Towering box sculpture to tear down walls between business, arts communities

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 11:45pm

The front yard of Myles M. Maillie’s Waverly-Belmont home is highlighted by the artist’s foam core creations. Photo courtesy of Dana Thomas

Within Nashville’s visual arts community, there are eccentrics, oddballs, under-the-radar geniuses, high-maintenance types, quiet craftspeople, budding stars, frustrated veterans, old pros, young hacks and a fair number of “normal people.”

And then there is Myles M. Maillie.

If you’re familiar with Maillie (pronounced MAY-lee) and his work — much of it using foam core — you know it’s distinctive, bold and, some would say, a bit avant-garde. Over the years, MMM has left his stamp on murals, city buses and T-shirts.

If you’re unfamiliar with Maillie, that might change soon, as the Nashville-based artist will participate in Arts Build Community, slated for the Sommet Center on Aug. 27. The event, spearheaded by the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville, likely will rank among the most unusual in the city’s hit-or-miss arts history.

Working with local author and “creativity expert” Whitney Ferré, Maillie will guide an expected 150 local business and community leaders, including Mayor Karl Dean, as they paint (some, we suspect, with modest skills at best) 180 boxes.

As the effort unfolds, the colorful boxes will be assembled to create a basic, yet massive, box sculpture about 18 feet high and 40 feet long. To document the undertaking, a photograph of the finished piece — likely to be disassembled shortly after its completion — will be taken and then displayed for one year on a large billboard inside the Sommet Center.

The hope is that the image will allow Nashvillians and visitors to admire the city’s creative organizations and communities, with the image’s creation the result of fusing the local business and arts communities in a worthwhile effort.

Yes, painting boxes and stacking them inside an arena may seem a bit odd. Whether it makes sense or not, Maillie is on board to inject the city’s business folk with some bohemian energy. For the affable artist — now in his fourth decade of creating — the formula for longevity is simple:

“The first thing is that I haven’t died,” quipped Maillie, who was born in Montreal, lived briefly in Cincinnati and has called Music City home for more years than his youthful — and often sartorially cool — personage suggests.

Establishing himself in the late 1970s with hand-painted T-shirts he sold at local crafts fairs and the long-defunct Italian Street Fair, Maillie skillfully, and perhaps unknowingly, balances a somewhat eccentric persona and appearance (his suits sometimes sport a blotch of paint and he has been known to occasionally jog in a trench coat) with an approachable communication style and a refreshingly modest ego.

“I’ve not thought of this art piece having any great impact on Nashville,” he said of the “box tower” that will soon rise in the Sommet Center.

But after thinking a minute or two, the quick-witted artist added, “Just the stacking of boxes, 18 feet in height by 40 feet long, is imposing. [It] will have a immediate effect — Nashville’s Berlin Wall.”

Or Pink Floyd’s The Wall, given Maillie’s bold shapes, sometimes jarring colors and distorted forms very loosely hint — if not in style then in approach — at the work of Gerald Scarfe (you’ll see some Red Grooms, too).

Maillie is the perfect choice to serve as the lead artist for Arts Build Community. After years of toil, he is well established as a Nashville treasure. His shows the past two years at Studio East (courtesy of owner John Guider and his studio partner, Stacey Irvin) have been widely praised for their attendance, sales and variety of Maillie art. The yard of his Waverly-Belmont home is filled with colorful Styrofoam forms.

“I cannot think of a better artist than Myles Maillie to take the lead with one of his wild and truly awesome projects,” said Connie Valentine, president and CEO of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville. “Myles’ art is vibrant, energetic and welcoming—it screams Nashville.”

Valentine said the idea for the event was born during a meeting she had with Brian Whitfield of the Sommet Group, which is serving as presenting sponsor of the event.

“Nashville has never done an event of this nature,” Valentine said. “Our goal is to unleash that creative spirit and spur on Nashville to greater heights through the use of the arts and the creative community.”

And just as there is no question that the work of Myles Maillie is beyond the comprehension of some, there is no doubt Valentine’s council sees the event as a catalyst of sorts. In short, Arts Build Community is not the typical “neighborhood-y” arts and crafts get-together, as high-profile individuals and groups are participating. T.J. Martell Foundation (Nashville Chapter) executive director and respected local artist Laura Heatherly is the event chair. In addition to the interactive art making, the night will also feature “colorful cocktails and creative hors d’oeuvres” by Levy Restaurants and a silent auction showcasing original works of Nashville artists. In short, the type people who can drive the city to become more arts industry savvy will get paint on themselves. Not a bad thing assuming they clean up well for their white-collar office work the next day.

Regardless of the result, Maillie is set for some good old-fashioned fun. And he views the temporary nature of the looming creation with a certain philosophical reality.

“If the [stacked box tower] looks good, I would like to see a [permanent] place for it,” he said. “But if it’s ugly, it will be good it’s taken down promptly.”