Paint Memphis sponsored a festival that brought more than 150 artists together to paint the flood wall adjacent to the proposed Chelsea Greenline. The result is the biggest collaborative mural in Memphis where artists can show off their talents and reflect the spirit of our city.
Amidst a festival-like atmosphere, an event called Soul Food 5 brought over 150 artists together to paint what is being touted as the largest (longest) collaborative mural in Tennessee. The project was spearheaded by Paint Memphis, a nonprofit organization founded last year by Karen Golightly and Brandon Marshall. Golightly serves as the organization’s director and Marshall is the group’s art consultant, and both are artists in their own rights. They share a mission of bringing murals to public walls.
“I have been a graffiti and public arts photographer for about five years,” said Golightly, “and have been traveling the world taking photos.”
The impetus for Paint Memphis came from her travel, after discovering that most major cities had embraced a huge public arts scene. Upon returning to Memphis, she realized that this type of artwork was largely unseen in the local landscape.
“I found that, in Memphis, you had to go behind a building or into a ditch to find graffiti murals,” recalled Golightly. “We just did not have an abundance of that type of public art in our city.”
The process to change all of that began last year, after the founding of Paint Memphis brought together artists to complete a large-scale mural on the south side of the Chelsea Greenline. With guidelines that all artwork had to be PG-13 (i.e., could not include lewd words or images or any gang signs), the first city-sanctioned, permission wall went from virtual vision to visual art.
This panel by mural artist Brad Wells was completed last year on the south side of the flood wall along the Chelsea Greenline and was retained as a memorial tribute to him
“Greater Memphis Greenline was integral in helping us get permission from the City to paint on the south side of the flood wall alongside the proposed Chelsea Greenline,” explained Golightly. “And due to interest from an abundance of artists, we wanted to expand our mural.”
“We were delighted to collaborate with Paint Memphis to incorporate this artwork into the Chelsea Greenline project,” said Syd Lerner, executive director of the Greater Memphis Greenline.
This year, Paint Memphis actually doubled the size of the Chelsea Greenline mural by re-painting the south side and adding a mural to the north side. The overall size of the mural spans three-tenths of a mile, totaling six-tenths when you include the artwork along both sides. The wall itself was divided into “numbered panels” and each panel was assigned to a participating artist. Marshall said that 95 percent of the mural was completed in one day, with a few final components finished over the weekend.
When asked about the repainting of the south side of the wall, Marshall explained that, by its very nature, this type of public wall art has an imprecise lifespan.
“We repainted over about 90 percent of last year’s mural, with the exception of the panel painted by Nashville muralist Brad Wells,” said Marshall. “Since his participation in our 2015 project, Brad has passed away, so we preserved his ‘butterfly mural’ as a tribute to him.”
At the end of the weekend, Golightly added, “I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of the installation — there is so much detailed artwork, and the overall scale of the mural is impressive.”
The impact on the surrounding neighborhood was almost instant and palpable.
“Art and nature enrich the soul, the way literature enriches the mind,” said Lerner.
“That’s the real beauty of public art,” said Golightly. “While most traditional art is housed in galleries and not usually frequented by people of lower socioeconomic means, public art strives to bring the art to the people, right where they live, making it free and accessible for everyone.”