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nashville public art

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

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Krest, 2018

Krest Graffiti mural Nashville street art

One of the earlier posts on this blog was about this very wall, and some similar-looking graffiti, only mostly in yellow. I worked out that the earlier one read “Krest,” but I didn’t have any idea who the artist was, and I gave it the cheeky title, “For that perfect smile.” You know, as in “Crest”? Well, this time around I know exactly who did it because he signed it this time – Troy Duff, aka Duffomatic, and yes, this one also reads “Krest.” In both cases, Duff did the work as part of the Hands on Creativity festival sponsored by Plaza Art. The earlier one was done for the 2015 festival, while this one was done for the 2018 festival. Duff was sponsored, at least for the second one, by Montana-Cans, a spray paint company. The previous one was painted over, presumably by the building owner, so Duff had a blank canvas to work with the second time around.

This little neighborhood squeezed between Lafayette and the interstate is known as Pie Town. Why that? Because apparently a few years ago some of the business owners wanted to rebrand the area, known for being a little rough around the edges. If you look at a map, it does sort of look lie a wedge of pie, bordered by Lafayette, 8th Avenue, and I-40. It remains surprisingly ungentrified for an area so close to downtown, though it is changing slowly.

Located at 617 Middleton Street. Nearby parking is easy. The mural is on the west side of the building, facing Plaza Arts.

The many manifestations of 5th and Lea

There’s quite a history to this wall on an unassuming building at 5th and Lea downtown. A few weeks ago, a set of murals by Thoughts Manifested and others went in. Before that, there was a set of murals primarily by Marty Riet McEwen, who signs his work “Riet.” Of course, some of Riet’s work was painted over by Abstract Dissent (aka Shane Pierce) for a Johnny Cash mural. And if you look closely at some of the pictures of Riet’s work below, you’ll see he clearly had painted over work that had been there before. Such is the way with outdoor art. I have my map with all its pins, but some spots you’ll see two or three pins, denoting a series of works on that particular wall.

The new set of murals starts on the left with a set by Pako and Audie Adams that includes a promotion of the Red Wolves Coalition, an organization dedicated to the restoration of the red wolf.

Red Wolves mural Nashville Street art

Going down the wall, we see a piece by Jon Ragoe Judkins and a new one for Riet, from what I would call his “cute horror” series. (Check out his Instagram page above, you’ll see what I mean.) And at the end, there’s an abstract piece of unknown authorship.

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Why I never put the previous murals on the blog I don’t know, but this is what was there before.

Graffiti Cash mural Nashville Street art

Johnny Cash Mural Nashville Street art

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Located at 526 5th Avenue South, which is the home of Enchanting Limousines (or was, their website has been suspended). The mural faces north, away from from Lea Avenue. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free. There’s a paid lot in front of the murals.

Hold Nothing Back

The north wall of what is now Bowie’s (and before that, Piranha’s), seems to be developing as a goto spot for murals sponsored by international brands. About three years ago, Stella Artois commissioned Eastside Murals to do a promotional piece I featured in Drink responsibly!. Last September, it was Audi’s turn. They commissioned No King’s Collective, aka Brandon Hill and Peter Chang, two Washington, D.C. artists, to use their bright, colorful style to promote the Audi Q3. That link is about the 2020 model, while the mural features the 2019. (If you’re reading this in 2021 or later, no guarantee on the link.) Hill and Chang not only painted the mural, but they also painted one of the cars, in a pattern very similar to the mural itself. The phrase “Hold nothing back” shows up a lot in Audi’s marketing campaigns.

The Audi mural is part of what seems to be a growing phenomenon – corporate firms promoting mural campaigns across the country. Just recently I featured one sponsored by Pandora that produced a mural in Germantown. All this is great – it certainly gets work for artists, possibly at somewhat higher rates than some local businesses can afford. And I think it’s good that this sometimes brings in out-of-town artists, but within limits. For the most part, I think these firms should reach out to local artists first. We need the mix, but we also need to keep our own community going.

This is something of a pandemic post. It’s not often a downtown parking lot right off 3rd Avenue is clear! I shot the mural a little off-center because there is a pole in the middle of the lot blocking a direct shot.

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Located at 174 Third Avenue North. The mural faces north, away from Lower Broad. This is downtown, so lots of parking, almost none of it free, notably not the lot the mural faces.

