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nashville public art

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

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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.

An Elite Eagle

This is not a March 3 tornado anniversary blog post. Well, mostly not. Two days after the tornado, I posted a piece called “What We Lost in the Storm,” about the outdoor art in East Nashville damaged or destroyed by the tornado. A couple days later I also wrote about that happened in North Nashville and Germantown. For the East Nashville article, the featured photo at the top of the blog post, the one you saw if someone shared the article, was of Kim Radford’s eagle mural at Bill’s Elite Bail Bonding Company on Main Street. I noted at the time I had never actually done a proper blog spot about this mural. I am now finally correcting this.

Radford did the Elite Bonding eagle mural in August 2019. I had a chance to talk to her about it then, and my memory is that she told me that the owner wanted something patriotic, hence the eagle. This was one of Radford’s first outdoor murals in Nashville, and she has since gone on to be one of the more prolific muralists in town. For example, most of the murals at Grimey’s are her work.

Because of its themes, I had intended to save the Elite Bonding mural for a patriotic day, like July 4 or Veteran’s Day, and had there been no tornado, that’s exactly what I would have done. That this mural survived with only minor damage is miraculous, and a testament to both the arbitrary nature of tornado damage and the willingness of the business owner, Bill Tomlinson, to repair and restore his building instead of raze it and start over. When Radford originally did this mural, she continued the geometric flag pattern on the opposite, west-facing side of the building. That half of the building collapsed, and the roof was ripped off, but the wall with the eagle survived.

Eagle Mural street art Nashville tornado
The Elite Bonding Eagle by Kim Radford as it appeared on March 5, 2020.

The damage to it is modest. Mostly what looks like damage is actually places that weren’t painted in the first place because something was covering that part of the wall before the storm. There is a stripe that looks like a repaired crack on the right of the mural. In fact, there used to be a gutter there. That stripe was never painted in the first place. The only real damage is a few dings and scratches. A few quite reminders of the storm, if you know what to look for.

I didn’t get any pictures of the completed mural before the storm. For that, you’ll need to check Radford’s Instagram page – here it complete, and there also several shots of the mural in progress. I do have my own nighttime shot of the eagle in progress.

Elite Eagle Mural Nashville street art

Located at 940 Main Street. The mural is on the east side of the building, facing away from downtown. There is plenty of parking here and at nearby businesses.

Happy Notes

One of the more significant works of outdoor art in Nashville doesn’t get much attention. It’s seen by thousands of people every day (even in the pandemic) and yet hardly anyone talks about it. In part, that’s because its not easy to photograph, and it’s impossible to see the whole thing at once. That said, not many artists featured on this blog have their own Wikipedia page.

Happy Notes Mural Nashville street art

Along the west side of the tunnel that runs under Music City Center is a 165-foot mural-mosaic by Canadian artist Bob Zoell (who resides in Los Angeles). It was installed in 2013 and is called “Happy Notes,” and features many birds and musical notes.

“Besides flight, little birds are synonymous with songs and singing. How delightful it is that our everyday life is filled with the music and songs of these little creatures that project joy in their songs. For this reason I have chosen a theme of singing birds for the Music Center landscape mural. Little birds with their simple songs express the freedom in music that is so symbolic to Nashville history.” – Bob Zoell

Nashville Arts Magazine

The late-lamented Nashville Arts Magazine wrote about this mural in 2012, after Zoell got the commission. In their article, you can see Zoell holding up a version of the mural-mosaic, which gives you an idea what it might look like unobscured by the columns. The mosaic is a surreal journey between night, day and the passing of the seasons. Music City Center has a photo album of it being installed on their Facebook page.

I think it’s a bit of a shame that it’s not more prominently displayed, somewhere where people aren’t laser focused on getting from point A to point B. But it’s a lovely piece of whimsey, by a major artist, and it’s a delightful secret hidden in plain sight.

