The Edge District

PHOTOS: City streets become galleries as Paint Memphis works to make art accessible for all

High Ground contributor Reginald Johnson shares his powerful experience capturing the sights at this year's Paint Memphis street festival in The Edge District, where more than 100 artists from home and abroad gathered in Memphis to share their talents with the city.

A piece by the artist known as Humble.

I remember growing up as a kid in Orange Mound living near two railroad tracks. I had to go under one to get to my elementary and high school, and walk across the tracks to get to my middle school. I think all kids, especially little boys, are extremely fascinated by trains. 

We would walk along the tracks to see the painted train cars and also as a means to go from one neighborhood to the next.

The artist Taylord at work.

I was always captivated by the drawings on the trains, which I later learned was called graffiti art. Also, at that time in Philadelphia and New York, there was a war on street writers. They were viewed as vandals and creators of urban decay instead of being recognized as artists. These early taggers, as they were sometimes called, would risk life and arrest to make a name for themselves. 

Zulu Painter in Memphis.

Some of my friends and I would often sit and watch the trains go by just so we could pick which boxcar had the best looking pictures on it. I was fascinated by this new form of art and always wondered how they did it. 

New work from Mister Toledo.

Now fast forward and graffiti is an accepted art form that transforms old dilapidated buildings, and new ones, into works of art.

Artist Devona Stimpson for Paint Memphis 2023.

I have often traveled around the city – from Downtown to Cooper Young to Overton Square to Lamar Ave. to Binghamton to Orange Mound – photographing the murals painted by various artists. But I never saw them being painted, or met any of the artists themselves.

Artist Esh in the Edge District.

So when I got the email asking if I would like to cover the story of Paint Memphis 2023, which would host 100 artists locally and from around the world, I was ecstatic – and rightly so.

I began by coming down to the Edge District on Tuesday, Oct. 3, hoping to meet a couple of the artists and see them at work as they created these beautiful masterpieces of art. But what I was not prepared for was a treasure trove of some of the kindest, most gifted, and energetic people you will ever meet in your life. 

Bella Eason at work in the Edge District.

There is a sense of pride and camaraderie; a love for life, community, social justice, and the environment.

Spending the whole week with them has forever changed my life. I’ve gained a new family of friends from all over the world.

The artists of Paint Memphis 2023.

As much as I would like to continue writing this story, I thought it was more important for me to introduce you to some of the most talented people who have left their indelible mark on our streets for all of us to view, and admire for years to come. I would like to personally thank all of the amazing artists that took the time to pause and do an interview with me. May your art work continue to create the kind of world synergy that brings love, peace, and harmony to all the sacred spaces, cities, and countries that you visit to remind us: “What a Wonderful World” we live in. 

A tribute to Derrick Rose of the Memphis Grizzlies from artist Milt Coronado.

To Adam, West, and Knok: What a beautiful tribute to the Bar-Kays and their family. The artwork was a true testament to a labor of love and commitment to honor the life and legacy of a world-renowned group and their music. The tears and the joy in the eyes of their family members said it all. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this celebration.

Karen Golightly, one of the founders of Paint Memphis, has always wanted to give Memphis public art. She wanted all of the street art to be just as beautiful as all of the other countries and cities that she has visited. She wanted everyone to have access to art like she did. So she brought galleries and museums to the streets so that people get to see amazing artwork no matter where they live, or who they are, or what neighborhood they live in; art could be found right down the street.

Muralist Stephen Sloan for Paint Memphis 2023.

“This is our ninth festival, and this year we wanted to work really hard to treat our artists like they deserve to be treated,” Golightly says. “So we gave everybody a small stipend, and it’s a start. Because we believe everybody should get paid for their work and they are beautifying Memphis. We just want to show people their talent.”

Visit Paint Memphis online to view these and the other completed works created as part of Paint Memphis 2023.
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