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nashville public art

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

Chadwick Boseman (1976-2020)

Boseman Mural Nashville street art

I could probably fill this blog for a few weeks getting caught up on all the murals done by Charles Key (who signs his work JamersonSGC and “Low Key Art”). He created this mural memorializing Chadwick Boseman in early September 2020, just a few days after Boseman’s death.

Boseman of course was best known for his role as T’Challa/Black Panther in the Marvel Universe movies. The Black Panther movie of 2018 has been one of the most popular of all the Marvel movies and is the ninth-highest grossing film in history. Black Panther was also the first major blockbuster with a predominantly Black cast and is the highest-grossing film with a Black director. Before Black Panther, Boseman had a varied career for someone who died relatively young. He had the range to star both as Thurgood Marshall and James Brown in biofilms, and his breakout role was as Jackie Robinson in “42.” Boseman was also an active philanthropist, including donating $4.2 million worth of PPE gear to hospitals serving Black communities just months before he died.

In an interview with News Channel 5, Key explained the importance of the image he had chosen, which comes from a promotional poster for the Black Panther movie.

Charles admits he didn’t watch the movies like his kids, but there was something about the grace and dignity Boseman brought to the role that he couldn’t ignore.

He finally landed on an image that seemed to capture that. With his head bowed and his hands to his face, something about this picture of Boseman tells others there’s more to the man than you know.

“In the movie, this is the king. So we never know what people are going through when they have to make decisions,” Key Jr. said.

The long-term fate of this mural is suddenly uncertain, and not just because Key is in the habit of editing and reworking his murals. The building it sits on, which houses Ideal Liquor Store and David’s Discount Tobacco and Beer, sold a few weeks ago for $1.57 million. It was bought by the Tennesee Justice Center, a non-profit that works with needy families. As of this writing, they have not announced plans for the building.

Located at 155 Lafayette Street, at the corner with Fairfield Avenue. The mural is on the southern end of the building and faces Lafayette. There is plenty of parking available.

The Gulch Dog Park, Part 4 – Joe Geis

This is the fourth in the series I’m doing covering the murals in the dog park in The Gulch. In the summer of 2019, MarketStreet Enterprises, the city-appointed master developer of The Gulch, opened a contest for new murals for a dog park that was then still under development. The new dog park lies at the top of a hill on the west side of The Gulch, overlooking I-40, just uphill from the Turnip Truck. The artists who won the contest are largely new names in the Nashville mural world, expanding the roster of our local muralists.

Sometimes murals are unfortunately placed, and there is not much the artist can do about it. In this case, the artist, Joe Geis, has a post on his Instagram page where you can see the mural from multiple angles. I should have done the same, but of course, the best way to take in the mural and fully understand it is to go visit it. Geis’s mural is the fourth from the right in this series (that is, the fourth going from north to south). As you can see, it lies behind that gate that leads into the part of the park set aside for small dogs (which is the north part).

The mural is in keeping with the main themes of a great deal of Geis’s work, which features a lot of colorful abstract shapes, though he also works in black and white. Geis is based here in Nashville and in Brooklyn. While he doesn’t have much in the way of outdoor public art in Nashville, he is no stranger to murals, having done indoor and private outdoor murals here, and murals indoor and out as far away as Mumbai, India. Not many Nashville muralists can say they have installations in India!

Located at 1216 Pine Street, at the top of the hill. That’s the address of the dog park. This mural is actually almost directly in line with the alley that lies between Pine and Laurel Street. It is of course at the entrance to the part of the park for small dogs, very near the middle of the whole dog park. It faces east towards 12th Avenue South and the Turnip Truck. This is The Gulch, so plenty of parking, none of it free. Well, only if you stay too long. Most Gulch parking is free for the first hour or even longer. Check the signage at each lot and garage.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 5 Part 6

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.

The Gulch Dog Park, Part 3 – Jill McElroy

This is the third in the series I’m doing covering the murals in the dog park in The Gulch. In the summer of 2019, MarketStreet Enterprises, the city-appointed master developer of The Gulch, opened a contest for new murals for a dog park that was then still under development. The new dog park lies at the top of a hill on the west side of The Gulch, overlooking I-40, just uphill from the Turnip Truck. The artists who won the contest are largely new names in the mural world of Nashville, expanding the roster of our local muralists.

