Artist seeks to create new art districts with murals of famous black people
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – You may have seen the work of a local artist very well. His pieces attract attention. There is a reason for what he creates and where you will find him.
“In the process, I try to think good thoughts,” artist Charles Key said, speaking between spray painting a mural on the side of a building. “I give myself an affirmation. I say, ‘Thank you Lord. I know it’s not me. I know someone else is guiding my hands.”
Athletes, artists, faces that define a culture shift – that’s just part of what constitutes Key’s public art.
“My first thought is community,” he said. “What can I give to this community? These kids live in gray houses. The bricks inside these projects are gray. I believe in color therapy. Colors help you.”
Key can trace his mission back to one man.
“It was my father,” he said. “He was really passionate about education and history. I try to do the same, educate.”
One of his last public murals is of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress. The Chisholm Mural is on Lafayette St., the same stretch where you can also find Key’s murals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Michelle Obama, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Key wants the neighbors to see inspiring characters.
“[I want them] to look at those faces and see something in them and know that they can do it too,” Key said. “I want these people to be remembered. Sometimes we forget names, but it’s hard to forget a face. This area was not known for art. You need to go to 12th Avenue South, the Wedgewood neighborhood. I just wanted to be that spark to say, ‘hey, there’s beauty even in wrestling.’ I like being here. I could be in the Gulch, but I think my art will be felt here.”
Key also pays tributes like a just-completed mural on Jefferson St. of rapper Takeoff, who was shot dead in Texas last week.
“We lose our creators early,” he said. “These are young men doing something, creating things that we lose.”
“It comes from the heart,” said neighbor Demetrius Harris, admiring the Chisholm mural. “It gives us a shared moment to think about those people who have impacted lives for us.”
“We work with men and women who have recently been released from incarceration,” said Elizabeth Hayes of Project Return, looking at the wall art Key made in their apartment building. “The artwork on this building is inspired by the participants from the program.”
“I give that to the community,” Key said. “It’s my way of giving back. I would like to turn certain sections of Nashville into artistic neighborhoods. If you believe in it, you can achieve it.”