It’s not often that a graffiti artist gets written up in the local news, his arrival in town excitedly heralded by local arts groups. But Blek Le Rat is not just any graffiti artist. He’s an internationally known French street artist, known to some as the “godfather of stencil,” that is, the use of stencils to make images on walls. He toured the U.S. south in late 2018, creating works in the Texas cities of Waco, Houston, and Austin, and also here in Nashville. He left stencils at Montgomery Bell Academy and the one above at the Germantown branch of Barista Parlor. In this video interview with WPLN, he explains that he came to Nashville because it is the capital of music and because he thinks his work would be ignored and unappreciated in a more outdoor art-dense city like New York. The subject is a young Beethoven, who Blek presents in more modern dress, imagining how the old master might present himself to the Nashville of today and its music. He also thinks “the real America is in Nashville, a city like Nashville.” The video is worth watching because it captures a lot of his process as he produced the Beethoven portrait. It’s not as simple as spraying a stencil! The picture below gives you a sense of context.
Located at 1230 4th Avenue North. Both murals actually face the 300 block of Monroe Street. The Blek piece is obviously at the corner with 4th, while the For Becks piece is almost all the way down at the other end of the wall, near the back of the building. Street parking is available on 4th.
This work is by the youngest artist I’ve ever featured on this blog, save those murals that were collaborations between adults and children, such as my most recent post. Drew T. Morrison’s website doesn’t give his exact age, but a friend who knows the family tells me that Morrison is eleven or twelve years old. On his website and his Instagram account, you can see he’s already quite accomplished, and also that this piece is much calmer than most of his other work. It’s found in the outdoor seating area of Saint Stephen, the new Germantown restaurant owned by James Beard Award-winning chef RJ Cooper. Before Cooper took over the site, it was home to a restaurant called Mop/Broom. Mop/Broom also had a mural on this wall, by Nathan Brown. I never managed to get it on the blog or even photograph it, but it is preserved on Brown’s Instagram account (that’s a multi-photo post, so be sure to scroll through). A new owner often means new art, that’s not unusual.
Located at 1300 Third Avene North. The mural is in the patio on the back (north) side of the building. Street parking is available, but you might have to walk a block or two.
In January 2017, just a few months after starting this blog, I wrote about an interesting wall of graffiti on the rear side of Bearded Iris Brewing. I even called it “Part 1,” because I intended to come back and write about the less interesting graffiti on the building that faced that back wall of Bearded Iris, on the other side of the Cumberland River Greenway. Well, that building got torn down to make way for a parking lot, and the graffiti was replaced by this giant sign for Bearded Iris done by Eastside Murals. (The graffiti off to the left is still there, and might get a blog post someday.) This mural is reminiscent of another recent work by Eastside Murals covering the entirety of the Molly Green building at McFerrin Ave and Main Street. While the color scheme is quite different, that work also features thick flowing lines and large circles. I recently got good photos of it, so look for it on the blog soon. The featured photo above is angled because, as you can see below, trying to take a photo straight on mostly just gets you a picture of trees! The Bearded Iris Brewing logo, which you can see in the upper right of the mural and on the tanks located on the front of the building, doesn’t look much like a bearded iris flower to me but more like a stylized fleur-de-lis. Your mileage may vary.
Located at 101 Van Buren Street. The mural faces east, along the Cumberland River Greenway. There is a paid parking lot directly in front of it, but you can probably park for free for a little while in Bearded Iris’s parking lot (look for the tanks), longer if you stop in for a brew!
Is Nashville really Oz? It’s certainly an Emerald City in Anthony’s Billups’s mural for The Griff Apartments. The skyline is roughly what you would see looking south from The Griff’s roof, minus the yellow brick road and the poppies and trees. That’s Topgolf off to the left, and of course the Batman Building in the middle. Like the Eiffel Tower for Paris, all images of Nashville’s skyline must have the Batman Building. The brown building on the right is presumably the old meatpacking plant across the street from The Griff, which is in the habit of catching on fire. The mural decorates a utility box that would otherwise just be a concrete slab and is further evidence that more and more, Nashville businesses know they need art. Billups, who is part of Music City Murals, also did some signage in The Griff’s garage that is in a very different style (see slideshow below) from this mural. I could not discern a signature on the mural, but the staff, who informed me who the artist was, said that it is hidden in there somewhere. Maybe if you follow the yellow brick road you’ll find it and the wizard. I’m guessing the wizard lives at the top of the Batman Building.
Located at 1390 Adams Street. The mural is actually on Taylor Street, on the south side of the building, facing Adams Street. The entrance to the garage is on the north side of the building, and the signs on the first floor. There is some street parking on Adams, and guest parking in The Griff’s parking garage.
Some people like their photo taken with wings, but there are undoubtedly some folks who would prefer a couple of heavily muscled tattooed arms in their picture. This three-month-old mural by Tara Marie Aversa (also known as Tarabella Aversa) has those people covered. It’s an appropriate mural for a fitness center. Shed Group Fitness is actually a chain, though four of its seven locations are in Nashville, including the one in Germantown, where this mural is found. While spare compared to some of Aversa’s othermurals, these tattooed arms contain a few of the flowers characteristic of much of her work. There are also some traditional tattoo subjects, like birds, knives and mottos – “Keep Goin” and “Stronger Harder Every Day.” But how many people have tattoos of a cassette tape? No doubt someone does. This isn’t the only mural of flexing arms in town. Put up your dukes! by Rachel Deeb is found on the side of the Church Streetbranch of Title Boxing Club near Elliston Place. Those are also tattooed, but not surprisingly, also have boxing gloves on.
