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Birdcap, Alive Paint explain Memphis' mural culture

Murals can be found across all of Memphis. Two street artists explain what makes Memphis a cool art town

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jamond Bullock shakes a spray paint can and adds a touch up to his latest work. He's painting a mural at the Gooch Park pool on three walls surrounding the currently empty body of water. 

Bullock, also known by his artist name Alive Paint, has been working on the piece for a number of months after being given the project by the Urban Art Commission and HUG Park Friends.

"When I get a chance to do a mural I have to make sure I'm like, 'Okay, so what's going on? Who lives here? I want it to be a vibe," Bullock said.

Bullock comes from a family of artists. His brother is a filmmaker and his grandfather is a traditional artist. Bullock has painted murals in Memphis since he graduated from Lemoyne-Owen College. 

"Anytime you can put a mural in a neighborhood, it's a chance to tell a story. Its the chance to connect with people," Bullock said.

For Bullock, murals are a chance to bring great art, the kind you might see in a gallery, to the street in public view. For those without access to traditional arts, it's a chance to put it in the foreground.

Many of his murals are in urban areas around Memphis. He says those areas, especially, deserve to see themselves large and in color.

"I think a lot of times, we don't really see ourselves in work, you know, a lot of times we don't see ourselves in galleries. So, and for those people who don't go to the gallery, this is for you," Bullock said. "Why can't they have something large scale? Why can't the mural be monumental in size and color."

A prominent Memphis artist whose murals are easily identified by their unique cartoon mosaic is Michael Roy, also known as Birdcap. The Mississippi transplant officially started his art career in Seoul, South Korea, but was inspired by the graffiti he saw while getting an art degree in the Mid-South.

"I think what I love about identifying with Memphis, is that like that's the place my voice can be loud," Roy said. "We're quick to adopt people. And I think that's a strength, not like a weakness. I think we make room for folks to try."

Roy said Memphis' current mural identity is a product of graffiti culture. The popularity of them on the walls of businesses and skyscrapers is a product of trends. Roy said murals are a great place for social justice and civil discourse conversations to take place in art.

"I think the influx of murals right now. It's a combination of things. It's the street art has been commodified a bit," Roy said. "There's like a lot of like social discussions about what is supposed to be in public space right now and I think murals are part of that conversation."

While Roy primarily makes murals that directly reflect his specific brand of cartoon figures, he knows his work can speak loudly in the social justice arena.

Bullock operates in that space too. He said a mural can be an inspiration while sending a message.

"It's important to sow seeds in neighborhoods because you never know, who's gonna be inspired by it," he said.