(and other out­door art)

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - The Bei­fuss File John Bei­fuss Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – TENN.

Can a child be taller than a six-story brick build­ing and yet re­main in­con­spic­u­ous?

That, ar­guably, is the sta­tus of the tow­er­ing 19th-cen­tury waif with the enor­mous brown eyes who has ma­te­ri­al­ized, like a lost time trav­eler from a land of giants, on the west side of a for­mer cot­ton ware­house at 62 E.H. Crump Boule­vard.

Ap­par­ently calm even while be­ing pecked by the rusty fire es­cape that zigzags down the side of what of­fi­cially is known as the United Ware­house & Ter­mi­nal Build­ing, this Amaz­ing Colos­sal Girl is a mon­u­men­tal pho­to­graphic re­pro­duc­tion of French artist Wil­liam-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 43inch-high 1886 oil paint­ing “Au pied de la falaise (At the Foot of the Cliff),” which re­sides in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of the Mem­phis Brooks Mu­seum of Art.

In gi­gan­tic fac­sim­ile, the child faces the Mem­phis-Arkansas Bridge, the Mis­sis­sippi River span that is less than two miles from her 108-year-old ma­sonry perch. This makes her some­thing of a guardian of “the gate­way to the city,” in the words of the build­ing’s co-owner, Muffy Tur­ley.

Yet al­though traf­fic along Crump is con­stant, this neo­clas­si­cal refugee child is prob­a­bly un­known to most Mem­phi­ans, who gen­er­ally have lit­tle rea­son to visit this dis­trict of hope­ful empty ware­houses south of Down­town.

That ought to change be­cause this girl is worth meet­ing. She is “the largest mu­ral I ever did, af­ter 40 ‘mon­u­men­tals’ ev­ery­where in the world,” artist Julien de Casabi­anca told The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal, in an email in­ter­view from his home in Paris. “And hon­estly, it’s one of my fa­vorites.”

How­ever, “I feel al­ways guilty when I leave from a wall where I pasted a child,” de Casabi­anca said in a re­cent in­ter­view with the web­site Brook­lyn Street Art. “Be­cause even though they are giants, I feel they are so frag­ile in this vi­o­lent world and in this con­tem­po­rary world.”

In fact, the Bouguereau child is one of close to two dozen “char­ac­ters” that de Casabi­anca, 48, and a team of lo­cal col­lab­o­ra­tors have plucked from Brooks paint­ings and placed in 21 lo­ca­tions around the city, cre­at­ing a sort of artis­tic scav­enger hunt that ranges from Front Street to East Mem­phis, from Frayser to South Laud­erdale, from Sum­mer Av­enue to Soulsville and beyond.

The ef­fort rep­re­sents the lat­est it­er­a­tion of what the artist calls his “Out­ings Pro­ject,” a union of high art and street art in which fig­ures from a mu­seum’s col­lec­tion are re­pro­duced and pasted all over a city, as if they had wan­dered from their gallery homes on some sort of out­ing or field trip.

Other cities among the al­most 50 that have hosted de Casabi­anca “Out­ings” in the pro­ject’s 14 years to date in­clude Chicago, Tokyo, Moscow, Mum­bai, Hanoi and Jack­sonville, Florida.

As re­pro­duced in their new en­vi­ron­ments, most of the “char­ac­ters” are hu­man-sized, no mat­ter how small the orig­i­nal paint­ing; in this way, they be­come neigh­bor­hood par­tic­i­pants or wit­nesses.

A man pulled from a 1964 Car­roll Cloar paint­ing rests within a door­way just off South Laud­erdale, be­neath a de­funct air-con­di­tion­ing unit.

Pasted to the east wall of Café Ole, the girl from Winslow Homer’s 1879 “Read­ing by the Brook” sits with her back to the side­walk, en­grossed in a book and obliv­i­ous to the drinkers and din­ers and shop­pers of her new Coop­erYoung neigh­bor­hood.

An­other Cloar fig­ure, an AfricanAmer­i­can woman in glasses and a mod­est church dress, painted in 1971, is on a boarded-up win­dow at 945 E. McLe­more, in view of the Stax Academy Char­ter School.

“That worked per­fectly, be­cause it kinds of give an idea of an el­der or a grandma, kind of keep­ing an eye on the neigh­bor­hood,” said Tonya Dyson, pro­gram man­ager at Mem­phis Slim Col­lab­o­ra­tory, the arts space lo­cated in the for­mer home of blues artist Mem­phis Slim.

Dyson — who chose the Cloar woman to be one of de Casabi­anca’s “char­ac­ters” — was one of 15 vol­un­teer com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­cruited to col­lab­o­rate with the artist on the choice of paint­ings and lo­ca­tions for Mem­phis. Typical of de Casabi­anca’s “Out­ings” projects, such in­put which makes this more of a true com­mu­nity ef­fort than its pre­de­ces­sors in the “Brooks Out­side” series.

“Brooks Out­side” was con­ceived by Brooks di­rec­tor Emily Ballew Neff as a way to take mu­seum-af­fil­i­ated art out­side the wall of the Brooks and into the com­mu­nity. The con­cept was launched with “RedBall,” a giant vinyl ball that es­sen­tially bounced from place to place around the city in 2016; an­other “Out­side” eye-pop­per was “In­trude,” which con­sisted of huge il­lu­mi­nated rab­bits that were in­flated in Over­ton Park in 2017.

