By Phoebe Lusk-Hussong
The tape artists that took over the outside of the Brooks Museum last spring have returned again to Memphis for three days to create more beautiful murals in the community. Their pieces are piquing the interests of many and are bringing communities together. Read more to discover how you can see these special pieces for yourself!
In May of 2017, Leah Smith and Michael Townsend began working on a large tape mural on the exterior of the Brooks Museum of Art in Midtown, Memphis. Inspired by Carroll Cloar, an influential Southern artist, they created a tree themed piece that took over the building’s walls for 16 days, including the time it took to create the piece. The tape art became a destination: a place constantly visited and something continuously talked about - even months after the piece was removed.
Most artists choose a medium that is permanent and lasting, so I was curious why Smith and Townsend chose tape as their medium. When I asked her this, Smith said, “we have found that communities we work with feel empowered by being able to make marks on their own walls. It gives them a sort of ownership over their spaces. We work in hospitals, psych wards, schools, corporations, and museums and other organizations. There is really a wide range of options to which this medium can apply.”
After their Memphis debut at the Brooks Museum in spring 2017, Smith and Townsend returned to construct more pieces for Memphis in collaboration with the Brooks. Donors of the Brooks Museum were invited to choose the locations of the new murals and decided on Hanley Elementary School, Carpenter Art Garden, Crosstown Concourse, Overton Square, Christ Methodist Day School, and the Orpheum Theatre. The murals were on display for one week, Sept. 16-23, and then taken down, but the tape used will be rolled into a giant ball that will be displayed at the Brooks along with photos of the murals in their entirety.
It wasn’t until after taking a tour of Crosstown Concourse that Smith and Townsend decided what their subject for the Crosstown mural would be. They settled on creating a mural depicting angelic construction workers in honor of those who made Crosstown’s addition to the Memphis community a reality. As they taped, they talked with everyone who approached them and answered any and all questions from the curious Concourse-goers. Children and adults alike enjoyed watching the mural’s progress, and a few even tried their hands at taping.
Many Crosstown visitors that I spoke with thought that the tape was just there as prep work for a full-wall painting. When they realized the tape was temporary and no painting would follow, many grew disappointed that the piece was not going to stay up for longer.
Smith and Townsend respond, saying, “We wouldn’t leave any piece up even if people asked, and people ask a lot. For us, it’s just that once we’ve finished a piece we are just itching to bring the original wall back to its state of potential.” They also say that, despite these initial responses of disappointment, people love to take the tape down when the time comes. Townsend joked, "at first they say, ‘No I couldn’t!' But, the first piece comes off, and it’s just a bloodbath.”
Tape not only allows Smith and Townsend’s art to take over a space temporarily, but it also allows more people than the artists alone to participate in the creation - and destruction - of the work. Their pieces allow communities to collaborate, which brings additional life and interest to the project. Specifically, having tape artists visit parts of Memphis that might not have otherwise received creative attention helped bring the people of those communities together for a shared purpose: to create something beautiful, even if it was temporary.