Soulful is the word I would use to describe the street art scene in Memphis, Tennessee. Most of the pieces I witnessed during my 48hrs in the home of the Blues, were murals by local artists, all with a very special message about their hometown. While all of the pieces I feature today, are legal/commissioned (as far as I could tell from my research), there was very little urban art I saw in Memphis that didn’t have meaning and purpose – that wasn’t a reflection of the town’s past and present, both the jubilant and tragic.
The five-story “A Note For Hope” mural by Jeff Zimmerman is located on 195 Madison Ave and was painted with the help of Rhodes College students and CODA staff.
The history of civil rights in Memphis is captured in this 70ft artwork commissioned by the Urban Art Commission as part of the Memphis Heritage Trail project. The mural was created by collaborating artists Derrick Dent and Michael Roy, a.k.a. Birdcap. For more on the mural’s content, see this article.
Upstanders Mural by artists Nelson Gutierrez and Cedar Nordbye. This piece resides on the wall of the Facing History and Ourselves Memphis chapter, opposite the National Civil Rights Museum. Read more about the faces featured in the mural here.
The sign accompanying these murals reads “These murals were inspired by the work, the big ideas, the soulful struggles, and the elbow grease that has made, and is making, memphis what it is.” Artist Kyle Taylor in collaboration with Brandon Donahue and Brandon Marshall created these pieces for the Downtown Memphis Commission.
Literal art on the street! Firstly, a duck crossing in reference to a “major” Memphis attraction. Since a Tennessee whiskey-fueled prank in the 1930’s, ducks have marched through the Peabody Hotel lobby and frolicked in the hotel fountain on a daily basis. The second is an ode to what was once known as Film Row. When movie theatre attendance was at its peak during the 1930’s and 40’s many film studios such as MGM, RKO, Paramount, Universal, 20th Century and Columbia had distribution centres in Memphis because of its central location and accessibility to the mid-South.
When I first caught sight of the Charlie Vergos Rendezvous mural I thought I was looking at a Tristan Eaton piece, but something wasn’t quite Eaton-esque. Sure enough, this is the work of local Memphian Brandon Marshall a.k.a. Nosey42. He explains on instagram “Little detail of the Rendezvous wall. Note that this image contains a piece of the Zippin Pippin, which was at the former Liberty-land amusement park on the fairgrounds. The Zippin Pippin was Elvis Presley’s favorite roller coaster.”
The keyboard embellished Jones Beauty Salon sits opposite Stax Museum of American Soul Music on E. McLemore Road. The building was given a make-over by artists Whitney Kerr and Jeanyne Lewis as part of the “I Love Memphis” mural series. The keyboard design is accompanied by geometric patterns that were typical of the Memphis soul heyday in the 1960’s.
Urban art is not just a decorative embellishment or brattish middle finger in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphians paint in memoriam and in celebration; in protest and in love; in struggle and in success. Street art has been and will continue to be an important reminder to Memphis locals and passing strangers, of the astounding history and great potential of the city. If you are travelling to Memphis, the city’s Art Project website is a great place to start tracking down street art in many forms, or just pound the pavement and take in what you find.
If you want more urban art from around the globe, find city galleries from Australia to Cuba over at Art on the Street.
Peace, love and inspiring travel,