Art in the street makes people happy.
This simple sentence expresses the essence of murals, a special type of street art that tells the community’s story, engages citizens, boosts the local economy, fosters appreciation for the arts, and improves the look of the surrounding area.
And who’s to say artwork must be confined to museums and galleries?
With that in mind, Selma-based artist Trés Taylor set out to create murals across Alabama’s Black Belt, most notably along Highway 14. His first was in Birmingham, followed by two in Selma, and one each in Marion, Greensboro, Eutaw, Camden, Greenville and Uniontown.
The Black Belt area was chosen because that’s “where the magic happens,” notes Taylor, speaking on his way to his one-man gallery show in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “The Black Belt is so rich with stories[JA1] .”
But he’s also quick to point out that the Black Belt is economically challenged and art can play a role in lifting up and revitalizing the region.
Taylor has gained success as an artist whose paintings – full of vivid colors and jubilant imagery – interestingly are done on tarpaper, the heavy-duty paper used in construction. As his wife Helene, his art manager, points out, his work is a cross between folk and the fine arts. The mural project is strictly volunteer and a way for him to give back to his beloved state.
Nine murals are completed so far and 11 to go to meet his goal of 20. A project this ambitious can’t be done alone, so Taylor partnered with Can’d Aid, a Colorado-based nonprofit that brings together volunteers to enhance communities in various ways such providing music and the arts and restoring the environment. Can’d Aid pays the cost of paint and other materials, and helps coordinate the mural painting process. Because the organization plays such an integral role, the project was named “Can’d Aid’s Revolution of Joy.”
Creating a mural start to finish is an arduous process, and, as Taylor notes, the task of painting the side of the building is relatively easy compared to the work leading up to it. He first does his homework, learning about the community – its people, history and notable characteristics. He then writes a parable that reflects the spirit of the community.
“It’s a lot of work coming up with the story, then I start designing,” he explains.
A watercolor rendition of the mural is displayed on the building as a guideline, but the actual guide is Taylor himself. “I’m the conductor who orchestrates the work.”
Two volunteers from Can’d Aid travel from Colorado to the project site, where they help coordinate the many volunteers who are ready to bring the mural to life with vibrant paint and Taylor’s well-thought-out design. A call for volunteers is done through social media and contacts in the towns who get the word out.
Children are an important part of the mural painting process, which becomes a joyful community event bringing local residents together. On the Camden mural, for example, children painted their own contributions into the design, which for that town was a quilt. One little boy called it a clown quilt, in his mind that’s what it was so “Clown Quilt” became the title of the mural.
Taylor says the mural done in Uniontown was closest to his heart. A community hurting economically, but despite such hardship the citizens were so enthusiastic about the mural being created in their town that they asked, “What’s next?”
This fall Taylor plans to install plaques on each mural that will provide information about the fable that inspired the mural.
Indeed, art in the street makes people happy.
Taylor offers another simple sentence that encapsulates the project: “Art changes a neighborhood.”
Upcoming murals are set for next April in Orville and possibly Demopolis. You can follow the projects on Facebook and Instagram @Trestaylorworksontarpaper
*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong