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

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Four years and counting

Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog, and I present a work of art no Nashvillian has ever seen. Ok, not a very good joke, but the “Musica” sculpture by Alan LeQuire has been a notable absence from a blog with the motto “no art left behind.” It is in fact one of the most commented-on works of art in Nashville, ever since it went up in 2003. The nakedness of the figures has been a main point of discussion, and at various times pranksters have put clothes on them. Recently, they were briefly masked. Perhaps less known is that the traffic circle they sit in is the Buddy Killen Circle. Killen was an important Music Row producer and publisher before his death in 2006. (Pictures of “Musica” in the round can be found at the bottom of the post.)

I don’t think I knew what I was getting into when I started this blog. It’s become a little something of a second job, though I wish I could tell all the folks trying to sell me blog-related services, this is a strictly non-profit hobby. I started at just the right time. Although this is certainly not a murals-only blog, the explosion in the Nashville mural scene is what has sustained it. Four years ago, murals were mainly on auto repair shops, in back alleys, and other out-of-the-way places. Then they migrated, slowly at first and then a rush, to the street-visible walls of local businesses. In the last several months, national chains have begun to enter the mural market, though not yet at full steam. Why has all this happened? In part, it goes back to an early push by Chamber East (the East Nashville branch of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce) and the high-profile example of the works promoted by the Nashville Walls Project. But it is also about a slow-developing movement reaching critical mass. One store-owner gets a mural and gets a lot of attention, and then neighboring businesses want one. Then it starts a few blocks down. Next thing you know, we have several full-time muralists in town and a few people leading mural tours for a living. While I have you here, I’ll tell you my little hobby horse: The artists who do mural work for Latino and other immigrant businesses are some of the most prolific artists in town, they’ve been doing long before anyone else got started, and they deserve to be recognized as real artists!

The blog has grown slowly in activity over the years. The first full year, 2017, 600 views a month was common. In 2018, it rose to around 1500 a month, to a little over 2300 per month in 2019. 2020 has been weird – a 3000 view month in both March and June, with a big crash in the months in between. That may have something to do with the demographics of my readers. Google tells me that my readership skews heavily female, and the largest group of readers are women aged 18-34 – you know, the bachelorette demographic? Who weren’t in town much during the height of the shutdown? By the way, those bachelorettes are another major reason for the mural explosion, as murals pull them in and that drives street traffic, music to any business owner’s ears.

And slowly but surely, Google has taken notice. If you search for “nashville public art,” I’m usually near or at the top of the page. With “nashville murals” and “nashville street art” you can now actually find me, though you still have to work your way through a few pages of links to all the “Here are the best 20 murals for your Instagram shot” articles to find me. For years though, this blog just didn’t show up at all in those kinds of searches. Progress!

The blog needs revamping. The biggest project I have in mind is thoroughly revising the Categories tab. I set up those categories on day one having no idea what I would need, and most of them I never use. I’d like them to reflect better what’s on the blog and be more useful to readers. That’s going to be a big job because I hit 600 posts back in April, but it’s on my list. I know that picture-heavy as it is, the blog can load slowly at times, and I need to work on that as well. Speaking of milestones, the map will have 600 pins on it soon, so look for me to finally post about another major work of art missing from my blog when that happens.

I’m going to keep at it, and sometime, possibly later this year, I’m going to start including work from the surrounding counties. In the meantime, keep reading, and get out there and enjoy the art!

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“Musica” is located in the middle of Buddy Killen Circle, where Music Square East, Division Street, Demonbreun Street, and 16th Avenue South meet. There is paid parking in the building between Demonbreun and Division and elsewhere nearby. Street parking is available on some nearby blocks.

Little Jimmy Dickens

As he was a long-time stalwart of the Grand Ole Opry, it makes sense to find a life-size sculpture of Little Jimmy Dickens right in the center of the plaza in front of the entrance to the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry’s long-time former home. It’s actually fairly new. It and a statue of Bill Monroe nearby were unveiled on June 7, 2017. Both are by the Mississippi sculptor Ben Watts. (I’ll write about the Monroe statue in a later post.) Brad Paisley, who cites Dickens as an important influence, helped dedicate the statue, noting Dickens’s hard work and commitment to entertaining his audiences. Dickens, who died at 94 on January 2, 2015, had been on stage at the Opry just days before.

