nashville public art

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



The Commodore Grille, Part 1

Because I took a break from the blog for a while, I’ve missed some new art. But I also have a back catalog, if you will, of older art that still needs to make it to the blog. And the double mural at the Commodore Grille is an important work I should have put on the blog a long time ago.

What makes this work important is its location, for the Commodore Grille sits in the Holiday Inn building on West End. This makes the murals at the Commodore Grille some of the very first murals on a building owned by a national chain in Nashville. Depending on how you define “major,” it might also qualify for the very first on a building owned by a major chain. This mural and its companion (which I will feature soon in an upcoming post) were done by Mobe Oner (Eric Bass) in April 2019 in honor of the Grille’s 50th anniversary. As such, they beat out the mural at our local branch of Top Golf by a couple of months and the one at the Kroger near Five Points by a few more. The only mural at a national chain in Nashville that appeared earlier that I am aware of is the one at what used to be a Holler & Dash and is now rebranded as a branch of Maple Street Biscuit Company. That one was created by Meghan Wood of I Saw the Sign in early 2018. Ashley Bergeron of The Studio 208 helped Mobe Oner get the Grille and Holiday Inn to take this leap and put local art on a national chain.

It’s also an early example of an interactive mural, or at least it was. At one point there was a stool in the middle where people could get their picture made between the two songwriters. While the famous wings mural was probably the first intentionally interactive mural in Nashville, as a trend interactive murals didn’t really take off until around the time the Commodore Grille murals went up. (The Gulch wings mural went up in 2016, around the time I started this blog.)

The anonymous songwriters in this mural are an obvious theme for the Commodore Grille, as songwriters’ nights and open mic nights are a regular feature of the entertainment there. If you want to see a very different version of Nashville music from the one found down on Lower Broad, you might want to check out the Commodore Grille.

Located at 2613 West End Avenue. The mural faces west towards 28th Avenue South. This is a busy area with lots of parking, but most of it is tied to local businesses. You might try the parking garage on the 2500 block of West End or look for street parking on Vanderbilt Place a block south of the mural.

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.

The Gulch Dog Park, Part 1 – Cassidy Bidwell

Having just ended one series, I start a new one. But this one will be shorter than the “Fences of Fame” series, as The Gulch Dog Park only has six murals and a couple of interesting signs. 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 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.

Working from the north to south (north is towards Broadway, south is away from Broadway), the first mural we come to is by Cassidy Bidwell. Bidwell is a local graphic artist and illustrator. Her illustration work, like that seen in this mural, tends to be brightly colored and has a strong pop-art vibe. Though I don’t know when she first created it, the central design of this mural, the record on a record player with the slogan “Lookin Pretty Music City,” first appeared on her Instagram account last May. In that post, she lamented how quiet Nashville had become in the early days of the lockdown, and looked forward to it becoming normal. While it certainly hasn’t gotten back to normal, Nashville is definitely nosier right now.

Based on pictures from the announcement of the contest, I think the rock was already in place before the mural went in. This is a smaller part of the park, which is divided into two sections, one for small dogs (where Boswell’s mural is), and one for larger dogs at the south end of the park.

Located at 1216 Pine Street, at the top of the hill. That’s the address of the dog park. This mural is actually close to an alley that lies between Pine and Laurel Street, at the north end of the dog park. It faces east towards 12th Avenue South. This is The Gulch, so plenty of parking, none of it free. However, most Gulch parking is free for the first hour or even longer. Check the signage at each lot and garage.

Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

Berry Hill Fences of Fame, Part 10

I’m finishing this series with the smallest of the fences around Columbine Park in Berry Hill that are adorned with portraits of iconic musicians. It so happens that in going clockwise around the park, this is where I landed. Like all the others, it was done by Scott Guion, and all were sponsored by the Nashville branch of the House of Blues, which has since been sold to the Universal Music Group. (That story has a picture of Guion working on the first fence I featured in this series.)  

