One benefit of working in all neighborhoods in the city is that you can see many of the ways in which residents of those neighborhoods express themselves. This post will mainly feature what I like to call Urban Art. Yes, we’re talking about graffiti but also very artful murals that can be seen around the city on abandoned buildings, occupied buildings, retaining walls, bridge pylons and just about anywhere else that can possibly serve as a canvas. Some of this art is very well thought out and high quality. Some of it is simply very crude ramblings about the frustrations of inner city life.
We’ll start with the artful, well thought out, high quality kind. In 2011 residents of the Fountain Heights neighborhood just north of downtown decided they wanted to beautify an old retaining wall that had become an eyesore along 18th street north. Students from the Alabama School of Fine Arts, which is technically located in the neighborhood, were invited to create a mural on the wall that would honor the various ethnic groups that had called the neighborhood home over the decades. A Union Jack, an Italian flag and a Star of David were a few of the symbols painted on the wall to represent the different groups. There was a large map of the African continent painted to represent the African American community which is the largest group that inhabits the neighborhood today. The overall theme of the mural is unity and co-operation of all the people of Birmingham to move forward into a brighter future. This is symbolized by a black hand and a white hand clasped together.
This mural on the side of a convenience store in the Avondale neighborhood also has a theme of racial and ethnic reconciliation and co-operation. Too bad the business next door decided to hang an advertising banner in the middle of it.
One of the most artful murals in the city, in my opinion, is a Norse themed mural on the side of a paint and body shop in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Their practice of parking cars that are in line to be repaired in front of it makes it difficult to photograph. Here are a couple of shots:
One of the places that I often sit and wait for calls during the day is under a shade tree behind The Search Club. About a year and a half ago I noticed that someone had painted some bizarre looking but artful images on the wall of the building across the parking lot.
One day when I arrived at the waiting spot I noticed that these images were gone but there was a guy there working on something new and much larger. He told me that he painted with a group of urban artists that went by the name “Shizquad.” Like the other images, this huge mural also looked quite bizarre and seemed to be prison themed. The central image in the mural was an Alabama inmate. I asked if I could photograph it and he said “sure but it isn’t finished, I’ll be through with it in a few days”. I went ahead and photographed what he had done and planned to come back and photograph the finished product a little later. I watched him work on his masterpiece for several days. I assumed he had permission to paint on this building since it was such a big project and he was doing it in broad open daylight. My assumption was wrong. When I returned to photograph the finished mural, it was gone. The building had been painted over with solid blue paint; that’s the way it remains today. Here’s the work in progress:
Not all the expressions are artful and some are downright scary. Here’s a very crude paranoid rant on some old pieces of tin along Richard Arrington Boulevard North. I have dropped off a particular customer in this general area that I believe could have been the author of the rant. We’ll talk more about him in a future post.
Another of my favorite murals is this African themed painting on the side wall of a business in the Smithfield neighborhood.
Most graffiti artists like to refer to themselves as “taggers”. Tagging simply means painting one’s “tag” or name in as many places as possible. There are several around Birmingham, one of the more common tags is “Naro”, but by far the most ubiquitous of all is one who refers to himself or herself as “Moist”. “Moist” tags such as this one are so common that you almost don’t notice them after a while.
There was one moist tag however, that caught my eye immediately because of the difficulty that had to be overcome to place the tag. It was on the front of the old McWane cast iron pipe foundry. Production ceased at the foundry a couple of years ago but the facility is still maintained by the company because they say they intend to re-open it if the demand increases. This tagger would have had to have gotten past several locked gates, security guards and climbed to the top of the building to place the tag. Once it was placed it was very prominent and very visible to all traffic headed south and west along Interstate 20/59.
A few years ago, tags with a very positive message started to appear around town. The tags read “you are beautiful.” Some have been removed but there are a few of them still around. One of the most prominent actually reads “how beautiful you are” but I’m sure it was done by the same people. It’s on the top of an old abandoned, blighted building near downtown. It’s highly visible from the northbound side of the Red Mountain Expressway. I have no idea as to the significance of the Star of David on the same building.
There is an old rail tunnel on first avenue south that used to be part of the city’s first train station. The walls of the tunnel as well as many buildings nearby have become the canvases of many taggers. The days of this area as a stage for this street art are numbered. Construction has already begun on a walking trail through the area that leads from Railroad Park to Sloss Furnaces . I’m sure a major effort to keep the area free of graffiti will be undertaken when the trail is complete. Here are a few images that can currently be seen:
Sources: Wikipedia, Bhamwiki, Birmingham News, al.com
copyright 2013 R.W. Walker
*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views do not reflect the views of any cab company.