Besides his diminutive size and love of funny novelty songs, Dickens was also an early pioneer of the rhinestone style, which West has captured in bronze. Dickens was also a Shriner, and consistently wore a Shriner symbol on his cowboy hats, also seen in West’s work.

The Ryman has announced plans to work with Watts again to produce more statues of iconic country music figures, so expect to see even more bronzes at the Ryman in the coming years.

As you can see in the slideshow below, this is another in a series of works that has a helpful suggestion as to where the photographer should stand for your photo with Dickens. The empty plaza in my photos also tells you that I shot this during the pandemic shutdown. Even so, I did have to wait for a small group to finish their pictures first.

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Located at 116 5th Avenue North. That’s the official address of the Ryman, and long ago it was where you entered the building. However, the modern entrance faces the 100 block of 4th Avenue North, about a half-block north of Broadway. That is where you will find the statue. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.

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.

The Flipside

Things are quiet in the 12 South neighborhood these days, as they are in all of Nashville’s tourism zones. So perhaps it’s a better time for locals to check out the art. This piece lies on the side of The Flipside, a restaurant who’s social media doesn’t seem to acknowledge the pandemic at all. This fun piece is by Gage Lozano, an artist and graphic designer who signs his work N.Gaged. It’s been up for about a year-and-a-half, so by now, many tourists have had the opportunity to stand under those headphones and get their picture taken. Kristin Luna has written recently about how many business owners want “interactive” murals for their buildings, specifically wings, like the famous ones in The Gulch by Kelsey Montague. As she says, all murals are interactive, and even if you want something specifically designed for interaction, it doesn’t have to be wings. For example, it could be headphones, like these, or the ones by Ty Christian at The Listening Room Cafe. It’s a good point. I think intentionally interactive murals are great, but artists need to be allowed the freedom to explore new ideas. This one by Lozano, of course, does a lot more, the flowers making them headphones seem more organic than technological.

The mural is in a tight alley, which explains the weird cropping. Apparently, there was a Predators mural here before Lozano’s went it.

Flipside headphone mural Nashville street art

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There’s also a fun sign on the back of the building, which I couldn’t nail down an artist for, but I know it’s over five years old!

Flipside bike mural Nashville street art

Located at 2403 12th Avenue South. The mural is on the south side of the building, and if you continue down that alley you’ll find the bike sign. There is free street parking if you are willing to walk a ways, and a few pay lots nearby.

Pandora at Saint Stephen

This is Nashville, and mural and sculptures inspired by music are part of our community identity. So it is no surprise that Nashville was chosen by the music streaming service Pandora as one of the eight American cities to participate in its “Sound Walls” project. Artists were commissioned to produce both a mural and a playlist of the music that inspired their mural. In Nashville, the artist Pandora selected was Alexandria Hall. As she says in this video, “This mural kind of represents the connective power that music has on all kinds of people.” On her Instagram page, there are a series of posts depicting the making of the mural. You can listen to the playlist of the music that inspired her if you have a Pandora account. Passers-by can get it from a QR code (look for the word “Pandora”). The playlist includes artists such as Kevin Ayers, Bonny Doon, and Weyes Blood.

Pandora mural Nashville street art

Fortunately, Nashville-based Mundane put together a showcase of all the murals in the series, along with links to their playlists. I couldn’t seem to find one from Pandora. The mural, of course, sits on the outer wall of Saint Stephen, which sports another mural in their semi-public patio. Oh, and this is not a pandemic post. Parking is illegal in front of this mural!

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Located at 1300 Third Avenue North. The mural faces Monroe Street. There is limited street parking on Third, and a pay lot a little past Sant Stephens, north on Third.

