To the Streets: Art another drawing card for Lexington
By David Kravetz
Photos by David Kravetz
Lexington, Kentucky…famous for Bluegrass, Thoroughbred Horses (aka The Horse Capital of the World), Bourbon Distilleries, Kentucky Wildcat Basketball and now, Street Art (or murals). Yes, Lexington is becoming a city known for its abundance of buildings decorated with colorful murals and street art. Thanks to organizations such as PRHBTN and LexArts, visitors to Lexington can now see works of art by both local Kentucky artists and renowned street artists from around the world.
As an avid travelographer, I have ventured far and wide in this country (and others) seeking the quirky, unique, unusual and wondrous. Indeed, I have become a collector of places. As far back as 2005 I have discovered wall art and murals in small towns and big cities. I have documented these works in my travel blog and have seen myriads of them. I have loved the variety and have also seen how some towns actually use it to draw in visitors.
Though many of the works of art I have seen are more or less painted murals, I became enamored with “Street Art” on a visit to Toronto in 2008. There I saw dozens of beautiful and creative works, many just forms of graffiti, but all sanctioned by the city in certain districts. Since then I have noticed this kind of modern, and sometimes underground, art popping up in many places…not just the big cities.
Last year, I discovered that there are many pieces of Street Art cropping up in my own hometown of Lexington, thanks in large part to an organization called PRHBTN. According to prhbtn.com, “PRHBTN is an annual celebration of art forms that have been criminalized, marginalized, and under-appreciated in the mainstream, featuring an exhibition of these works in a space that complements the raw, powerful nature of the message and the artistry of each piece.”
The organization got its start on 11/11/11 and has since brought in over a dozen world-known street artists who have added grand art to a number of districts in the city, chiefly along Short Street, down North Limestone and on Manchester Street in the Lexington Distillery District, where PRHBTN has its home.
In 2013, they brought in five artists, and one of them, Eduardo Kobra, from Brazil, painted a massive mural depicting Abraham Lincoln on the back of the Kentucky Theatre. This brightly colored piece of work has drawn interest from around the world and is now a regular photo-op stop for visitors, along with the horse farms and Bourbon tours. I had personally only seen one other mural that large, on the side of a parking garage in Dallas. It was amazing to watch the progress as Kobra used spray paint as the medium.
Through these previous efforts, PRHBTN is making a name for itself and for the city of Lexington as a mecca for Street Art. And 2014 did not disappoint as four other major players in the Street Art world converged on Lexington from mid-October thru early-November, Now and Nosm, MTO, ROA and Andrew Hem. These sometimes controversial artists brought their skills and styles to spray paint the sides of some of Lexington’s barren brick and mortar buildings.
PRHBTN has not been without controversy (even the Abraham Lincoln piece led to some spirited discussion). But, in 2014 a massive work went up on the side of the Pepper Distillery Warehouse on Manchester. A French born artist known as MTO and famous for doing giant works of celebrities and athletes, came to town quietly and by the time he had departed, he had a left a 75’ x 270’ mural that has drawn both controversy and ire. Some have even claimed that his work “My name is MO” glorifies gang symbolism. I find it a fascinating work, but certainly not my favorite. Nevertheless, a close look at portions of the painting reveal amazing artistry, especially considering that this was all done with cans of spray paint.
Another huge PRHBTN work adorns the side of the LexPark Garage (Broadway and Short). A drive down Short St. will not reveal the giant abstract work by twin brothers Raoul and Davide Perre (known as How and Nosm in the Street Art world). Rather, one needs to walk down Short St. from Mill St. in order to see this 40 foot tall mural. Their style is typically in shades of red, pinks and black and this one, known as “Moonshiner” is no different. It most certainly enlivens the otherwise drab cement walls of the parking garage.
Just about three blocks down Short Street is another new piece, this one by Cambodian-born Los Angeles resident Andrew Hem. His images in the 30 foot tall “The Night Watchers” are realistic yet somewhat spooky. Unlike the other three PRHBTN artists this year, Hem’s piece is by far the most colorful.
The final PRHBTN artist invited for 2014 was ROA, a street artist from Ghent, Belgium. ROA’s giant monochromatic works are popping up all over the country. They too are complex but almost a bit macabre in their themes. He pulls in darker images of animals and insects (bats, mice, bugs). But his major piece in Lexington is of a bison that has lost most of its body and appears to be sitting waiting for death. Earlier this year I made a trip through Yellowstone and saw dozens of the regal bison and so this one has a special significance to me.