  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art

Located at 201 5th Avenue South. That’s the official address of Music City Center. The mural-mosaic is found on the 200 block of 6th Avenue South, which runs under MCC. Google Maps does not indicate this block of 6th Avenue exists, but it does! (It is visible on Street View in some very bad photos, but not on the regular map.) This is downtown, so lots of parking, almost none of it free. The tunnel is well lit, and there are crosswalks near each end.

The Linden Building Mural

What makes a mural a mural, and where does this one start and where does it end? It’s by Sideshow Sign Co., whose work is found all over town. This is one of the only pieces signed by them, as most of their work is branding work and signs for restaurants and retail businesses, things that are not usually signed. But this mural, on the side of Serendipity in 12 South, comes with a plaque:

Linden Building Sign Nashville street art

“Repetition and the illusion of layering” would suggest that the only part of this wall that’s meant to be part of the mural is the black and white stripes up top. If so, the featured image at the beginning of this blog post should be this one:

Linden Building Stripes Nashville street art

If that’s right, that would make this one of the smallest and simplest murals in town. And truly, how many murals are mostly a white wall? But the big red stripe and the red windows along with the black and white stripes seem to all tie together. Even the turquoise awning and window frame, which are surely not part of the mural, seem part of the whole. There is the artist’s intent and the viewer’s perception. Take your pick. Either way, this mural is indeed, as the plaque says, “simple yet conceptual.”

Located at 2301 12th Avenue South, at the corner with Linden Avenue. The mural faces north towards Linden. This is 12 South, and there is a mix of paid and free parking on 12th and on side streets.

Unfinished, Unknown

The exuberant, graffiti-style sign for A&B Towing has been up for well over a year, possibly much longer. But it is also distinctly unfinished. It’s hard to see in this picture, but the artist sketched out more of both the hook and the chain, but never completed them. For that matter, the rest of the word “truck” is stenciled in but was never painted, and that letting seems to in the midst of an unfinished editing process. I say “artist” because I don’t know who did this. There is an interesting dot, like a period at the end of the “Towing” banner, which is exactly where a signature would go. It otherwise doesn’t make much sense in the context of the rest of the mural.

Not all muralists sign their work, but the ones that do, don’t sign them until the work is done. So it would seem when the artist was about 90% done, they walked away. Why? It could be something mundane, or it could have been some sort of disagreement with the business owners. A and B Towing does seem to be active, but it also has no internet presence at all, so I don’t know much about it. And as it’s been at least a year-and-half, I really don’t think the artist is coming back. Not all art is completed, and some of the great masterpieces are unfinished works. This one is likely to remain a bit of a mystery.

Located at 707 East Trinity Lane, at the corner with Pittway Drive. The mural faces east, towards Pittway. There is parking at the building, and some street parking on Pittway.

Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks

Properly, this piece is called “Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks,” though I think most Nashvillians know it as “the roller coaster looking thing down by the river.” It is far and away one of the most photographed and recognizable works of public art in Nashville. Right across the river from Lower Broad, and an easy walk from there over the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, it’s a major tourist site as well. So why haven’t I put it on the blog before? It is the blog avatar, after all. I don’t know, but I finally got it on the blog to mark a major milestone – 600 pins on the blog map. More about that later.

No, it’s not made from leftover pieces of the Opryland roller coaster, which is a persistent rumor in town. Rather, it’s the product of a national competition to build the very first piece of art commissioned under Nashville’s “Percent for Art” ordinance which sets aside one percent of any of Metro’s general obligation bonds for public art, administered by the Metro Nashville Art Commission, better known at Metro Arts.  The contest was won by Alice Aycock, who based her design on the history of the east bank as an industrial site. Completed in 2007, the piece is 100 feet tall, 100 feet wide, and 60 feet deep. It rests on the foundations of an old gantry crane that once lowered barges into the river.

