Table Art at Taps & Tapas
By Jim Hornsby
The Belcourt Taps & Tapas in Hillsboro Village is a great little bar; the food, drinks and live music there make it a top-of-the-line destination. But the thing that really grabs me is that it is a work of art – literally – all painted by Nashville artist Starr Messick.
You notice the tables right away. Each is an autographed portrait of music luminaries like Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Billy Dean, Manuel, David Z, and Kris Kristofferson. But then you notice that what first appear to be ordinary signs, posters, rugs and even drink coasters are all trompe l’oeil paintings. From the “welcome” mat on the front steps through the interior of the bar, the tables, walls, doors, columns, floors, and the bar itself have been painted by Starr. Taps & Tapas is the fifth bar she has painted. The first four are in New York City.
In Starr’s Words
“I’m from a family of artists,” Starr says, “and I’ve been an artist all my life. I worked as an artist when I was in college at MTSU, and I operated a shop in Elliston Place for several years after I graduated, lettering signs and painting props for window displays. Lettering is intricate work, but I love it, and I tend to incorporate it in all my art.
“After that, I lived in New York City for nine years working as a freelance artist for Spaeth Design. There was a lot of creative energy there; I worked with some fantastic artists and learned a variety of new techniques. Spaeth Design is most noted for doing Christmas windows in the big Manhattan department stores, and I am very proud that I was one of the artists chosen to paint the Christmas windows for Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
“But as a freelance artist, I did projects all around New York. I remember one at the warehouse where Andy Warhol had his “Factory.” The people who bought the building were refinishing it inside, and wanted to keep some large lettering that Andy had painted on the wall. It was one of his famous quotes: ‘I never wanted to be a painter, I wanted to be a tap dancer.’ The lettering had gotten some overspray from the refinishing work going on there, so they hired me to restore it. It was so cool to see his pencil marks. I straightened some of his shaky lines (laughs). It was while I was freelancing in New York that I began painting bars. I did four there altogether.
“After I moved back to Nashville, Rose Melillo told me she was opening Taps & Tapas and invited me to paint it. The work took about two and a half months, and it’s still an ongoing process. I recently did Crystal Gayle’s portrait, and she came in to autograph it. I’ve done Robert Plant’s portrait too, and I want him to autograph it, but I’m having some trouble getting him to come in – come on now, Robert! The Merle Haggard table is my favorite; it was delivered to him for his autograph and then returned here to the bar.
“Whenever I do an expansive interior, like here at Taps & Tapas, I first try to see the whole vision and develop a theme; after that, I create as I go, but I stay with the same flow of style and color scheme. I try not to think about it too much; if I complicate it, it won’t flow properly. I just do it!
“I would call the theme at Taps & Tapas ‘funky’ – things don’t really match, but because they are all funky, they do. The image inspirations come from all over; the monkey in the bathroom vestibule is from my New York work, and the vestibule and bathrooms themselves are from my memories of the hotel where I stayed on my last trip to Paris. Having the portraits of musicians on the tables was Rose’s idea. She is in the music business, and musicians stop in all the time. Everything blends together well. It’s been a fun project, and I’ll be updating it from time to time.
“Overall, I think my greatest inspiration is nature. I was raised on a small farm outside Shelbyville, Tennessee, and the colors of grass, trees and rustic buildings have stuck with me. But I also have the New York urban experience to draw from, so like a chameleon, I change to fit the need.”
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Photos by Starr Messick and Jim Hornsby
Starr Messick lives and works in Nashville where she does commissioned artwork in the form of portraits, murals, and faux finishes. You can contact Starr at 615-386-1187 or email@example.com.