Located at 85 Van Buren St, at the corner with Adams Street in a building Shed shares with O-Ku Suhi Nashville. The mural is on the west side of the building, facing a large parking lot. The Cumberland River Greenway is on the other side of the lot. The lot is a pay lot – there is some street parking on Van Buren and Adams. Get your sweat on and enjoy the art!
Because I’ve been doing a lot of travelling lately, I was out of town for the third-year anniversary of this blog, which happened on June 30. Much has happened since the second anniversary of this blog. For one, the outdoor art scene continues to blossom here in Nashville. New murals appear seemingly every day, and at my usual three-posts-a-week pace I’ll never catch up! And the world has noticed. Do a quick Google search for “Nashville street art” or “Nashville murals” or related searches, and you will find dozens and dozens of articles, blog posts, and various guides to whatever the author considers to be the best, the prettiest. or most “Instagramable” murals. And while this blog doesn’t show up very high in those searches, traffic has been steadily improving. The first year, the blog got a few hundred views a month. In the second, 1000-1500 views a month. In the third year, that number hovers in the low 2000s. Still small fry, but the moving in the right direction. And unlike any of those articles or “guides,” I really am trying to chronicle it all!
Many of the observations I made in the post I wrote about the second year anniversary remain true. The relationship between art, tourism, and gentrification remains strong. It’s still true that most art, particularly murals, is found on local businesses, not chains. Nashville business owners are getting the message – murals generate foot traffic, and they encourage people to take a picture and “check in” at the business, which amounts to free advertising. And art very much still breeds art. Businesses and building owners are encouraged to seek out artists for their site when they see their neighbors doing the same thing.
Having recently traveled to New Orleans and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I can say that our mural/outdoor art scene compares well to those areas. One mistake we did not make, which until recently New Orleans had, was to put onerous permitting limitations on art. I would also say that while there are definitive art districts, in particular 12 South and Downtown, we do a good job of spreading art out – just look at my map.
I continue to be concerned about the impact of gentrification, notably on the less celebrated artists who have decorated Hispanic and Black-owned business. In particular, the work of the artist I have dubbed the “Unknown Buchanan Street Artist(s)” is endangered. That’s one reason I do this blog, to archive what is an inherently ephemeral form of art.
For now, this will continue to be a Davidson County-only blog. When I think of some of the massive collections of work I have yet to chronicle, notably the Elliston Place garage and the dozens of musician portraits in Berry Hill, it’s hard to think about expanding. For that matter, I have dozens of files under the heading “Future Blog Posts,” most of which I need to do more research for or reshoot photos (I have gotten very picky about the pictures I use.) But visiting the Metroplex (as Dallas-Ft. Worth is known), I realized if I lived there I would have to do an area-wide blog, and I think I will have to do so here as well in time. The surrounding counties have developing outdoor art scenes of their own, often by the same artists who work in Davidson County. It’s really the same scene, and singling out Davidson County is somewhat artificial.
The header photo is the mural at Chromatics. The artist who made it, TACKZ, recently contacted me, which reminded me that, to my knowledge, only the refurbished Painter Man at the Hard Rock Cafe on Lower Broad is older. The Chromatics mural is a true survivor, dating back to 1993. We definitely have a very different outdoor art scene than we did in 1993. We actually have one now! I intend to continue to chronicle it as best I can.
Sometimes you think the research will be easy, and it isn’t. This prominent piece on the corner of Rosa Parks and Taylor is signed in more than one place “Numberwalls.com Murals by Mike + Jenny.” Unfortunately, that website doesn’t exist anymore. But with some internet sleuthing and some help from the Wayback Machine, I was able to identify the artists as Mike Luckett and Jenny Luckett. (Jenny is now doing jewelry, but I am not sure what Mike does now.) A Wayback Machine snapshot of the Numberwalls.com site from November 2009 invites readers to view their “Colorful Community” mural which had been commisioned by Village Real Estate and was completed with the help of over one hundred volunteers from the neighborhood. It includes such icons as the State Capitol Building, the elevator towers of Public Square, and the Monroe Street United Methodist Church. The wall itself hides a parking/storage area that belongs to the Metro Development and Housing Agency.
Located on the 1400 block of Rosa Parks Boulevard and the 800 block of Taylor Street. The best bet for parking is the Kroger across Taylor Street. There is some street parking on the 700 block of Taylor.
Recently, a new mural appeared on the side of the same building where the Harmony mural is found. The new mural is the product of Rebekah Rinehart and Sarah Gail Nelson, founder and co-founder of The Kind Way. That website only went up very recently, so there’s not much information on what Rinehart and Nelson will be doing to promote kindness, but maybe once they get their blog going they’ll have more to say. Already you can inquire about getting a kindness jacket, and maybe more in the future (the page is labeled “The Kind Collection.”) They are apparently planning to do more murals in more states and cities. There’s a video on that last link about the Nashville mural, which you can also find on Youtube. It would seem you can chalk in your answer to what kindness is, but I haven’t tried it. (You’d have to be rather tall!) The mural is dedicated to the memory of Randall W. Binford (see below).
Located at 1120 Fourth Avenue North. The mural actually faces Madison Street, on the building that houses Juice Bar Germantown and Little Donkey. Cochon Butcher has been this building but is being replaced by Vui’s Kitchen. There is a pay lot on 4th, and if you are also grabbing some grub, the restaurants have some parking, though good luck. There is also some limited street parking nearby.