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Out There

Public art in Overton Square.



Everyone can agree that public art is a valuable social entity. It can represent the cultural significance of a community (the Stax Museum murals on Bellevue) or pay homage to those who have unselfishly sacrificed their well being for the sake of others (the Tom Lee sculpture in Tom Lee Park). It can also bring color to a place that desperately needs it (Greely Myatt's Quiltsurround at the Federal Building).

At the same time, few people can agree on what best fits the artistic needs of a specific community, as anyone who has ever served on a committee for public art can attest.

When it comes to the current rehabilitation of Overton Square, developers Bob and Louis Loeb have no intention of getting in the way of the artists.

"They are my dream clients," says Carol DeForest, art coordinator of the Overton Square project.

DeForest, who has created eight public art projects in Memphis, is familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly process of designing, proposing, and installing public work. She was hired in August to serve as a liaison between the Loebs and the artists. For the initial projects, DeForest skipped the public call for proposals and has reached out to artists she knew would create work appropriate to Overton Square.

One of the first projects is the mural on the north side of Bari Ristorante. The Loebs' only stipulation, DeForest says, was that it be "colorful, have action, and relate to the neighborhood."

She found what she was looking for in David Lynch. "Lynch was the only artist we approached who had an idea of how to work with the doors and windows on Bari," she says.

Lynch designed the mural, a colorful conglomeration of Overton Square's businesses and buildings. Anthony D. Lee was hired to paint the mural on the building. DeForest knew Lee had painted Jeff Zimmerman's mural at AutoZone Park and was confident he would be able to accurately recreate Lynch's vision.

The Loebs and DeForest were so ecstatic about Lynch's proposal they have commissioned him to design a second mural on the building previously occupied by Paulette's. According the Lynch, "It is a folk-art design of a scenic view and a couple of old-timey bikes." There will also be a bike "parking lot." The artist to design and fabricate the bike racks has yet to be determined.

In terms of the installation of art in Overton Square, everything about this project is moving faster than people are used to seeing. So fast, in fact, that the day that Jason and Rebecca Severs, owners of Bari, found out about the mural was the day they came to work and noticed the scaffolding and workers painting the primer. The Severs do not own the building where Bari is located, but, Jason says, "It would have been good to be part of the process of selecting the mural."

The Severs support local art. Jason went to art school, and Bari and the Severs' other restaurant, Three Angels Diner, display work by local artists. "It is not like I am against murals," Jason says. "I love murals. I think there needs to be more murals."

Among the artists in the process of creating projects for Overton Square are Yvonne Bobo, Lea Holland, and Suzy Hendrix. DeForest and the Loebs are still looking for artists for additional projects and are open to just about anything. Interested parties should contact Carol DeForest by emailing her at She anticipates that all projects will be finalized by the end of February.

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