Urban Canvases

TVT_8006There is something about scrawling, drawing or painting on a wall that’s different to any other medium. In fact, stroll through the Highlands on any given day and you’ll see a whole lot of paint on buildings.

TVT_8022There are the obvious suspects of course, such as the mural on the side of Electric Ladyland, or the lengthy mural on the side of Wild Ginger. There are also, of course the peeling, remnants of eras long gone by; the old druggist and grocery stores, aged lettering describing the families that occupied a building close to a hundred years ago.

But painted walls have made a comeback in the Highlands, through the work of Bryan Patrick Todd and Kirby Stafford, and through general shifts in tastes that reflect a time when painted signs were par for the course. For Todd, a graphic designer with a passion for old-style lettering, entering a competition staged by the Highlands Commerce Guild meant he was picked to fill a giant wall on the side of the building that houses the The Wine Market on the corner of Bardstown Road and Lucia Avenue.

untitled-9622“I wanted to come up with a message that resonated with people and particularly with the Highlands neighborhood,” explains Todd. “The reason is because the biggest challenge and the most intimidating factor about this project was creating something that was invading people’s visual space, a space through which they come and go every single day.”

The resulting painting was a black and orange creation that attempted to encapsulate the Highlands in four simple words – “Weird, Independent and Proud.”

TVT_7998While Todd came up with the design, it was the work of Danville sign painter Kirby Stafford that allowed the vision to be realized. What began as a simple design drawn on a piece of paper, was scaled up to span over 20 feet in height. For Stafford, it was one of the more interesting projects he had worked on in his 39 years as a sign painter – a profession he readily admits is of a dying breed.

“It’s [murals] making a comeback,” explains Stafford, who has since gone on to paint a number of other word-centric murals around Louisville, in tandem with Todd. He also knows that he’s one of a few who still do what he does.

“There are probably only two or three of us in each state,” he adds. “But everything comes back around. I think people get tired of rectangular boring lettering because there is so much more than that, so much more that’s appealing to the eye.”

And while Louisville has plenty of signs that have yet to permanently fade away, Stafford is already being asked to recreate that look afresh.

“I’ve started making new signs to look old. People really like the vintage look, so I have been making them look rusty and peeling, as if I made the same sign 30 years ago,” he laughs.

“The craft of what Kirby does is really unique,” adds Todd. “I’m a huge enthusiast of lettering and sign painting, and it’s a dying craft, so to be able to team with a guy who has this expertise that you can’t just find anywhere was really cool.

“I think it’s a real advantage for a business to have something like this,” adds Todd. “It’s visually arresting and it means it catches people’s attention.”

TVT_8041If Bardstown Road is the cultural vein running through the heart of the Highlands then the walls and the images they bare are a visual distillation of that culture. Better yet, Todd thinks there is still room for more, whether it’s in the Highlands or beyond.

“It used to be the standard,” concludes Todd. “Who knows how long [this trend] will last. But Louisville has a lot of opportunities for this. We have a lot of bare walls and a lot of space not being utilized, so it’s cool to be a part of that.”

Photos by Chris Humphreys | The Voice-Tribune and Ben Bass | The Voice-Tribune Intern