July 11, 2012


I got the idea to paint the Cumberland Avenue strip the week before Father's Day. I wrote it down in my notebook and filed it away as a morning, Summer project.

 I had planned to do one building every two days with my coffee. It would be fun and leisurely. Over the drive between Nashville and Knoxville (it's 190 miles of think time...) I made an ambitious decision. I knew we would be having a School of Art staff exhibition in the gallery I work at. Originally I planned to show 4 photographic diptychs. I had the realization that this gallery space would probably be the only place where I could pin up a large project like this and get quality images of the installation, so I got my butt in gear and started the project.

The concept amused me mostly. Who would be crazy enough to spend time painting a Taco Bell and a Wendy's? I also liked the idea that every image was dependent on the completed group to validate its existence. This project forced me to spend an exorbitant amount of time considering a place I usually try to forget. I wanted to make something that would be curious to folks -- maybe even beautiful --  and make them stop and consider The Strip. In discussing the project with people, I've mostly heard stories. People ended up telling me their favorite of the chain restaurants. I heard old college tales of bars long since gone, and one recounting of a student passing out in the Krystal's drive thru.

To begin the project, I photographed all of the buildings at the same time -- walking up one side of the street while photographing the opposite side. I probably looked insane.  In total, there were three gas stations, two banks, and any number of bars and chain restaurants. The Strip is a place to refuel -- either your car or your belly. It has been the source of many complaints over the years. Too ugly. Too much traffic. Too commercial. Too visible from the interstate.

In the spirit of research, I ended up reading a few articles from the Knoxville News Sentinel, one from a few years ago that has a picture of The Strip in full force, and one written since I've lived here addressing a redesign of the McDonald's and an effort to make Cumberland Avenue more pedestrian friendly.

I began to wonder what The Strip was like in the past. Has it always been a commercial eyesore? In these instances, I'm glad my dad spent most of his life with a camera glued to his face. He attended UT in the early 70s and was able to provide me with a few photographs he took.

Taken from the roof of Clement Hall.

This Strip looked so different, I had no idea what the view was at at first. (Even though I know where the dorm is.) If you are familiar with Knoxville, The right hand corner intersection is showing what is now Chipotle, Ft. Sanders Yacht Club, and the Goodwill. That shield in the mid-left of the image is the Krystal's, recently closed. In the very back left of the photograph is a stack from an old cement factory, now gone.

Middle of the street. Taken from slightly east of the intersection of Cumberland and 17th.

 I also had him look through his yearbooks for any Student Life sections that might feature parts of the strip. Then I discovered that UT has also scanned every yearbook from the early 1910s through 2012. I CANNOT EXPRESS HOW MUCH THIS EXCITES ME. I've been going through those and screen capping some interesting images. The next few blog posts will highlight certain paintings paired with yearbook images. To see installation images and individual images of the complete series, visit my Flickr page.

Stay tuned, y'all.

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