In comments appearing on the City of Nashville website, Aycock described her creation as a work of static animation. “It changes as you move around it,” the artist explained. “It suggests a certain kind of movement, dance movements, which is why I refer to it as a Ghost Ballet.” (Source)

I personally find it fascinating and have taken hundreds of pictures of it. The first set of photos here show it in normal light from various angles, including what it looks like from across the river.

Ghost Ballet is also a pretty good flood gauge. Normally, the whole work is well above the river, and it’s possible to stand a good 20 feet below its base. When the small part I call “the boat” actually looks like a boat floating on the river, you need to pay attention to the weather, as the risk of flood is increased significantly.

I also like to create more dramatic shots of Ghost Ballet. In particular, the way it interacts with the skyline and the river provides lots of opportunities to create interesting shots.

About the 600 pins – I reached 600 blog posts back in April (and did not realize it at the time). There’s a lag mainly because early on when I started this blog I would use one pin for multiple pieces of art that were in one place. I don’t do that anymore. I also don’t remove pins for art that no longer exists. I would hazard a guess that ten to fifteen percent of the points on the map represent lost art. I try to keep posts updated, so check the link in the pin to see if I’ve noted it as lost. This is not a 100% guarantee though, as I don’t always know what is lost. The patterns on the map are obvious – there are key areas where you find a lot of art. In particular, you find many pieces along Main Street and Gallatin Pike, Twelve South, Downtown, Nolensville Pike, the Jefferson and Buchanan corridors, and Charlotte Pike. The main thing these places have in common is a large number of local businesses. National chains have recently begun to sponsor outdoor art, but this is still primarily a local affair.

Ghost Ballet is located on the East Bank Greenway, next to the Bridge Building. It’s just south of Nissan Stadium. There is in fact free parking. Look for the parking for Cumberland Park, which lies near the river south of the pedestrian bridge (the opposite side from the stadium).

 

 

Candy Hearts

I have written in the past about the relationship between bachelorettes and murals, but this is the only mural I’m aware of that is very specifically for and about bachelorettes. The usual relationship, which I first became fully aware of because of a 2018 Buzzfeed article about the Nashville bachelorette phenomenon, is fairly simple. A business puts up a mural to attract tourists, mainly bachelorettes, who get their picture taken in front of it and check in on social media. This encourages neighboring businesses to do the same thing, and before long all the tourist districts have lots of murals.

But this mural has a different story. It was sponsored by both The Bach Party, a bachelorette party-planning service, and Finnleys Boutique, a local fashion chain geared towards young women, of the same demographic as most bachelorettes. Finnleys and Bach provided a design, which was produced by Bryson Leach, a Columbia artist. The candy hearts all have phrases one might associate with the stereotypical Nashville bachelorette (that’s actually a  very benign article) and on Bach’s Instagram account, you can watch a video montage of folks in front of the mural, about 95% of whom seem to be bachelorettes. It’s perhaps an inflection moment in the mural movement in Nashville, but unfortunately for Bach and Finnleys, it went up in early February, just a little more than a month before the shutdown.

I wanted to push back on Bach and Finnleys using the #CandyHeartGulch hashtag. This is the first I’ve heard of Eighth Avenue being part of The Gulch. But the Gulch Bussiness Improvement District set up by the city in 2008 includes everything south of Broadway and between the interstate and the railroad tracks, which takes it down Division Street all the way to Frugal MacDoogal. Way back when no one went to The Gulch except to go to The Station Inn, The Gulch was 11th and 12th south of Broadway, and no one else wanted any part of it. Well, the city may say MacDoogal’s is in The Gulch (funny, it’s on a hill) but I don’t care what any developer says, there is no such thing as “North Gulch.” It’s Hell’s Half Acre, thank you.

Located at 601 8th Avenue South, immediately south of the railroad underpass. The mural faces north towards Broadway. This is downtown, so parking is generally not free, though if you scour around, there are a few free places nearby. Also, the highrises in The Gulch proper a couple blocks away have free parking for an hour or more.

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