Touring Memphis Murals

The week when Noni Clemons and Eric Okdeh came to visit for their lecture, CODA sponsored a bus tour to take the class and others to see some of the wonderful murals around Memphis! In addition to most of the Mural Painting class, members of the Urban Studies department, Kinney, Noni and Eric, and fellow muralist and artist Anthony Lee joined as well. So, with a packed bus, we headed to our first stop, the Remed mural on Broad Ave. executed by French artist Guillaume Alby in just two weeks—not only did he do it all himself, but it was also all freehanded with spray paint! This one was great to see because of its extremely bold and graphic quality; it also includes text, which is a major element we used in the construction wall mural to unify the composition.

The next stop was the mural on the side of the High Tone CafĂ© on Poplar, done by Alex Warble about two years ago. This dreamlike, energetic and chaotic mural is packed with information and relies heavily on modern music culture, perfect for the venue it occupies. Juxtaposed to the Remed mural’s large, sharp, geometric shapes, this mural allows for looser, more expressive and colorful brush strokes and gestures.

Similarly, the “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” mural we visited next by Josh Sarantitis at Central High School also has more expressive, energetic brush strokes, and on a very large scale. Measuring around 4,000 sq ft, the mural incorporates a variety of inspiring themes, including ‘interbeing,’ indicated by the text running across the top and the mural’s title deriving from the last public words that were spoke by Dr. King, as well as a number of different methods of executing the mural—mosaic tile and cut glass mosaic are used at the top (an estimated 50,000 tiles used!) and the rest of it was done in acrylic on 36 inch wide panels of polytab (the process of applying this material is further described in my 2/22 post ), with some of the brick remaining exposed. 100 or so students of Central High actually helped in the design and installation process of this mural. Fellow mural-tourist and artist Anthony Lee was very involved in this mural and had a lot of great things to say about it.

We then moved on to Martial Arts to visit Anthony’s own studio and a smaller mural he did right outside of the Martial Arts building to give it a quick sort of facelift. Using vivid colors and graphic elements, Anthony was inspired by the surrounding area. This was the smallest mural, in size, that we saw that day, but it undoubtedly makes a big statement in the area.

Anthony's studio in Martial Arts.

Anthony then led us to South Main where we saw the ‘modern hieroglyphics’ mural, featuring gradating red (to tie in the color of the bricks of the surrounding buildings), non-representational, 21st century symbols, some that do not even make sense. This mural reminds us of the symbols that we are in contact with daily, and invites us to stop and really pay attention to them, such as Mata’s logo or the @ symbol on a keyboard. It is also meant to serve as a gateway into the art district of South Main. Check out this great article on Urban Art's blog about the national recognition and award this mural and Anthony have received! And of course, no mural tour is complete without a pit-stop to the Arcade for lunch...

The last public mural we visited was the Rhodes Hill mural, located on a vacant, five-story high building on 195 Madison Avenue (owned by Wilton “Chick” Hill, a Rhodes trustee), done by Jeff Zimmerman, with the help of Rhodes students and CODA staff. This stunning mural, which surprisingly only took about ten weeks, received much national attention (it was featured in the Today Show!) and as a whole, represents Memphis’s future. Rhodes became very involved with the production of this mural and students engaged in extreamly hands-on project management and collaboration, from putting together a committee and sending out a call for artists, to actually selecting and working with Zimmerman. This huge mural certainly gets a lot of local attention too, as it includes photorealistic portraits of actual members of the surrounding community and overlooks the Memphis Redbirds’ stadium. The more photorealistic style is juxtaposed with bright, graphic elements giving it an undeniably bold and strong look. More information, photos and a great time-lapse video of this mural are provided on the Rhodes website!

The Remed, Rhodes Hill, and Central High murals were all supported by Urban Art Commission. More info and photos of these murals are available on their website.

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