The Founding of Nashville

Historic statues, like any way of telling history, always come with a point of view. This statue commemorates the moment that two founders of Nashville, James Robertson and John Donelson, reunited on approximately the very spot the sculpture sits, and clearly represents it as a noble if somber moment. In the middle of the American Revolution, Roberston (shown with an ax over his shoulder) and Donelson (shown with a rifle) were part of a group of colonists who sought to settle along the Cumberland River. In late 1779, Roberston traveled by land from what is now Kingsport, TN with a group of about 200 men. They chose a site known as French Lick to build Fort Nashborough. Donelson came by river with a large group that included families, arriving on April 24, 1780. It’s entirely plausible that Roberston and Donelson shook hands that day. Of course, what the statue doesn’t really address is the Cherokee who lived on this land. Well, the large plaque beneath the two men which tells the story of the founding does mention how Donelson overcame “savage Indians” in his journey downriver. There is a faded “YOU THIEF” underneath Donelson as viewed from behind him. Commentary? (See the slideshow below.) The text of the main plaque also mentions the Cumberland Compact, the “constitution” of the settlers. The large plaque in front of the statue lists the signers of the compact.

Cumberland Compact sculpture Nashville street art

The work was commissioned by Mayor Ben West, who may be best remembered today for a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement in Nashville when he agreed with student leader Diane Nash that discrimination based on color was wrong. It was done by Thomas Puryear Mims, who was a professor and artist-in-residence at Vanderbilt University, and was installed in 1963. Mims did a number of other sculptures around town, though this is the first one I’ve discussed on this blog.

A recent report by Metro Arts on the condition of Metro-owned art rates the condition of the work as poor and places the need for repairs at a high priority (see page 25). You can see some of that in these pictures, including the staining on the bronze and the damage to the pedestal. This sculpture is also protected by the Tennesee Heritage Protection Act, a bill designed to protect Confederate monuments from being taken down, but which applies to all publicly owned historic monuments. To my knowledge, there are no monuments in Nashville to Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee leader who fought against settlers moving into Cherokee lands, including an attack on Forth Nashborough in 1781.

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Located on the 200 block of First Avenue South, a little south of Church Street. This is downtown, so lots of parking, very little of it free.

Glen Campbell, Rhinestone Cowboy

Here is more art in a time of pandemic. It’s unusual for me to have back-to-back posts about works in the same neighborhood, but there is something compelling about Lower Broad right now. The epicenter of Nashville’s tourism industry, it’s normally packed with people and raucous with sound – music, laughter, and the shouts and whoops from bachelorettes on pedal taverns. These days, it’s a ghost town, with only cops and the homeless, and two or three determined tourists. The Glen Campbell Museum and Rhinestone Stage only opened last month. On their Instagram page, they excitedly announced their first customers on February 1. By March 23, like much of the district, they were forced to close their doors by the pandemic.

Along the way, they got a spiffy mural, courtesy of Anthony Billups and Dean Tomasek of Music City Murals. On the museum’s Instagram page, you can see an image of it as a work in progress. It depicts Campbell dressed in rhinestone finery in a desert scene, where the Nashville skyline rises on the horizon like a distant mesa. “Rhinestone Cowboy” was, of course, Campbell’s signature song. While it is tempting to think that the line “I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway” is a reference to Lower Broad, that’s unlikely. The song was written and first recorded by Larry Weiss, a New York native who wrote it shortly after moving to Los Angeles, so it’s much more likely a reference to the one in New York.

Interestingly, the mural is not technically on the museum, which is on the second floor of the building that houses the Nashville branch of Rock Bottom Brewery, and it sits in Rock Bottom’s patio.

Campbell Mural Nashville street art

Located at 111 Broadway, at the corner with Second Avenue, across the street from Hard Rock Cafe. To get up close to it, you’ll need to enter Rock Bottom. The entrance to the museum is on Second Avenue. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.

The green leaves of the Gulch

It’s a strange time to be writing about outdoor art in Nashville. This mural by California artist Ian Ross and sponsored by the Nashville Walls Project is about three years old. I’ve tried photographing it before, but even early on a Sunday morning, there always seems to be cars in the parking lot in front of it, blocking the mural. It’s a giant pay lot in the heart of the Gulch, a hotspot for Nashville tourism. But this is the time of coronavirus, and most of the tourists are gone, including around noon on a Saturday when I took this. Even at the famous wings mural by Kelsey Montague, only a couple of people were getting their picture made when I drove by and no one was waiting, when usually the line is a block or two long.

Ross Mural Nashville street art Gulch

Ross’s mural is a riot of green, swirls of paint suggesting leaves and flowers. It’s enormous and even wraps around the building on the top. There’s a video on Vimeo that shows Ross working on the mural, and it seems it was a little brighter when it was first made, though that may just be the light. Interestingly, though this project was sponsored by the Nashville Walls Project, it doesn’t appear on their website. Ross also works on canvas and is represented locally by The Studio 208. If we ever have First Saturday Art Crawl again, currently canceled because of the virus, maybe you can drop by and see some of his work.

Ross Mural Nashville street art Gulch

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The building the mural is on says “Cummings Signs,” but they are no longer located there.

