might wind up walking a block or two.

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.

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