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Exploring Street Art in Memphis – Graffiti or Artistry?

Imagine walking down a sidewalk in New York City or any other global metropolis for that matter and stumbling across an old, derelict building that has suffered years of agonizing wear and tear. As your eyes wander around the shattered windows and crumbling infrastructure, you notice a wall that has been vandalized with spray paint or other potentially toxic art products. Let me ask you this question – what do you see? Do you see graffiti or perhaps a majestic piece of art that reflects the artists true sense of identity?

Returning to the realms of reality, we decided to take one of our stereotypical day trips to Memphis but instead of our usual route we decided to head downtown and explore some of the street art present throughout this city. After spending several hours wandering some of the better Memphis neighborhoods and well…some that we probably shouldn’t have been in, we are delighted to share our experiences of finding some awesome examples around this part of Tennessee. Street art in Memphis is just like any other city – it’s really not all that difficult to find!

However, when you spend a Sunday morning trying to determine whether it’s rightly classified as graffiti or street art, you soon become acquainted with the intricacies that have gone into the creation of many of these forms of artistry.

What is Street Art?

Although there technically isn’t any simple definition for street art, many perceive it to be any form of art in a public place. Stereotypically inspired by the urban environment in which it is situated, street art can be found in many different forms and mediums though our focus on our walkabouts around Memphis was on wall art or art depicted on the side of architecture. Whether you consider street art to be a good thing or not, it is conceivable that every one of us has seen some form in one way or another.

“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.” – Banksy

One of the global street artists I am sure many of you are familiar with is English born “Banksy” as he is commonly referred to. There is some truth to the quote above because not all street art should be perceived with a negative connotation. His use of the word ‘vandal’ immediately suggests negativity but I’m convinced that much of the street art we see today is making the world a better looking place.

It’s interesting that during the recent World Cup in Brazil, much of the focus was on the street artists depicting the world’s greatest football stars on the walls of Rio de Janeiro. Their moment in the spotlight I am convinced has made many people around the world change their views on this type of art. There is no right or wrong opinion here, rather we should all be open-minded enough to accept reality.

Memphis Street Art

Taking a drive around downtown Memphis to find street art was certainly an eye-opener. Regardless of the neighborhoods we visited, there was a wide range of street art on display, all of which painted a very vivid picture of the lifestyles and opinions of the Memphis population.

Living in Arkansas, we are very sheltered in many respects to the urban landscape presented in Memphis, Tennessee but I am glad we took the time to explore this part of the city.

street art in memphis

“I Love Memphis” situated behind Urban Outfitters on Cooper and York.

Public art in Memphis is one of the best ways for those who consider themselves to be deprived or suffering in the face of adversity to express themselves freely. There are clearly A LOT of proud individuals in Memphis and much of this can be seen throughout the city as we frequently saw examples of “I Love Memphis” or something very similar.

However, I would like to take this a step further and emphasize that this street art reflects more than just a group of individualistic brilliance, instead it represents a society stereotypical to Memphis.

street art in memphis

“I Love Memphis” situated on the Shelby Farms Greenline walkway between Perkins and Mendenhall

When you hear the stories of school children and collegiate art projects creating wall murals, it really does encourage you to change your viewpoint (assuming you initially took a negative stance). Let’s take the “I Love Memphis” mural located on the Shelby Farms Greenline walkway between Perkins Road and Mendenhall. An abandoned rail tunnel that suffered from years of vandalism has now been transformed into a gorgeous mural and an idyllic rest stop for walkers along the Greenline path.

I think that we should allow the artists to take center stage here and share with you our findings as we made our way around every corner of Memphis. Please note that some of the names are solely my opinion as I describe what I see in the street art! Feel free to share your descriptive names for these awesome pieces of art.

street art in memphis

“Bird Figure” also situated behind Urban Outfitters on Cooper and York.

street art in memphis

“Toad Hall Antiques” on Cooper and Central.

street art in memphis

“Midtown” – Viaduct on Cooper and Central.

street art in memphis

“Multi-Cultural Collectivity” located under the viaduct on Cooper and Central.

street art in memphis

“Creative Advertising” located on Cooper Street.

street art in memphis

“Overton Square Market” located on Madison and Cooper.

street art in memphis

“Overton Square” located on Madison and Cooper.

street art in memphis

“Escape Alley Sundry” located on Marshall near Sun Studio, Union Avenue.

street art in memphis

“Otis Redding Mural” located on Marshall near Sun Studio, Union Avenue.

street art in memphis

“St. Blues Love” located on Marshall Avenue.

street art in memphis

“St. Blues Love” located on Marshall Avenue.

street art in memphis

“Happy Mexican” located on 2nd Street.

street art in memphis

“I Am A Man” located on South Main Street.

street art in memphis

“I Love Memphis” located on Broad Avenue

street art in memphis

“This Is Me, This Is You, This Is We” located on Broad Avenue

Summary

What an amazing collection right? What do you think after seeing all of this amazing artistry? I will admit that I have been very skeptical for a long time over the whole concept of street art. Am I convinced that it is completely positive? No I’m not and I probably never will be but what I can agree to is that there are unique situations where this type of art really enhances the overall look of a city.

Not only this, it also emphasizes the importance of listening and recognizing the multi-cultural societies we live in. Exploring street in art in Memphis was a first for both Heather and myself. This is not really something we normally do and probably took us outside of our comfort zone. However, I see this as a great learning curve for both of us and gives us a much greater appreciation of society.

Share your views on the street art vs. graffiti argument! We are very interested to hear what everyone else has to say on this controversial topic.

Weekend Wanderlust


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Ron Tully

Wednesday 21st of June 2017

You can see art everywhere. The thing that makes art beautiful is the one who expresses it and also the one who views it.

Chris

Wednesday 21st of June 2017

Completely agree with you Ron! We all have our own interpretations of the meaning behind the various art designs and that is the beauty of it.

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