Located at 200 12th Avenue South. Well, that’s the official address of the building. The main mural faces 11th Avenue South, on the block between Laurel Street and the Demonbreun Street bridge, which sails over 11th. The pieces of the mural that are shown in the second slideshow are found at the corner of 12th Avenue South and Demonbreun. To get to them from the main mural, take the exit at the far left of the second photograph on this page, and turn right on 12th. This is the Gulch, so lots of parking, all of it in pay lots and garages, but most of it is free for an hour or more.

By the tracks

It’s been a few weeks since I post any “wild” graffiti to the blog, though for all I know this was done with full permission of the owners. Owners of what? Hard to say. This piece is found on a small concrete building that lies at the corner of 11th Avenue North and Harrison Street, just below the tracks. This is part of an industrial area squeezed between what developers like to call North Gulch to the south and Hope Gardens to the north. It’s an area that has resisted development, a pocket of warehouses and factories a few blocks from the State Capitol. Two long-standing industrial firms are found right across the street. On both sides of 11th Avenue going north and to the east along Harrison Street, is the “campus” of John Bouchard and Sons, a machine shop and iron casting factory that goes back to 1908.  A little farther down Harrison, on both sides of the road, is a branch of U.S. Smokeless Tobacco. While the company goes back to 1822, its Nashville factory on Harrison only goes back to 1996. But its presence suggests this small area will remain industrial. A large plot half a block north of the graffiti mural was recently leveled, tearing down what used to be a Goodwill warehouse that had been severely damaged by fire. The new owners of the site? U.S. Smokeless Tobacco. So, no condominiums, at least not yet.

The little concrete building itself is probably railroad property, though abandoned. For a long time, it was completely screened by trees and occupied by at least one homeless individual. Today, the trees are gone, and a security car is often parked next to it, no homeless to be seen. On the other side of the tracks lies Solis North Gulch Apartments, which start at a little over $1500/month and go up quickly, but the corner of Harrison and Eleventh is likely to stay out of the development craze for some time to come.

UH Graffiti Nashville mural street art

Located at the corner of 11th Avenue North and Harrison Street. Street parking is available, but be aware large trucks come through here frequently.

The Listening Room, Selfie Edition

Selfie-bait is a growing trend in Nashville murals and the giant colorful headphones at The Listening Room Cafe is a case in point. I think it all began with the wings mural in The Gulch by Kelsey Montague, who specializes in murals designed to entice people to use them as frames for portraits. Much of the mural movement in Nashville is propelled by business owners who want people to get their pictures taken in front of their mural and of course check in on social media. This mural goes the extra mile. For one, The Listening Room’s Instagram handle, @TheListeningRoomCafe, is on the mural. And, like the mural at Zeal Church, there are instructions as to where the photographer is supposed to stand. Note the cable coming out of the headphones. It’s an arrow, leading to the perfect spot.

The artist is Ty Christian, who has been on this blog for a very different mural. Harmony is more in keeping with his other work, seen on his website (above) and his Instagram page. His mural for The Listening Room is not the only mural on this wall. Earlier I featured a fantastic hand-painted sign by Michael Cooper of Murals and More. I’ve seen at least as many people getting their picture taken with the sign, but admittedly I don’t drive down 4th Avenue every day.

Listening Room murals street art Nashville

Located at 618 4th Avenue South. There is some limited parking at the Listening Room and some street parking on Elm Street. As the mural faces a parking lot, your best bet is to visit early in the day, well before showtime. Enjoy the music and enjoy the art!

Arcade Alley

Michael Cooper of Murals and More is probably the most long-standing muralist in town, making outdoor art long before it became trendy in Nashville. Which is why highlighting this particular mural in Arcade Alley isn’t exactly breaking news. The signature, way down on the wall behind the last car on the right, gives the date of “6.25.99.” As such it ties with the mural at La Hacienda by Mitchell Torok as the third oldest mural in Nashville that I know of, after the Chromatics mural and the Hard Rock Painter Man. It is in Cooper’s usual trompe-l’oeil style, and is filled with the visual jokes he often incorporates, like a cat leaping out a window unnoticed by its humans as they steal a kiss. The shadows you see are also trompe-l’oeil  – I try to avoid real shadows in my pictures.

Arcade Alley gets its name because it bisects The Arcade, Nashville’s oldest enclosed shopping area. What was once Overton Allery was given a glass roof and redesigned to look more like the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II in Milan, though it was never that fancy. Originally, when it opened in 1904, the bottom floor was shops and the upper level was used for offices. Today, the bottom floor is mainly restaurants serving lunch and breakfast to downtown office workers, while the top floor is primarily art galleries. A good time to visit the galleries is during the monthly Downtown First Saturday Art Crawl.

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Located at 417 Union Street, on the east wall of the restaurant of the same name. It faces a parking lot. This is downtown, so lots of parking, almost none of it free.

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