Kathy Dum­lao, Brooks di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and in­ter­pre­ta­tion and lo­cal cu­ra­tor for “Out­ings,” said de Casabi­anca first came to Mem­phis in the first week of June, to meet with the 15 vol­un­teers. The group toured mu­seum’s gal­leries to iden­tify “char­ac­ters” who could be turned into mu­rals, and also to sug­gest likely lo­ca­tions.

Mean­while, Brooks rep­re­sen­ta­tives and oth­ers, in­clud­ing lo­cal film lo­ca­tion scout Nicki New­burger, drove around town to find suit­able spaces and to ne­go­ti­ate clear­ances from prop­erty own­ers.

Lo­cal artist Chip Pankey pho­tographed the Brooks pieces that de Casabi­anca de­cided to use, and cre­ated what Dum­lao called “su­per-su­per high-res” im­ages. The hu­man-sized or “life-sized” char­ac­ters were printed on rolls of pa­per at the Mem­phis Col­lege of Art, but the three “mon­u­men­tals” — in­clud­ing the Bouguereau girl; a quar­tet of young girls painted by Car­roll Cloar; and the Me­dusa-slay­ing Greek hero, Perseus, painted by Luca Gior­dano in 1680 — were printed in Paris and brought back to Mem­phis by the artist on Sept. 20.

Rid­ing in a big rented bus, de Casabi­anca, the com­mu­nity vol­un­teers and oth­ers (joined at a few lo­ca­tions by mas­sive cranes from Mont­gomery Martin Con­trac­tors) spent that week­end af­fix­ing the “char­ac­ters” into place with the use of old-fash­ioned wheat­paste (you know, the stuff Moe slaps into Curly’s face when the Three Stooges are hang­ing wallpaper). There, the fig­ures will re­main, but per­haps not for long, as sun, rain and other fac­tors scrub them from the walls and fade them from mem­ory.

Some al­ready show wear and tear. Ge­orge Luks’ crone-like 1920 “The For­tune Teller,” cack­ling from the wall of a va­cant lot near Crosstown Con­course, ap­pears to have been par­tially scratched away by giant finger­nails, her par­rot com­pan­ion re­duced to a spray of left­over green feath­ers.

De Casabi­anca said he didn’t do much re­search be­fore com­ing to Mem­phis. “Be­cause I’m work­ing with peo­ple from the place where I paste, with the com­mu­nity, they know more than all what I can learn in re­search,” he said, adding that his “char­ac­ters” in­habit “an emo­tional land­scape.”

Of course, some of these “char­ac­ters” oc­cupy spaces al­ready dec­o­rated with vivid street art and imag­i­na­tive graf­fiti. Bor­rowed from yet an­other Cloar paint­ing, the pasted Beale Street trum­pet player on the wall of the Gloco Iron Works is only the lat­est ad­di­tion to a La­mar Av­enue conga line of mu­sic great that from in­cludes street-art por­traits of “Black Moses” Isaac Hayes and Royal Stu­dios master­mind Wil­lie Mitchell.

De Casabi­anca rev­els in the as­so­ci­a­tion. “Clas­si­cal art is not more ‘high art’ ... than street art,” he said. “It’s art from an­other pe­riod. That’s all.

“We are not dis­con­nected from the past,” he said. “I’m in­cluded in the graf­fiti vo­cab­u­lary — what I do, it’s au­then­tic graf­fiti.”

Some peo­ple were sym­pa­thetic to the pro­ject’s mis­sion. “They’re bring­ing the Brooks Mu­seum out into the pub­lic,” said Gre­gory Lee Odom, 64, owner of Gloco Iron Works, who agreed to let a Cloar mu­si­cian be pasted onto his busi­ness’s outer wall.

Oth­ers liked what they saw, but re­mained some­what puz­zled by the pur­pose.

“I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand it,” said Sylvester Davis, 49, of Pickle Iron at 3177 Sum­mer, where a mas­sive re­pro­duc­tion of what Davis calls “some guy from Rome” now oc­cu­pies a brick wall, his sword poised to de­cap­i­tate the snaky head of an ab­sent Me­dusa.

“But I ad­mired the artist, the way he was putting it up,” Davis said, “like he was tint­ing a win­dow or some­thing.”

A mon­u­men­tal pho­to­graphic re­pro­duc­tion of French artist Wil­liam-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 43-inch-high 1886 oil paint­ing “Au pied de la falaise (At the Foot of the Cliff),” which re­sides in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of the Mem­phis Brooks Mu­seum of Art, is seen pasted onto the side of the United Ware­house & Ter­mi­nal Build­ing at 62 E.H. Crump Blvd. in Mem­phis. BRAD VEST / THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

A mon­u­men­tal pho­to­graphic re­pro­duc­tion of Car­roll Cloar, “Wed­ding Party,” 1971, is seen pasted onto the build­ing at 154 G.E. Pat­ter­son Ave. BRAD VEST / THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

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