Memphis-Style Graphic Design Pops Up In The Streets

Paint has been (re)discovered as an accessible and powerful tool for enriching and activating urban spaces with color. Over the past few years, many cities have seen its public spaces transform in colorful ways. Recently these interventions have been starting to look quite familiar, recalling the decade everyone loves to hate: the 1980s.

Back in 2012, Pop-Up City stated how paint was proving to be a great way to spice up boring, ugly and unsafe cities. This movement, ranging from large-scale street art to complete colorful neighborhoods, is becoming more diverse as ever, as it is intersecting with other fields of creativity. Cities are increasingly being seen as a ‘canvas’ by a larger group of people, from urbanists and placemakers to artists and designers. And this influence is starting to show in the streets.

Artistic duo Craig & Karl turned a derelict gas station in London into a Memphis-inspired color explosion

A trend that has been sweeping across the field of graphic design, interior and fashion over the last year or two is something that is called Memphis. You might not know the name, but think of the 1980s, MTV and Saved by the Bell, and you pretty much got the picture. The revival of this design movement has been pretty influential, and polarizing, in basically all fields of design. It supposedly starting the Millennial Pink hype, it was exhibited at the Met in New York this summer and Instagram cannot escape it. Memphis was started by a group of architects in Milan during the 1980s as a striking departure from the understated modernist design that had ruled for decades. It combined overtly geometric shapes and patterns from a variety of materials in bright, contrasting colors.

Road crossing designed by Camille Walala

‘Building block castle’ by Camille Walala for the London Design Festival 2017

A new generation of designers is now inspired by the cult 80’s movement and it is starting to show in the streets. One of them, Camille Walala, is originally a graphic designer based in London. She has been inserting a dose of Memphis into the streets of London, like this year’s landmark piece of the London Design Festival or a pedestrian crossing in South London.

Pop Walala in Cleveland, Ohio

The Memphis-trend in public space is not limited to the British capital, and has been popping up at the most random of locations. Walala, for instance, recently gave a colorful makeover to a former bank building in Cleveland, Ohio.

Memphis-style restaurant facade in Moscow

Or in Moscow, where the exterior of this restaurant got a Memphis make-over. Not quite as colorful, still very true to the original geometric style.

Basketball court in Aalst, Belgium

In Aalst, Belgium, a basketbal court has been transformed in the playful style of Memphis to create a lively public space located between a school and refugee center. The artist, Katrien Vanderlinden, says how the colors are an ode to the Memphis style, to the 1980s, when basketball and hip hop were booming.

Have you been spotting a hint on the 1980s in the streets of your city? And by the way, Memphis has nothing to do with the city of Memphis, Tennessee. The founders were listening to Bob Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again — thus the name. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.