It has on it three artists who have something of an unusual connection. John Fogerty of course gained fame with Creedence Clearwater Revival, but he fell out with them so strongly that he wouldn’t even play CCR material for decades, given the legal battles that ensued from that fallout. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs first gained fame collaborating as Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. After years as a defining act in bluegrass, they parted ways over the future of their music. Scruggs was open to experimentation, while Flatt valued a traditionalist approach.

Fun fact: CCR holds an unusual record on the Billboard charts. They have the largest number of number 2 hits without ever reaching number 1 – five. (I highly recommend the podcast that link is from, Hit Parade by Chris Molanphy. Lots of great, nerdy fun about the music charts.)

This particular fence is also part of the reason it took me so long to write about this series. When I first shot these murals in 2017, there was no parking around Columbine Park or anywhere nearby. On a Sunday afternoon, I briefly parked in the empty parking lot of the business where the mural is found to grab this shot. A passerby in an enormous truck proceeded to berate me for being disrespectful to that business and just being a bad person in general. I didn’t really feel comfortable recommending people go see the murals and be subjected to the same thing, or be forced to walk from a long way away. Berry Hill also doesn’t have sidewalks. But there is in fact now parking all around the park and its has become a more welcoming environment.

Located at 2801 Columbine Place at the corner of Columbine Place (west) and East Iris Drive. The mural faces the park. It is set back a ways from the road, so it might be best to admire it from a distance. Parking is available around the park.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9

Smashville (The Stage on Broadway)

Sometimes it’s good to walk down an alley – you might find art! This particular alley is not super-secret. It lies between Ryman Auditorium on one side and a bunch of Broadway honkytonks on the other. And it contains one of the Smashville murals that the Predators commissioned Audie Adams to do around the downtown area. (Adams also goes by Audroc.)

This particular mural is on the back side of The Stage on Broadway, hence the logo next to snarling saber-toothed Predator. While usually I would crop a mural shaped like this vertically, I think the placement of this example, framed by the gutters and the gas meter, calls for a wider shot to give the full context.

The Predators have had a mixed season this year (2021), but as of this posting are still in contention. So why are they the Predators? What does that have to do with Nashville? When what is now the UBS Tower was being built in 1970, workers found the partial remains of a sabre-tooth cat, including some impressive fangs. Those bones are now found at Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators. Hey, the Nashville soccer team chose a coyote as its mascot, after the coyote that managed to get in to a bathroom at the Music City Center. (His name is Tempo.)

This is part of a series of similar murals. I know of at least three others: one in SoBro, one at the downtown Jackalope, and another on the south side of Bridgestone Arena, which I haven’t written about yet. Given its proximity to the Ryman and Lower Broad, this one may be the most accessible to tourists, at least the kind of tourists who are here for the Ryman and Lower Broad.

Located at 412 Broadway. That’s the address of The Stage on Broadway. The alley lies between and runs parallel to Broadway and Commerce Street. It’s closer to Broadway than Commerce, and it runs along the south side of the Ryman. If you can find the alley, just look for The Stage’s neon sign sticking out into the alley. The mural is right next to it. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.

House of Blues Fences of Fame, Part 9

Travelling clockwise around Columbine Park in Berry Hill, coming from Bransford Avenue, the last fence you come to in the series of murals done by Scott Guion is also the largest of all the fences. Well, almost the last – the smallest of the fences is behind this one, and you can see it in the main photo at top. I’ll feature it in a later post. These are also the only two of these murals that face east. Like the all the others in this series, they were of course sponsored by the Nashville branch of the House of Blues, which has since been sold to the Universal Music Group. (That story has a picture of Guion working on the first fence I featured in this series.)  

The big fence seems a little worse for wear. It may simply be that it’s one of the oldest, but there is evidence that vines are some other plants were attached to it at some point, and the fact that it has greeted the rising sun for a few years seems to have faded it, and may have contributed to some of the flaking.