Gulch Dog Mural Nashville street art

This one is the third from the right (that is, the third going from north to south), inside the part of the park set aside for small dogs (which is the north part). It’s by Jill McElroy, and to my knowledge, it’s her first mural in Nashville. Her post about it on her Instagram account is quite informative. From it, we learn that the dogs and the music are not random. The dogs on the mural are all portraits of dogs that belong to friends McElroy went dog-walking with during the pandemic. I like how the dog with shades seems to be sniffing and rooting around in the dirt. The music coming out of their ears is sheet music from Doxology and from Nashville artists John Prine, Ben Rector, and Ellie Holcomb.

Dog Mural Nashville Street art

The big rock in front does block the dog with shades a bit, so I added an angled view above, and this close up.

Dog Mural Nashville Street art

Located at 1216 Pine Street, at the top of the hill. That’s the address of the dog park. This mural is actually closer to an alley that lies between Pine and Laurel Street and is near the entrance to the part of the park for small dogs. It faces east towards 12th Avenue South and the Turnip Truck. This is The Gulch, so plenty of parking, none of it free. Well, not if you stay too long. Most Gulch parking is free for the first hour or even longer. Check the signage at each lot and garage.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

Nashville Looks Good on You – Marathon Village

I’ve written about the one on Nolensville Pike and the one in 12 South. I’ve also written about the one on 21st Avenue South. And now we have the one in Marathon Village. All four are by the same artist, who signs his work NASHTN.

This version is fairly new, having gone up a little over a month ago. In the selfie wars of Nashville, the one in 12 South is definitely one of the most popular murals in town. There’s usually a line to get your picture taken there. This one may not get as much attention as the 12 South version, but it will also see more visitors than the one on Nolensville Pike, which is far from where most tourists go (thankfully so – at least we locals have all the great immigrant restaurants on Nolensville mostly to ourselves).

Marathon Village is not as overrun with tourists as 12 South or Lower Broad, it certainly gets it share, and no doubt many will find this new one. It’s on the other side of a parking lot from the main part of Marathon Village, but through tax records I was able to confirm this building belongs to Barry Walker, the developer of Marathon Village. (That link is an interesting history of Marathon Village and Walker’s work to restore it.)

Each NLGOY mural is distinctive. The 12 South one is a simple black-and-white block, the Nolensville one is huge and morphs into a map of Tennessee, and the one on 21st is curved. This one is unique in its complexity. I think it’s interesting that the magnifying glass seems to be shining a light on the mural. The hand has been painted in a way that largely makes the electrical box disappear. The whole effect is like some giant that’s got an arm sticking out of the building while carefully examining anyone who gets their picture made in front of the mural.

On the artist’s IG page, you can see a series of images showing the making of the mural.

The building has a sign for 360 Skin Care, but its not clear if the business is active.

Located at 1206 Milson Avenue. The mural is on the west side of the building, facing away from downtown. The building lies directly across the parking lot from the tower on the main Marathon Village building. There’s plenty of parking around, but you may need to park a bit away to find something free.

Quanie Cash – Build Up Our Community

It’s not often I post about brand new art, but this eye-catching mural that went up a couple of weeks ago is right in my neighborhood and hard to miss, being in a prominent spot on Main Street. It’s by Kwazar Martin, an Indianapolis artist who’s only been producing murals for two or three years but has already been featured in national media. This mural marks his first work in Nashville.

The subject is Quanie Cash, a Nashville actor, director and musician who is also the founder of The Build Up Foundation, a non-profit that works with at-risk kids. Cash is not only from Nashville, but he also grew up in the Main Street neighborhood. In a post on his Instagram page about the mural, Cash noted:

I never thought growing up that a Mural of me would be on the Neighborhood Store Building my grandma sent me to everyday. 

Today, there is no longer a neighborhood store in the low-slung cinderblock building on Main. The only business remaining in that building is Tammy’s Beauty Salon. The old neighborhood store has been replaced by a Mapco next door. Perhaps because it’s a small building in something of a low spot, it was not damaged by the March 3, 2020 tornado, despite being right in the storm’s path.

The image of Cash in the mural would appear to be based on the profile shot from his Twitter account (that is, the profile shot he was using in May, 2021). On Cash’s Instagram, you can see a brief clip of him working on the mural.

Located at 718 Main Street. The mural faces west, in the direction of downtown. There is parking at 718 and at the Mapco.

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