Birdcap's Memphis Snakes & Ladders
This 40th anniversary year, Memphis magazine is asking local artists to draw interpretations of the landscape of Memphis. January’s artist is Michael Roy, a.k.a. Birdcap, whose distinctively styled murals readers have probably seen at WiseAcre Brewery, at Phuong Long Vietnamese restaurant in Crosstown, on Main Street in Downtown Memphis, and Cooper Street in Midtown.
Birdcap’s map of Memphis follows the classic board game, Snakes and Ladders, and is modified to include some recognizable hometown haunts: P&H Café, Overton Park, and Payne’s BBQ. We talked to the prolific street artist about how he got to Memphis, started painting, and came up with this map.
How to Play:
- Use pennies as game pieces, and play the way “Snakes and Ladders” (also known as “Chutes and Ladders”) would normally be played.
- Start at the beginning. Roll dice to see how many squares you can move forward.
- If you land on a square with a snake, you drop down on the board. If you land on one with a ladder, you get to climb up on the board.
- Whoever gets to the end of the board first is the winner.
A Q&A with Birdcap
MM: Hi there, Michael. What are you up to today?
Michael Roy: Trying to wake up! I’m at Otherlands drinking coffee, watching Dusty Rhodes wrestling promos on YouTube and waiting on my ride to the studio. I’m doing a project with [the painter] Tad Lauritzen Wright this week. He’s been taking a collection of elementary student drawings and turning them into 12-foot high cardboard sculptures. I’m painting the facades onto them, fleshing out the students’ original designs.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you end up painting walls in Memphis?
I was born in a small town. I went to college in Memphis. I freaked out and moved to Korea immediately afterwards. I lived in Asia for about five years painting murals and doing illustrations for a couple of magazines based out of Seoul. I’ve been back in the states for about two years now living the life of a transient. I’ve painted in a lot of cities over that time, but Memphis makes a lot of sense to be in. Those college friends I made before moving all have couches now and a surprising amount of patience.
So, tell me, how do I win a game of Memphis-style “Snakes and Ladders”?
Fingernail polish up some pennies as game pieces and it can be played the way “Snakes and Ladders” would normally be played. Start at the beginning (top left). Roll the dice to see how many squares you can move forward. If you land on a square with a snake, you drop down on the board. If you land on one with a ladder, you get to climb up on the board. Whoever gets to the end of the board first is the winner.
You’re a public artist in Memphis at a time when the city is really embracing public art. If you could see anything happen here, in terms of art, what would it be?
I’d like to see it continue with the momentum it has right now! Fingers crossed. I hope more opportunities for artists keep opening up. I think the impulse a lot of public artists and public art patrons here have when working on a new project is to make a work that talks about the main staples of traditional Memphis tourism. I think both artists and job creators need to have more faith in the variety that the Memphis public will embrace. If you paint a mural that only references things in such a way that it becomes a pamphlet for a bus tour of Memphis, you severely limit the potential of the piece. When you visit New York, for instance, you don’t see murals of the Statue of Liberty. Artists there dictate their content much more, and it helps make their public art a cultural export. I want there to be an energy in the public art of Memphis that makes others want to be here.
Self referencing isn’t a bad thing and it definitely has its place (note the Memphis map I just drew), but it isn’t always the best way to connect with others (i.e. non-Memphians) and it won’t entice new creatives and entrepreneurs to become Memphis transplants. I want more working artists here. Cross-pollination is a good thing for an art community and for a city in general. I think that public art has a tremendous effect on how the city is taken in and understood at an almost subconscious level. Diversity in content and aesthetic here in Memphis is important if we want to grow culturally. I want cities like Detroit and Miami talking about us. I want Paris talking about us. We just have to give them more work that allows that entry point, and that doesn’t come from painting Elvis eating pulled pork sandwiches on top of a Grizzlies logo. In general though, I really think Memphis is trending in a good direction. I look forward to next year and whatever Crosstown has looming on the horizon.
Gallery: Mural projects around town by Birdcap
Birdcap, "Blue Flu"
Birdcap, "Growing Pains"