Like the other murals around the park, it presents an eclectic mix, though this one is particularly strong with heavy hitters. When arguably Neil Young or Louis Armstrong is the least famous of the group, you know you are dealing with some of the biggest stars around.

Faces Mural Nashville Street art
Stevie Wonder, Merle Haggard, Louis Armstrong

The first three figures are responsible for writing and popularizing a large part of the American songbook. Guion here follows the pattern of the rest of the fences, in that there is no real pattern to the ages he’s chosen for his subjects. Stevie Wonder is shown appearing to be in his 20s. A bit more surprising are the portraits of Merle Haggard and Armstrong, both of whom are shown much younger than they are usually depicted, but of course both had very long careers.

Faces Mural Nashville Street art
Billie Holiday, Michael Jackson, Neil Young

Billie Holiday is shown with her trademark gardenias. The Michael Jackson image is based on a picture taken in the early 1980s. The image of Neil Young is one that has been widely circulated, and appears to be from about 1972.

Loretta Lynn, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Star, George Harrison

The image of Loretta Lynn is also one that has been widely circulated. It’s a publicity shot from 1962 by Michael Ochs. And while I couldn’t track down the precise image of The Beatles, it’s from around the same time, 1962 or ’63, making them all about ten years younger than Lynn in her portrait. And for the half-a-dozen people on the planet who don’t know, that’s Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison.

See Part 1 of this series for why I’m just now writing about these murals. Spoiler alert: You can finally park in Berry Hill. 

Located at 2801 Columbine Place at the corner of Columbine Place (west) and East Iris Drive. The mural faces the park. Parking is available around the park.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 10

House of Blues Fences of Fame, Part 8

Travelling clockwise around Columbine Park in Berry Hill, coming from Bransford Avenue, you’ll find at the northeast corner of the park a building with a small water tower in its parking lot. That building used to be the main House of Blues property of several around the park. I say used to be, because although I named this series after the House of Blues because they sponsored all the murals around the park which were done by Scott Guion, the whole complex was bought in January, 2019 by Universal Music Group. (That story has a picture of Guion working on the first fence I featured in this series.) 

There are three murals associated with this building, two of which I’ve featured before. The mural above is unusual in that it features only one musical act. The only other mural in this series that features only one act is the garage door featuring B.B. King. It’s also unusual in that unlike all the other fences, Guion has not filled the fence end to end with portraits. Instead, he’s devoted almost half of this fence to a geometric pattern evoking flames. That may be because to really appreciate a portrait at the part of the fence farthest from the street, you’d have to be in the neighboring business’s parking lot.

Mississippi Sheiks mural Nashville street art

The musicians featured here are members of the Mississippi Sheiks, an influential country blues and string band group that recorded and toured in the first half of the 1930s, best known for the song “Sitting on Top of the World.” (Listen to it on YouTube.) The group went through a few lineup changes, but this portrait is of three of its key members, Bo Carter, Lonnie Chatmon, and Walter Vinson. Bo Carter was born Armenter Chatmon and was Lonnie’s brother. Another brother, Sam Chatmon, also participated in the group. Indeed, the Chatmon family had a long history of musicianship starting with Henderson Chatmon, the family patriarch who had been born into slavery. Mandolin player Papa Charlie McCoy (not to be confused the harmonica player named Charlie McCoy) also performed and recorded with the Sheiks.

It’s interesting that Guion has chosen to show them as somewhat see-through, like ghosts. The lake and forest behind them perhaps represent the Mississippi Delta region that they were from. The portrait is based on a photograph you can see here. In the original photo, the musicians are leaning against a wall, and they are photographed at an angle, while Guion’s mural is more straight-on.

See Part 1 of this series for why I’m just now writing about these murals. Spoiler alert: You can finally park in Berry Hill. The mural peeking out from behind the Sheiks is this one.

Located at 517 East Iris Drive, which is the address of the building with the water tower. The mural is actually found off of Columbine Place, and faces south, away from the water tower. Parking is available around the park.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 9 Part 10

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