Signs of the Times 

Public art transforms Central Station's "Gray Mile" into something more.

It started as a huge blank wall, nicknamed "The Gray Mile" by downtown residents. Now, with the installation of a public art project, it is an impressive gateway to the South Main Arts District.

"I think people were ready to see something different," says local artist Anthony Lee, whose project, "Modern Hieroglyphs," is painted along a 700-foot stretch of wall at Central Station. "That is supposed to be the arts district," he says. "It needs to feel that way."

Lee says the work, a set of 25 painted symbols along South Main, each about 6 feet tall, represent and define contemporary life.

"Some of these symbols weren't around 25 years ago," Lee says. "Others will fade out in the next 25."

After choosing his symbols — which include a skull and crossbones, MATA's logo, a bass clef, and a computer pointer, among others — Lee arranged the layout on the wall. The color gradient gradually shifts from a light orange at the north end to a deep burgundy at the south end.

"I like the wall being like a puzzle that people have to figure out and put together," Lee says.

Lee partnered with MATA for permission to use the wall, and work began in January. Though initially intended as a temporary work, Lee says representatives from MATA want it to be permanent. The symbols will now remain indefinitely.

"I didn't think people would react the way they did as quickly as they did," he says. "The first night, people were pulling over and taking pictures. Owners of the condos across the street were coming over and thanking me."

"Modern Hieroglyphs" is one of several public art projects being installed as part of "Interactions/Interruptions: 10 Years of Public Art in Memphis," an exhibition celebrating the UrbanArt Commission's 10th anniversary. Other events and exhibits will continue through May 26th.

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