Like a few others before him, ROA made his way to the Lexington Distillery District and found another “canvas” where he painted a bee on its back. A close up look at the lines once again reveals his fine artistry.
During some of the PRHBTN functions in October, a Chicago-based street artist that goes by Left Handed Wave painted his trademark bunny-head (known in graffiti circles as a “tag”) on the front of an old building off of North Broadway, just a couple of blocks from the ROA bison. The blue and white piece adds immensely to the colorful neighborhood.
Though PRHBTN has been a driving force behind these large pieces of art the past couple of years, they are by no means the only ones commissioning artwork on the walls of the city.
Last September, LexPark, in partnership with Saul Good Restaurant, commissioned Eastern Kentucky artist Lacy Hale to create a Kentucky piece of art in the LexPark stairwell near Broadway and Main. Her colorful “Tulip Poplar” adds a wonderful dimension to downtown with its vibrant yellows and reds. (The Tulip Poplar is Kentucky’s state tree.)
And a design group out of Lexington known as BroCoLoco, whose headquarters are on Washington St., off of North Broadway and Loudon, have gotten into the act. They created a work on their building called “Origami Tsunami” and it gives the appearance of Origami birds flying along the side of the building.
Out of all of my ventures around the country, I am most proud of Lexington and its citizens for pushing forward the unique, quirky, grand and sometimes controversial works street art.
So, when you think Lexington, don’t just think about the horse country, the bourbon and the bluegrass. Think modern urban art. It is now dotting the city and you can’t miss these great attractions.
David “Sumoflam” Kravetz is a Travelographer and Lexington native.
This article also appears on pages 6-7 of the December 2014 print edition of Ace.
For more Lexington, Kentucky arts, food, culture, and entertainment news, click here to subscribe to the Ace digital e-dition, emailed to your inbox every Thursday morning.
Gallery of murals around Lexington. All photos by David Kravetz.
A Catalog of Lexington Murals: A Google map of the murals
Tulip Poplar by Lacy Hale, N. Broadway between W. Main and W. Short
Eduardo Kobra’s Lincoln, Behind Kentucky Theater off Water Street
Mind, Body and Soul by Wasseem Touma, E. Main near Portofino
Lily and the Silly Monkeys by Herakut, off Market and W. Short Street
The Night Watchers by Andrew Hem, W. Short and N. Upper
20 Yard Mural, Progress Market at 600 N. Limestone
Britt Spencer Mural (2005) (Arts Competition, Between Morton Alley and E. Short, near The Lexington Club
ROA Buffalo Mural (2014 PRHBTN), N. Limestone and Luigart Avenue
Odeith Horse Mural (2013 PRHBTN), N. Limestone and Bryan Avenue
Michael Burrell’s “A Tradition of Music on North Limestone” Al’s Bar
Where Dreams Come From by Herakut, On the corner of N. Limestone and E. 6th
Head in the Clouds by Left Handed Wave, October 2014, On N. Limestone after Bryan Avenue
Lexington Transit Authority Bus Barn Murals, commissioned by LexArts and LexTran, Between W. Loudon Avenue and I Row, near Transit Authority-Lexington
Know Your History by Sundiata Rashid (2012), Off Race St. and E. 3rd
Dronex (2013), Off Manchester Street, near Buster’s Billiards and Backroom
Einstein mural on a garage, Distillery District, Manchester Street, near the warehouse in the Distillery District
“My name is MO” by MTO (PRHBTN 2014), Distillery District, Manchester Street
Balancing Table by Phlegm (PRHBTN 2013), Distillery District, Ethereal Brewing
Dead Bee on a Wall, ROA (October 2014), Distillery District, close to the junction of Old Frankfort Pike and Manchester Street
Telescopic Eye on a Water Tower by Phlegm (2013, Distillery District Water Tower
Three Solitary Guy murals by Paul Bloas, Distillery District, on Barrel House Brewery
Horses Jumping by Gaia (PRHBTN 2013), West Sixth Brewery
“In the Market for Music” by Michael Barrett, Southland Drive, across from Mitchell Avenue
Lexington History and Culture murals by Esteban Camacho Steffensen, Lexington Legends’ Whitaker Ballpark
Welcome to Horse Capital of the World mural, Water tank off the junction of I75 and I64
Third Street Stuff, walls facing parking lot
“Moonshine” mural by HOW and NOSM, Short Street, on the side of LexPark Garage
Stockyard Commons by Dronex (2013)
Origami Tsunami by BroCoLoco, On the corner of N. Limestone and Wittland Lane, near Loudon
“On Lime” by BroCoLoco, The True Alley side of Vintage Creations, 712 N. Limestone