 

Heartbeat of Nashville

This is what I like to call a “working mural.” Like the mural on the back side of Baja Burrito, there’s little chance you will ever find this mural not surrounded by the evidence of the business it adorns, in this case, Village Wines, Spirits and Beer. Boxes that once held bottles of wine or liquor are common. Here we see stacking trays and cleaning and loading equipment, and a couple of planters for some reason. For a long time cars, probably belonging to employees, were usually parked here. Maybe because of the pandemic and maybe because the store is under new management, the cars at least are gone. It’s the work of Emily Celeste Alexander and is almost three years old. (Seriously, I’ve been driving by it for a couple years and there were always, always cars parked in front of it.) With a prominent metronome labeled “Heartbeat of Nashville,” it has many well-known Nashville themes, such as guitars and the Batman Building, but also something different, a “Tennesee Butterly,” based on the Tennesee flag and the black-and-white colored state butterfly, the Zebra Swallowtail. The mural actually wraps around the building a bit, something I didn’t notice the first time I photographed it, which is why the arrangement of liquor-store gear and garbage is a little different in the picture below. You can see the mural without obstructions on Alexander’s Instagram page.

Heartbeat Mural music street art Nashville

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Located at 2006 Belcourt Avenue B. The mural faces north, towards the 1900 block of Wedgewood Avene across a small alley. If you are there to shop at Village Wine, there’s free parking. Otherwise, this is Hillsboro Village, so parking is rarely free (though you can get away with it in the pandemic shutdown).

Microphone Bike Rack

If you Google “microphone bike rack Nashville” you will discover that this particular bike rack is popular indeed. It’s been written up by Roadside America and the Smithsonian Magazine, you can buy a photo of it from Getty Images, and it pops up several times on Pinterest. And it’s perfectly located, just steps from Music Row. It is of course part of the Metro Arts bicycle rack series. It’s the product of a 2010 contest open to artists from within 200 miles of Nashville, though in this case the artists involved were quite local. Franne Lee, who has since moved to Wisconsin, once was a co-owner of the now-closed Plowhaus Gallery. Plowhaus was a pioneer art gallery in East Nashville that went through multiple versions before its final demise. (Lee is also probably the only artist I’ve featured who has her own IMBD page. She has a long history as a costume designer.) Speaking of East Nashville pioneers that opened and closed twice, one of the other two artists is Mac Hill, former owner of the Radio Cafe – both of them. Keith Harmon rounds out the trio. He’s also an East Nashville artist and has done signs and murals for several local businesses. (Not to be confused with the other Keith Harmon responsible for The Riders bike rack near the stadium – two different people.)

As you can see from the slideshow below, there wasn’t much traffic or many people around when I shot this recently. The stretch of Demonbreun between the interstate and the Musica sculpture (not on the blog yet!) has a number of bars and restaurants and is usually bustling with tourists and locals, a kind of mini-Lower Broad. But in these days of pandemic, it’s also eerily quiet. Someday, the tourists will be back, and we will be complaining about pedal taverns again!

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Located at 1538 Demonbreun Street. That’s actually the address of TailGate Brewery, which it sits in front of. There’s a fair amount of parking in the area, very little of it free.

Music Kitty

While Lower Broad is the honky-tonk heart of Nashville’s tourism industry, its hipper cousin is 12 South. It’s a district you find a lot more actual Nashvillians in, as it runs right through a residential neighborhood and has a lot of restaurants and bars popular with locals. So it’s a little less of a ghost town right now, but the lack of traffic again makes it easier to photograph murals, like this one promoting the Nashville Zoo. It was designed by Kate Johns, the Multimedia Designer at the Zoo, and produced by Stephan Sloan, who signs his work Never Xtinct. (Johns is credited on the mural as Kate Sarber, but having recently married, she changed her name. Mazel tov!) Sloan has a number of pictures featuring his progress in making this mural on his Instagram account – here’s the first and the last.

While it doesn’t directly reference them, the mural design is in part inspired by the zoo’s opening of a Sumatran tiger exhibit last Spring. Also known as Sunda tigers, they are seriously endangered.

Music Kitty mural Nashville street art

The Nashville Zoo is, of course, closed at the moment, but is worth your support when it opens. More properly called the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, it has an interesting past, originating as a plantation, later becoming a private wildlife park, before finally becoming a public zoo and wildlife park. It may be the only zoo that includes a plantation home you can visit. Until then, get your tiger fix at the mural on 12th Avenue South.

UPDATE: I missed it at the time, but this was the 600th post on this blog.

Located at 2315 12th Avenue South, on the north side of Trim. The mural faces towards downtown. As it is right in front of a parking lot, you might want to try visiting in the early morning, particularly once the pandemic passes.

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.

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