Colorful murals a welcome addition to landscape of Martin, region

Colorful murals a welcome addition to landscape of Martin, region
Colorful murals a welcome addition to landscape of Martin, region | Colorful murals a welcome addition to landscape of Martin, region
By SANDY KOCH
Special to the Press
It’s happened so gradually over a 10-year period. But bit by bit, sides of old stucco, brick and corrugated metal walls all across Martin have been splashed with startling colors and curious images. Now totaling about a dozen, these public murals have become part of Martin’s unique charm and personality.
Strangers driving through Martin might chuckle as they pass by the oversized meringue pie and hen on the side of the Hearth restaurant, or puzzle over the crooked front porch on the  side of Flossie’s florist shop as they drive into town from the north.
As they cruise by the old Southern Milling building on the right, they might crane their necks to view the old building behind it. Is that a giant boot on the wall and a beer truck?  Just in front of it on the side wall of a place called Cadillac’s,  there’s a little picture of a vintage car right next to a painted Pepsi circle and the car’s grille almost looks like it’s smiling.
While outsiders might wonder what elf is afoot in this town, most of the inhabitants of Martin know that this is the commissioned work of a tall, lanky marathon runner named Les MacDiarmid. He has also left his mark on about 40 walls in West Tennessee, from Alamo to Paris.
In years to come someone may need to write a guide book on the Martin murals, because sons and daughters might lose track of  the symbolic meaning behind little pictures on these walls.
Why is there a horse at the bar at Cadillac’s? Why is there often a little black and white cat somewhere in the mural? What is the significance of the three roses on the wall of the Hearth? Why do the ballet dancer, harlequin clown and weightlifter on the back of the Carl Perkins Center look vaguely familiar? Just who are all these people painted on the walls of Martin?
MacDiarmid, who had been painting on canvas like most artists, said it all started about 10 years ago, when parents at his daughter’s school, Martin Primary, asked him to paint a wall behind the play ground.
“I had never really found my niche before,” he said. “I had done big portraits, but not that big. I had done still life but it did not inspire. Landscapes, hard to organize. Murals are big and I thought – I can do that. They are physical; I like that.”
Then he wrote a few letters and the town of Sharon wrote him back. Turning into downtown Sharon, it’s hard to miss the train on the wall, reminiscent of Sharon’s days as a railroad town.
Soon other mural requests followed – the Rockabilly Museum in Jackson, Taylor HomeWorks in Martin and an historical mural in downtown Trenton among others. The Vincent family asked him to paint their colorful family business history on the back of their old cold storage building. Fellow artist Clint Riley, a potter, wanted him to do paintings surrounding his small studio across from the Methodist Church on Main Street.
Though the styles vary – from the psychedelic 60ish flowers on the front of a pawn shop to the homage to famous impressionist artists on the back of Carl Perkins – there is a distinctly Murals by Les signature of bright, happy colors.
A passerby would hardly notice that the stalks of some of his  six foot high flowers are blue instead of green. MacDiarmid says he doesn’t use normal colors.
“You learn as an artist that the color or hue does not have to be real but the value (light or dark) has to be,” he said.
His usual process is to sketch out his design and present it to the client. Then he roughs it out on the wall in chalk. Up goes the scaffold enabling him to reach high corners with his brush load of latex exterior satin paint.
“It has to look good from a distance,” he says. Toward the end, he steps back from the painting to view it from afar as if a motorist or pedestrian. Sometimes “things are not standing out just as they should,” and adjustments are made in shadowing and the like.
Standing inches away from the corrugated siding of one of his murals, the painting looks like the design on a fan slightly folded. But take a few steps back and the big picture emerges.
“A mural is site specific,” the artist explained, and he sometimes has to work air conditioners, windows and other obstructions into his design.
Clients often ask him to incorporate little features into the paintings that have special meaning. As the back room of Cadillac’s was being cleaned out to open up space for a live music venue, several pairs of eye glasses were found belonging to the owner. Tiny pairs of glasses are positioned around the mural bar scene and a picture of Tom and Jerry is a reminder of a favorite cartoon shared between Rick Wilson, the long time owner, and his grandson. The horse at the bar reminds patrons of the days when some of the members of the rodeo team would ride their horses into the building after a competition. Three roses represent three sons at the Hearth.
Often the family MacDiarmid cat, Angel, holds court in a corner of his murals.
One of his latest murals is of Jesus and his apostles on the wall of a tiny church set up in a replica small town in Mark Boulton’s back yard.
Though MacDiarmid enjoys getting back to his smaller canvases, especially in the winter, when outdoor painting becomes more challenging, he has definitely left his mark in the region with his bigger wall canvases.
MacDiarmid says that one of his guiding forces comes from I Thessalonians 5 in the Bible, a call to always be joyful. He says the joy is  “not just for me, it’s for others too.
“The colors do that.”
Published in The WCP 10.25.12

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