Search Results for: martinez

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Don’t Stop Believing.

What’s the difference between graffiti and vandalism? Some would say there isn’t any, but I think that’s unfair and the distinctions are much more subtle. Granted I also think the word “vandalism” is unfair to the Vandals who were a complex and interesting Germanic people, but that’s another story. Even though graffiti may be a criminal act I still think it’s creative. It usually aspires to be artistic, to make a statement, whereas vandalism is nihilistic. Vandalism is wanton destruction that only tries to silence. This is a very fuzzy distinction and we could spend a lot of time on Nietzsche, who I’m pretty sure was a Vandal, and his idea of schöpferische Zerstörung, but bear with me.

I notice there’s a certain respect among most graffiti artists. Even the most basic taggers don’t write over each other. Maybe this is partly practical, but take, for instance, the mural by Billy Martinez which I’ve written about before. It’s in an area popular with taggers, but they leave it alone. Look at this:

On the right is part of Martinez’s mural which is still a work in progress, but that’s for another time. On the left are several local tags. They’ve left the mural alone. This is even a really good example of graffiti artists showing respect for an approved work.

What got me thinking about that is the recent alteration Adrien Saporiti’s “I Believe In Nashville” mural. It’s not a bad motto for the city. I do like Austin, Texas’s “Keep Austin Weird” and Portland, Oregon’s “Keep Portland Weird”–which was weird first is a matter of some debate–and residents of Asheville, North Carolina, take a wonderful pride in their city being called a “cesspool of sin” While the slogan “We Are Nashville” was popular in the aftermath of the 2010 flood “I Believe In Nashville” seems pretty good. Hey, I believe in it too, strongly enough that I bet that if I look out the window Nashville will still be there, although at the rate things are changing I expect it to look different, but that’s another story.

Anyway, five months ago Saporiti’s mural was vandalized with roofing tar. This time, though, it was altered with paint. By my own definition it’s not vandalism–it was, in fact, making what I think is an important and timely statement–but one that didn’t have to cover up Saporiti’s mural. It could have gone alongside it.

Source. The Tennessean

Interestingly the mural started as graffiti–it was put up without permission–but the building owners liked it and have made it clear they want to keep it.

That deserves some respect.

Work In Progress.

One of the classical ideas about art is that it aims for eternity, that, against the backdrop of ephemeral nature, it remains unchanging, although technically that may be more of a Neoclassical 18th century revision of the classical view of art, especially considering that Plato had a rather low opinion of artists, but that’s another story.

Maybe I should start over.

Once I saw an artist working on a painting in a public space. I sat down and watched him for a while and then asked, “Do you mind me watching?”

“If I minded I wouldn’t be painting out here,” he replied.

It was fascinating watching a painting develop. It’s one of the reasons I think Bob Ross’s painting show was so popular. I’m sure there were plenty of others like me who weren’t really interested in painting ourselves but were just fascinated by how a few dabs of paint could create a vivid picture. Bob Ross’s gentle personality and “happy little clouds” were a bonus.

This background reminds me that any work of art is a work in progress, that however static a picture might seem, even if the artist is decomposing, the picture will change as it too decomposes. Van Gogh’s paintings were even more vivid in his lifetime, Edvard Munch used to put his paintings out in his yard when he was done with them—something that would make art preservationists tear their hair out—and even the classical sculptures that are so loved for their stark beauty and subtlety were once painted with gaudy colors.

What I’m taking the long way around to get to is that a few months ago when I met artist Billy Martinez working on a mural over on Elliston Place I assumed what I was seeing was a more or less finished work, but since then he’s come back and added to it. Here’s an earlier picture of Johnny Cash and Bettie Page:

Here they are now:

At the other end they’ve been joined by Dolly Parton, another iconic Nashville figure. At least a certain, er, feature suggests she’s Dolly Parton. Before she became famous she lived down the street from my parents and they still like to say, “We knew her before she got so big.”

And he’s added some interesting symbols in between. These seem to only be outlines and I plan to go back—especially since it’s just a hop, skip and a jump—maybe with another skip—from where I work to watch its growth.

The one thing that remains constant, even in the supposedly fixed world of a painting, is change.


Artist Billy Martinez at work.

Artist Billy Martinez at work.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet artist Billy Martinez as he was working on a mural on Nashville’s Elliston Place. Martinez has an art career that goes back decades and started his own publishing company, Neko Press, in 1997.

While his work in comics and magazines, as well as his stand-alone paintings, are bold and dramatic, often featuring powerful women, this mural is subtler but still just as bold, just as intense. It’s dominated by a black skyline. Rather than deliberately painting the Nashville skyline—in fact there are parking signs up and down Elliston he could have used as sketches, ones with Nashville’s infamous “Batman Building”—he offered a more generic view. And instead of lights he put it in total darkness. The only color, the only light, comes from behind the unbroken row of buildings. This makes the two figures at the edge, where the sidewalk and parking lot next to Smack Clothing, intersect, even more striking.

billymartinez2And the figures themselves are a study in contrasts. Johnny Cash, born in Arkansas, made Tennessee his home for most of his life. As a major figure in country music he’ll always be associated with Nashville and its history. He emerged from the darkness of a rural background in search of the spotlight and found it, and yet, interestingly, in the mural he’s somber, contemplative, focused on his music.

billymartinez3Bettie Page, on the other hand, is fierce and direct, fixing passers-by with her gaze. Former Nashville Scene editor Jim Ridley wrote an appreciation of Page a few years before her death in 2008 and described her as someone who “who deflected the ravenous gaze of strokebook buyers with a look of defiant self-possession”.

Born in Nashville she, like Cash, sought the spotlight, but her career was shorter and she was an underground figure—a pinup girl and a Playboy playmate in the much more sexually conservative 1950’s. She retired from modeling and disappeared into obscurity. She would be “rediscovered” as a new cult following developed in the 1980’s. Although she would profit from her resurgence ater spending several years in poverty, unaware of her own fame, she herself still seemed to shun the spotlight.

It’s not available online but I remember she gave an interview for the Nashville Scene in 2005, when The Notorious Bettie Page hit theaters, but refused to be photographed. A picture that accompanied the interview showed only her hands.

All that makes this mural, seemingly so simple, and something most people will likely just walk by, an intersection of art and history.

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