Meet the artist behind Avondale’s newest mural [Photos]

Axel Row
Michael Vizzina, Design Director at FRED Communication by Design and the designer of Avondale’s newest mural. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Have you noticed the massive five-story mural on the side of Axel Row, the newest apartment community in Avondale? The bright blue & red mural was carefully designed to represent the history of Avondale—as well as what’s next for the neighborhood.

We met with Michael Vizzina, the local artist who designed the mural, to learn more about the project.

Avondale’s Newest Mural

Axel Row / Michael Vizzina
The mural on Axel Row, the newest apartment community in Avondale. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

As one of Birmingham’s liveliest neighborhoods, Avondale is home to numerous colorful murals. For instance, @movetk‘s “Know Your History” mural—located on the side of the Firehouse Community Arts Center—depicts four Birmingham icons: Fred Shuttlesworth, Sun Ra, Angela Davis and Spider Martin. Meanwhile, the “It’s Awesome to Have You in Avondale” mural welcomes visitors to the neighborhood with in a bright white & green fashion.

Now, Avondale is home to a brand-new, eye-catching mural. Located on the side of Axel Row, the newest apartment community in Avondale, this mural pays homage to Avondale’s past—if you know where to look!

Meet Michael Vizzina, Birmingham Designer

Axel Row
Michel Vizzina of FRED Communication by Design standing in front of his work on Axel Row. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

As a child, Michael Vizzina would often pick up album covers or magazine ads and re-illustrate their art until he had perfected the design. These days, Michael’s canvases are a bit bigger—think five-story walls rather than 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper—but his passion for art and design remains just as strong.

While constructing the Axel Row apartment community in Avondale, local real estate developer Dobbins Group reached out to FRED Communication by Design, where Michael works as the Design Director. Dobbins Group hired FRED Communication by Design to develop a brand identity for Axel Row—as well as a large art display somewhere on the property.

Axel Row
Looking up at the mural on Axel Row in Avondale. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

In order to settle on a design, Michael Vizzina worked alongside Bill Dobbins and Thornton Ratliff of Dobbins Group, Susan Barron of B-Group Architecture and Derick Belden of FRED Communication by Design. The team studied historical photos from the Birmingham Library and selected the most significant and interesting icons of Avondale’s past to include in the mural.

Once the team settled on a design, they worked with the talent at Mammoth Murals—led by Andrew Tynes—to transfer the composition onto Axel Row’s daunting brick wall surface. After two and a half weeks of painting, the mural was complete. All in all, the process—from initial concept to hand-painted finish—took five months.

Paying Homage to Avondale’s Past

Axel Row
Can you make out each of the elements of Avondale’s history that Michael Vizzina used in his mural? (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Here’s what Michael Vizzina has to say about the mural.

“At its foundation is a very abstract map of Avondale. The top portion of the mural hints at the more industrial area around the tracks of 1st and 2nd Avenue South, with a nod to the nearby Sloss Furnaces. Toward the bottom of the mural is the more residential side of Avondale around the Park. Some significant street names help identify the neighborhood. 

I juxtaposed the iconic references to create an angular push and pull of depth. Some speak to the history, while some are current—referencing Avondale’s breweries, food and entertainment. Avondale began as just a crossroads in the 1800’s. At the top left is a reference to one of the earliest Avondale attractions, the spring and its surrounding natural beauty.

The town grew along with the Avondale Mill in the 1900’s. We knew the Mill needed to have a prominent place in the mural. I studied different historical photos of the Mill and felt the smoke stack and tower were the most iconic portions of its architecture to include. The Mill Tower is the structure resembling a castle on the right, reading “Historic Avondale”. Behind the smoke stack is a sun burst thanks to Susan’s influence and providing references to the “Avondale Sun” newspaper. “Shines For Us” was the slogan which appeared on the newspaper’s masthead and made for a fitting addition to the mural’s message.

In between the spring and the mill is a reference to Avondale Park. The curved layers near the two house-like structures represents the park’s amphitheater. Nearby is the zoo’s elephant named Miss Fancy. She was a frequent and popular attraction at the park in the early 1900’s.

Just above the Axel Row logo is a reference to the historic Avondale Presbyterian Church. Saw’s BBQ makes an appearance with it’s vintage “To Go” sign and pig. Saturn gets a subtle hint on the far right near the glass of beer which represents the famous Avondale Brewing Company–a catalyst for the neighborhood’s re-emergence as a genuine destination for food, entertainment and activity.”

Axel Row
We’re thankful for beautiful murals like this in Birmingham. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Want to learn more about Michael Vizzina? Click here to visit his website and view his previous work.

What is your favorite part about this new mural in Avondale? Tag us @bhamnow to let us know!

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer at Bham Now

Articles: 755