hen someone says “Memphis,” what images pop into your mind? Elvis? Certainly. BBQ? Of course. The “M” bridge? Perhaps. What images surface with the words “Memphis art”? The Brooks Museum, Memphis College of Art, and the Pink Palace are my first thoughts. It is unlikely, however, that many people would visualize Memphis street art with either question. Yet, it is one of the things that marks our city as the culturally thriving community that it is.
Street art is something my brain tends to gloss over. I see it, but I don’t see it. I’m driving; I’m thinking about the traffic and my destination. When I notice a spray painted wall, it is because it is the landmark for my next turn, and even then, I do not stop to admire it.
I recently decided I’d like to change that. I want to know: Who painted these masterpieces? How long have they been there? Were they graffiti tagged under the cloak of night, or were they commissioned pieces honored with the dignity of daylight? Regardless of their origins of existence, they are art. They are as much art as any painting residing on a stretched canvas.
It should be noted that graffiti and street art are two very different things. In general, graffiti is done with harm intended either to the place and/or to the viewer, and street art is done with a happy heart and good intentions. Often, graffiti is quickly washed away or covered up, while street art remains to weather with time.
A well-known Memphis muralist, Brandon Marshall, once wrote, “…murals are for everyone to share. They can’t be bought or sold, and hung in a private collection or museum where most people will never go.” (The full article, complete with photos of his work, can be found on ArtsMemphis.org). This idea of community art appeals to me. I’m not saying all art should be free—of course not. However, the unexpected discovery of a colorful mural splashed onto an otherwise unnoticeable wall, or a pair of balloon parading raccoons scampering around town is a sign of life rich with imagination, wonder, humor, playfulness, appreciation, and emotion. Just look at how it has added to the recent Overton Square transformation. If you haven't been there lately, it is incredible! Now that I am making a conscious effort to seek it out, I find that I enjoy sporadic street art when it is shared with dignity for its viewers. So today, I would like to share with you some of the showpieces that adorn our awesome city.
I have yet to capture a raccoon and his balloon, but I will continue the hunt. If you know where to find one, or have a favorite mural you’d like to share, leave a comment with the location, and I will add it to the slide show for all to enjoy.