Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Memphis Parkway Emblems: Markers of Our Past and Present – Frank Morris installs new urban art

Frank Morris tests a mock-up of one of 10 Parkway Emblems. Markers are being installed on E, N and S Parkways.
Article by Isabelle Campbell
The city of Memphis has changed much since the year 1900, but one element has remained constant – the Parkways, the markers of the original city limits. From the hands and mind of artist Frank Morris, North, South, and East Parkways will soon receive ten distinctive emblems at their major intersections. Each emblem will stand ten feet tall and will be constructed of steel, iron, and brushed aluminum. Just as these emblems will reflect a quality of distinction from their parkway locations, they will also symbolically reflect the past and present of Memphis. While one great aim of this project is to improve the aesthetics of Memphis’s oldest streets without abandoning the history that these roadways have seen, the other is to form a meaningful connection to the people of the present day.
“I love the way you can ambush people with art,” Morris says, “They can’t stop it – they can’t un-see it.” The Parkway Emblems Project pays homage to the rich cultural history of Memphis through examination of what that history means in a contemporary context. “Vision is so important in the formative stages of art,” Morris remarks, noting that a “strong concept” must be developed which gives correct degrees of attention to the themes and background of a piece. Half the fun, Morris shares, is the adventure of developing the style and format of a new piece and the challenge of tackling diverse types of projects. As this project is the artist’s first public art commission, he learned that process takes a standard 3-5 year timeframe from beginning to end, comparable in process and review mechanism to architecture and the construction industry. Morris says that he has been having a fun adventure with the project, which is being facilitated by the UrbanArt Commission for the City of Memphis Public Art Program.
For Morris himself, the Parkway Emblems are a culmination of his many practiced talents. His scope as an artist has extended throughout a variety of mediums and commissions, including private portraits, portraits of past U.S. presidents, and a series of commemorative coins (including five currently in productions and several more that are pending) for the U.S. Mint. Morris has also lent his talents to up-and-coming artists, as a teacher at the School of Visual Design in New York City, at the Memphis College of Art, and at his own home studio. A born Memphian, Frank Morris estimates that about ninety percent of his works is done for locations beyond Memphis. As a local, Morris feels deeply connected to the people and culture of Memphis that his Parkway Emblems commission will represent. The combination of both his global and local perspectives make the artist’s role as creator of Memphis’s iconic new markers all the more significant to the representation of the culturally burgeoning city.
Morris tips his hat to the UrbanArt Commission’s mission of promoting unlimited thinking to all people, many of whom are unaware of the effect art is having on them at a subconscious level. “Even if people do not realize it, art instills a sense of hope,” Morris shares. With the Parkway Emblems, he hopes to impact people on both conscious and subconscious levels, and especially those who have less regular access to art in their communities. Morris hopes that others will find personal connections in the Parkway Emblems, just as he has found and integrated elements of himself into their creation. “I do art and I am a dad,” the artist shares. The concentration of the Parkway Emblems project in the Memphis area has allowed Morris, a single father, to involve his daughter in the artistic process. In short, the Parkway Emblems have come to symbolize so many elements of the artist’s life. For Frank Morris, his personal history and his present identity as an artist and father have intersected to embody a greater sense of meaning within this public art commission. The introduction of these emblems to the Memphis community at key Parkway nodes presents a similar opportunity to others driving along the Memphis Parkways, to discover bits of their own history and even subconscious present.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Basketball and a Mural Wall: The Road to Success at Bethel LaBelle Neighborhood Youth Center

The Road to Success mural's ribbon cutting by artist Jamond Bullock, together with his mural crew, Thomas, Joseph and Charles. Flanking are Bethel LaBelle manager Wayne Williams to the right and his assistant on the left, next to UrbanArt Commission board chair Krystal Johnson. Photos by Siphne Sylve – see the photo album.

by Isabelle Campbell

September 27, 2013 was a day of celebration at the Bethel LaBelle Neighborhood Youth Center in Orange Mound. The Road to Success, a mural by Memphis artist Jamond Bullock was officially dedicated to the community center from whose outer wall it now brightly gleams. Bullock addressed an energetic audience – including many of the very youth who represent his vision for Orange Mound and the city of Memphis. It was this group that Bullock invited to help cut the dedicatory ribbon, and in that symbolic motion embrace his hope for the prosperity and perseverant values of their generation. The Road to Success is the first of seven district murals currently being completed through the UrbanArt Commission, which facilitates the City of Memphis Public Art Program.

