Art can, and should, be found everywhere says Toney Little — a Paducah transplant originally hailing from Union City, Tennessee — and that's why the painter and a co-owner of Etcetera Coffeehouse has decided to move forward with a mural in the rear of the business and an exhibit celebrating the everyday beauty of the city.
Little moved to Paducah 12 years ago and began work at the coffeehouse a little over a decade ago.
"I'm definitely a product of the Lower Town arts movement," he said. "Had it not been for the Artist Relocation Program, Etcetera wouldn't exist and without Etcetera I probably wouldn't be living in Paducah full time."
To mark his decade and, at the same time, beautify the community, Little painted a mural on the fence in the rear lot of the coffeehouse's Sixth Street location earlier this week, building its imagery around a small stone pagoda statue that's been a fixture of the business's patio for years.
"I wanted something to fit as kind of a backdrop for it," Little said. "So I took that little concrete thing and I drew it out bigger to create a little Japanese village among some mountaintops."
He'll also be hiding Etectera-themed Easter eggs throughout the piece: "There'll be a little stone rooster in it as a tribute to Titan, who used to be our little shop mascot, and the houses are going to be painted on the side with our little bubble tea code that I'm going to make look like runes."
The 26-by-6 mural is part of Little's larger belief that there should be more art in public spaces around the city.
"I think a big part of showing people how creative our city is, just showing people art is available by just going outside. Fine art can be found in all sorts of places," he said. "For a town that prides itself on being artistic and having this fantastic scene, I think we have a lack of publicly accessible art like murals, sculptures and the restoration of ghost signs," which are the faded remnants of paintings on the side of buildings.
Through the course of his work, Little hopes to show the beauty of street art to people in Paducah, especially young artists.
"When people think of street art or graffiti, they think of one thing: vandalism. There's certainly an aspect of that in the culture, but there are fine artists that exclusively spray paint. It's a base for anything you want to do on a grand scale," Little said. "I want to show high school kids that are into art that they can do this. All it takes is learning how to draw on a really big scale with the right tools. It's not hard in the sense of how being an oil painter is hard."
This, he hopes, can be done by teaching workshops, like the spray paint one he led for West Kentucky Community and Technical College's Paducah School of Art & Design in March. Little hopes to pursue similar workshops in area schools.
The theme of architecture is a constant one in Little's spray paint and acrylic painting work, as he's done pieces depicting Paducah Bank, an eccentric-looking teepee and a smattering of other local landmarks.
"Geometry is one of the main features in my painting. I really like hard lines and a lot of contrasts between bright colors, blacks and whites and things like that," he explained. "Buildings are something that work very well with that style."
Little considers himself to be "almost entirely self-taught," but gives a lot of credit to his high school art teacher, Hilary Webb, who "stressed that (he) could make it in art school, but that (he) didn't need it to make it as an artist."
Stylistically, Little nods to the work of late local artist Jerry Watson, who passed away in 2014. Watson was a member of the Wastelanders collective that calls Paducah home and which Little himself joined earlier this spring.
"He was very much a straight, hard-line painter. His works are very geometric and they're bound by straight lines and neatness and even colors," Little said of Watson. "In those plain colors he manages to put a lot of detail, and that's what I strive to do with my work."
Several of Little's pieces, including some related to the wall, will be on display and for sale later this month when his "Food Mart" exhibition at Etcetera opens on June 29. The reception will be held at 7:30 p.m. The exhibit will end sometime in September.
To see more of Little's art, visit Etcetera Coffeehouse or check out his Instagram account, @noney_paints.