In her article “Why Should We Care About Street Art?” travel writer Ginny Copestake observes how street art “unlike drawings, paintings and sculptures you find in museums and galleries is there to be consumed by the masses. It is unconfined by walls and doesn’t come with a price tag, and most of all it really makes you look.”
In Mobile, what “really makes you look” are distinctive murals and custom-made signs by University of South Alabama fine arts graduate Andy Scott. The largest mural he’s painted so far covers the rear wall of the three-story Athelstan Club; a private Mobile club founded in 1873.
Scott was hired by the Mobile Arts Council and Downtown Mobile Alliance to create the roughly 2,700-square-foot mural. The design was conceived a few years ago by Hummingbird Ideas, a design and advertising agency located in downtown Mobile. The mural depicts giant ants and prominent biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson who spent part of his childhood near Mobile.
“The owner of the building had wanted a mural there for a long time,” said Mobile Arts Council Development Director Angela Montgomery, who points out that it was a good project for the pandemic – art enjoyed outside at a social distance. “Since we are always looking for ways to support our local artists, we knew it was key to commission someone from the community.”
The Arts Council has worked with Scott for years, along with many other downtown businesses, and since the mural design was so lifelike and detailed, they knew Scott was ideal for the job.
Scott’s creativity and resourcefulness isn’t limited to murals and custom signage. His business New Hands Signs operates out of a former auto garage he converted into a studio and he outfitted a vintage trailer to serve as his office.
My shop doesn’t have AC, so I was going to have to build an office that had AC to get away from the heat,” Scott recalls. “I found a 30-foot, 1948 Spartan Manor, like an Airstream, in a field and I bought it for much less than it would cost to build. I gutted the trailer, put new floors in, ran electrical and have two window units. It’s a great office and even has a work table inside for small jobs.”
Now that’s ingenuity.
Another notable mural Scott created is on the side of the student center at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. The mural covers a wall that is 69 feet wide and 12 feet tall. The red-and-blue design features a bold rendering of the word “SOUTH” and the Moulton Bell Tower, the university’s 140-foot-high tower that houses an electronic carillon and four bronze bells.
When Scott is not on location, he’s in this studio working on commissions. Most of his work is in Mobile, though he’s done signs in Pensacola, Florida, and Jackson, Mississippi, and has an upcoming restaurant commission in Tuscaloosa. Many of his custom signs can be seen throughout Mobile and he’s also restoring historical markers for the city of Mobile and says it’s “such a fun job — giving these pieces of history a new life.”
On display in his studio are vintage signs and surfboards, though the surfboards aren’t just for show.
“I love surfing but with two kids and a business I haven’t surfed as much as I used to, but I still make it out on the bigger days and try to make time to get in the water as often as I can,” says Scott.
“Yes, I love vintage signs and continually add to my collection as I run across ones that interest me. I really like signs that were made locally by sign painters from the past. I think hand painted and retro style signs have a great, nostalgic feel to them. They also give a unique look to a city. I’m a sucker for mid-century design and layout.”
There are a few commissions he’d like to come his way.
“I’d love to do something at the new Jaguar Stadium for the University of South Alabama! I also think something Mardi Gras related downtown would be really cool!”
Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Andy Scott, the Mobile Arts Council and James Palomo