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    Global muralist adds to Overton Square's gallery of public art

    Thomas Bailey Jr.

    Photo by Jim Weber

    September 9, 2013 - Scaffolding sits where artist Guillaume Alby aka. Remed recently finished a mural in Overton Square, one of several new murals to decorate Loeb properties in the area. (Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

    An international muralist has just added his color to Overton Square, which is fast becoming a Mecca of public art as part of a $40 million redevelopment project.

    Guillaume Alby, who calls himself Remed, on Friday evening stood high on a scaffold holding a cigarette in his left hand and a spray can in his right while free-handing a vibrant, stylized image on the side of the old Paulette’s restaurant building.

    “It’s about humankind,” the philosophical Frenchman said of the work.

    Alby, whose first name is pronounced Gee-um, is the same artist who in 2011 was commissioned by Loeb Properties to paint the “This Is Me, This Is You, This Is We” mural on a warehouse lining Broad Avenue in Memphis’ Binghamton neighborhood. Arts and night life attractions have also emerged near that mural.

    The latest was just an added assignment for the sought-after graffiti artist who swooped in from Morocco via a project in Chicago. The 34-year-old’s main mission here was to design what will be yet another monumental sculpture for the reviving Overton Square. Another artist will fabricate it.

    Loeb Properties is turning the old Midtown entertainment district into a gallery of public art, with restaurants, health studios and shops scattered in between. “We got a little carried away,” said Louis Loeb, a partner with his brother, Robert Loeb. “Our idea is to make it fun for a lifetime.” One project is being tweaked midstream because of an idea Louis Loeb got while on a recent trip to New York. “We’re still playing with the water feature of the courtyard area,” he said. “Water fall or water fountain or water sprayer. I saw something in New York that was interesting enough to cause us to rethink what we’ll be doing with that.”

    Overton Square in the 1970s became celebrated for city nightlife. But the Midtown landmark faded into the 2000s as music, dining and trendy clubs drew crowds to Beale Street, Cooper-Young, South Main, Downtown and East Memphis. Loeb Properties then stepped in, allocating $20 million to revive the empty buildings at Overton Square and bring in colorful art. The city of Memphis contributed $15 million for a parking garage and flood control. And other parties, particularly Hattiloo Theater, pitched in $5 million. The investment has spurred action in the old Midtown neighborhood, especially by Memphis artists.

    Two buildings away from where Alby worked last weekend, a mural designed by David Lynch and painted by Anthony Lee was begun. The image will span the rear, west side of Boscos tavern and continue to two other buildings.

    That’s just on the north side of Madison. On the south side, artist Mary Norman has begun Phase 2 of the mural she started on the Overton Square security office. Carol DeForest is creating art for the bottom of the chimes tower, itself a piece of monumental art being created by Anne J. Froning and Sean Murphy. A 14-foot-tall, 23-foot-wide arch sculpture has been commissioned to greet visitors who approach Overton Square from the new parking garage across Trimble.

    Lea Holland has restored two, 10-foot-tall mosaics by Thorne Edwards, and they will be installed in the plaza of the new parking garage.  Suzy Hendrix has finished making stained glass panels for upstairs in the old TGI Friday’s restaurant, soon to become a Babalu Tacos & Tapas. Lynch and Lee have completed their first mural for the district, a whimsical map of Overton Square on a side wall of Bari Ristorante.

    And work appears nearly finished for the concrete pedestal and plaza where Yvonne Bobo’s 25-foot-tall sculpture will be installed, at the corner of Madison and Cooper.  Alby’s style is figurative abstraction. His Overton Square mural has the feel of Southwest Native American imagery.  In the center are two profiles of faces looking in opposite directions, surrounded by legs, arms, wings, cryptic symbols and what suggests a wristwatch.  The phrase — “You are the universe” — tops it all.

    Alby works fast. He completed this large mural on Saturday after just 2.5 days, and moved on to the next city. But he took time to climb down to discuss the painting with a visitor.  “It can be of you, it can be me, it can be anyone,” he said of the image.

    “It can be a woman or man. There’s no sex. It’s just a being. And it’s all about finding balance. All my art and my life is about that. I talk a lot about duality and the acceptation of it. And the importance of the movement rather than something good or something bad, you know?

    “It’s me or you, meditating, sitting. Face on both sides. Neither in the past nor in the future. But here and now. So, basically, you have this being who is sitting.”