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nashville public art

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

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Tatuajes Raza

Most people think of the Nolensville Road corridor and Antioch as the main areas to find Latino-owned businesses, but there’s also a cluster in Madison. So it’s no surprise to find a Latino-themed tattoo parlor there, Tatuajes Raza. The black-and-grey storefront on Gallatin is the work of musician and artist Ghosty Lowks (he has a more art-themed page called “The Phantom Collection“).

The mural contains a stylized image of one of the more enduring symbols of Mexico, the Aztec Sun Stone. It is known to many as the “Aztec Calendar Stone,” but while it does have the names of the days and months on it, it is not really a calendar, but a representation of the largest cycles of time in Aztec thought, great ages known as “Suns.” At the end of each, the Sun would be destroyed and and a new Sun born. They saw themselves as living under the Fifth Sun. (Did I mention I’m an historian of Latin America?)

“Raza” as part of the store’s name is also significant. It’s a reference to the idea of “la raza cósmica,” the cosmic race, an idea of José Vasconselos. He was an education minister in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution and thought in Mexico, where people from all over the world were found, that the strengths of all these peoples combined created a newer, stronger people. It has become an important idea in Mexican national identity.

We see various people in the mural. There’s an an ice cream vendor with the tattoo “familia” on his arm, but that’s a tattoo needle, not an ice cream cone on his cart. The eyeless face above him seems to have a Nashville skyline for a headdress.

Ice Cream Man mural Nashville street art

There are more eyeless faces, a woman with a shotgun, a mustachioed clown and another Aztec image that might be Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god. “Chuy” and “Buda,” as best I know, are nicknames of the owner. (And yes, that’s me just barely reflected in the doorway.)

Located at 322 Gallatin Pike South, a few blocks south of Old Hickory Boulevard. The mural faces Gallatin. This is a tricky area to park. There is some parking in front of Tatuajes Raza and neighboring businesses. Otherwise, you might need to do some walking.

2nd Avenue Art Wall – Tess Davies

Working left to right on the wall of window murals at the AT&T Central Office on 2nd Avenue (not to be confused with the more famous AT&T building in Nashville, the Batman Building on Commerce Street) the fifth work is by Tess Davies. (And congratulations to Davies, for she is recently married and appears earlier on this blog as Tess Erlenborn.)

It’s part of series of murals on the building sponsored by AT&T, the Nashville Downtown PartnershipThe DISTRICTNashville Metro Arts Commission, and The Studio 208. All are done by women, and the project was curated by Ashley Segroves of The Studio 208. They are all on vinyl, and went up in the summer of 2018.

Like the work to the left by by Emily Leonard, it has a floral theme. The abstract shapes, lines and dots are characteristic of Davies’s style that you can also see in her contribution to the Off the Wall project and her contribution to the Nations Wall project. It’s been up for a couple years and has become dirty, in particular the marks down the left side of the mural are dirt, and not part of the original work. Below you can see it in context with some of the other murals. There are eight in total.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

ATT Murals Nashville street art

Located at 185 2nd Avenue North. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.

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.

16 Bit Bar+Arcade

Not all bars in Nashville are honky-tonks. At least one is an arcade. It’s natural that in a tourist town like Nashville, with so many bars, business owners will try all kinds of things to grab our entertainment dollars. 16 Bit Bar+Arcade in Nashville is actually part of a small chain. It draws in customers with its collection of 80s and 90s arcade video games and pinball machines.

It’s appropriate then that it be decorated with a mural based on one of the great classics of the genre, Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong and Princess Pauline are seen at the top, but there’s no sign of Mario. He was probably crushed by one of the barrels of beer and whiskey Kong has. Pauline yells “Get over here,” 16 Bit’s catch phrase, not the “Help” she does in the game. The steel piers Mario had to climb now spell out “NASH TENN.” As the mural is unsigned, it took a little research to find the creators, but it turns out to be a production of Eastside Murals, one of the most prolific mural teams in Nashville.

As of this writing, there’s a Netflix documentary series available, High Score, which includes a long discussion of Donkey Kong’s history. I enjoyed it, though one reviewer found it heavy on nostalgia, weak on real reporting.

Located at 1102 Grundy Street, just as it says on the mural, at the corner of 11th Avenue North. The mural faces Comers Alley, on the west side of the building, away from downtown. This is the Gulch, so not a lot of free parking, but there is some free street parking west of 11th. Paid parking is also available.