The Bethel LaBelle center is a place of fun, faith, and most of all encouragement for the young people of its community. When Bullock first learned that he would be commissioned to create a mural on the outer wall of the BLCC he knew that he needed to learn about the place and what he found astounded and inspired him. The experience Bullock found within the BLCC is dedication and commitment to individual growth and provision of opportunities. The awe and respect that he experienced within a few moments inside the Bethel LaBelle Center inspired not only the theme for his mural but his sense of determination to finish what he started.

The Road to Success was completed in two weeks, and these weeks were wrought with challenges. “It rained almost every day,” Bullock shared, “and a small ‘lake’ developed directly in front of the mural wall.” Remembrance of their mission and the positivity they were projecting for the community kept Bullock and his team going. The youth of Orange Mound, many of whom sat before the artist at his mural dedication ceremony, became both the concentration and the motivation for his work.

Memphis Athletic Ministries, the organization that manages youth activities at the Bethel LaBelle “encourages kids to let their lights shine,” and the Road to Success mural serves to emphasize this goal. Within the mural, the “road to success” itself winds between various symbolic elements – an open book, a father with his son, and pervasive hues of bright orange. The largest images of the mural are two basketball players, and between them stand a circle of people holding hands. These symbols are poignant reminders of the diversity of opportunities and of the youth-centered fellowship that happen inside. The greatest emphasis Bullock gave to the symbolic elements of the mural during his dedication was to the orange fruit trees of the work. The fruit represents the youth of Orange Mound, who are the “fruit of the community.” The Road to Success is intended to stand representative of this fruit for many years as it continues to ripen.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Colorful Developments in Cooper-Young!

Isabelle Campbell reports on MCA students and UrbanArt's Siphne Sylve 
working on the Cooper-Young Recycling Center Beautification Murals

Environmentally friendly fun was had on Friday, August 16th in the Cooper-Young District. Fifteen newly-enrolled students (and one senior) from the Memphis College of Art, together with Siphne Sylve of the UrbanArt Commission spent a sunny afternoon painting two recycling murals at the corner of 1000 South Cooper Street and Walker Avenue. The “volunteer day” introduced participating MCA students from various states to the thriving nature of art in Memphis. Having just arrived to the bluff city with fresh artistic ambitions, the students were eager to get their hands (and their “painting clothes”) dirty. As the first real-world application of the arts these students have come here to pursue, painting two commissioned murals became so much more than an orientation week activity – it was an off-campus adventure into the culture and developmental goals of the city of Memphis.
The recycling center containers upon which the mural designs of Jay Crum and Kong Wee Pang are being produced have been a part of the Cooper-Young community for several decades. Until commissioned by Project Green Fork’s Kickstarter program the receptacles rested dingily in the background of the lively surrounding neighborhood. Today they are drawing not only the attention of aspiring young artists but that of their environmentally conscientious community. As Memphian Paul Gray remarked, they “make the neighborhood pop!”
Not only does the project pop, it inspires interest in its goal. While Friday’s MCA volunteers postulated the theme of each mural, bypassing members of the Memphis community slowed their cars to nod approvingly. One mural, described by the students as an “urban city scape” prompted much conversation about the offerings of their diverse and illustrious new home town. Meanwhile, the other mural inspired laughter and discussions of Dr. Seuss. Despite the two murals’ differences in design, their goal of inspiring a cleaner Memphis is the same- and Memphis is taking note.
While students of the Stax Soulsville Academy stopped by to recycle for their environmental science class, lifelong Memphian Harold Richardson took a moment from his personal recycling to share that “as an ardent supporter of the arts [he is] encouraged” by the efforts of Project Green Fork, the Urban Art Commission, and the project’s numerous volunteers. Even the student volunteers were abuzz with talk of recycling promotion. Crystal Foss, Memphis College of Art senior discussed MCA classes which specifically require the use of recycled materials, and one intended visual arts major commented that the green, “abstract” mural is a great reminder of the greener Memphis that this project promotes. If careless discarding of waste is the norm, these murals certainly do embody an abstraction – a positive and intentional focus around which Memphis can unite.
The Urban Art Commission would like to recognize and thank its hardworking volunteers: Joshua Adams-Leavitt, Kaleob Elkins, Kaelen Felix, Crystal Foss, Adrienne Fuller, Sharday Hawkins, Joseth Martinez, Nicole Miller, Savannah Mitchell, Jeremy Patten, Cecilia Reed, Ginger Riley, Derikah Scott, Bianca Vaughn, Katie Whitlock, and Quantavious Worship, as well as summer interns, Jacob Gambill, MCA, and Yidan Zeng from Rhode Island College of Art and Design.