Keep Dreaming

One thing the pandemic has not done is slow down the mural movement in Nashville. As a result, I’m getting even farther behind in cataloguing all that is out there. This trippy mural at Honytree Meadery is only a few months old, and it’s the work of Kim Radford, who over the last year or so has become quite prolific and is responsible for a lot of the new murals.

This one has a bit of backstory. Mindmilk is a mental wellness brand owned by Centric Creative Group, itself a brand-marketing agency. Back in September, Creative Centric sponsored a mural scavenger hunt. They even partnered with ROAR to create augmented reality experiences for each mural through the ROAR app, and this mural was part of the hunt. Maybe some of the participants also used this blog to help them find murals? Maybe.

Mindmilk includes dream interpretation as part of its services, and Radford’s mural seems very much to come from the world of dreams, and tells us to “Keep Dreaming.” Of course, this is also a meadery, and honey bees feature in the mural, even wrapping around the corner towards Honeytree’s front door.

Mindmilk Mural Nashville street art
Mindmilk Bees mural Nashville street art

This mural replaces a previous mural on this spot I never blogged about. It was a mural promoting Nashville SC, our local Major League Soccer team. While they promoted the mural on their social media, I was never able to track down the artist. This is my regular plea to businesses. Muralists are not simply journeyman workers, and acknowledging them can actually help promote your business, as those people who follow the artist will become aware of your business and possibly think better of it. I think the biz speak for that is “synergy.”

Nashville Soccer Mural street art

Located at 918 Woodland Street. The mural is on the east side of the building, facing away from downtown. Honeytree has some limited parking, and you can probably get away with a short stay in the lot in front of the mural. Grab some mead and enjoy the art!

Veterans Day, 2020

Today is Veteran’s Day, when we honor those who have served our country in uniform. The November 11 date is in recognition of the original Armistice Day that ended the fighting in the First World War. For the Veterans of Foreign Wars, it is in many ways always Veteran’s Day, and in that sense the bold flag on local VFW Post 1970 honors veterans every single day.

It’s the work of Scott LoBaido, who bills himself as “The Creative Patriot.” He has painted versions of his flag murals in all fifty states, particularly on VFW, AmVets and American Legion posts. In 2017, Tour of Honor, an annual motorcycle riding challenge that raises money for veteran’s charities, chose LoBaido’s murals as the destinations for its tour. On that page you’ll find a link for an Excel sheet of all the flag murals at these various posts that Tour of Honor was aware of in 2017.

Tucked away in one of the folds at the far right of the flag is an image of a Purple Heart, the medal bearing the image of George Washington that is given to military personnel wounded or killed in battle.

Medal Honor mural Nashville street art

A heartfelt thanks to all of our veterans.

Located at 7220 Charlotte Pike. Although the address is simply Charlotte Pike, the building sits on a short road that parallels Charlotte Pike for a while, Old Charlotte Pike. The mural is visible from the main road. Obviously from the photo at top, there is plenty of parking so long as an event is not taking place at the post.

Damaged Stripes

This is a tale of a pristine, precise mural and architecture gone awry. Nathan Brown has produced a number of works in Nashville and elsewhere. Many of his works use what I have sometimes called his “colorful geometry problems” style, though the geometry for this piece at the Stay Alfred Sobro is fairly simple. (I used the Yelp link for that hotel because their own website is quite useless.) There was of course the complication of getting the stripes on the two layered walls to line up, which is a testament to Brown’s skill.

The picture above captures almost all of the mural. As you can see from some of the pictures of it on his website, to really capture all of it you need to be up a few floors in the building across the street, which I didn’t have access to. The other thing that is clear in those pictures – the lower wall is undamaged. Sometime since this mural went up in June, 2016, water leaks severally damaged the wall and the mural. If you look close, you’ll see a series of holes along the wall which are presumably for water draining. Nashville sits on a bed of ancient limestone that is often very close to the surface, and water can move around in strange ways. Obviously, the engineers didn’t get it right here.

The crack creates an illusion. It really looks like the damaged area is a deeper layer, like a few layers of plaster have been peeled off the wall, but that’s not the case. The damage, dirt, repair, and weathering create a trick of the eye. It’s a shame the mural is damaged, but a lot of the great masterworks are damaged, and people still trek to museums and archaeological sites to see them.

On Brown’s Instagram page, you can see a short video of him working on this mural. Blue painter’s tape is absolutely involved.

Located at 310 Peabody Street. That’s the address of the hotel. The mural faces the 400 block of Fourth Avenue South, right at the corner with Peabody. This is downtown. Lots of parking, almost none of it free.

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