A Brief History of the Hustle
Tyler Z. Key was born a beige, ambiguous product of an Egyptian father and a German mother. Despite unintentionally being the only member of his family sporting the coveted Southern drawl (being born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama), he was constantly reminded by his mother that, “you’re not from here.” This lead to an important identity crisis at a very young age, instilling a spirit of existentialism and duality in him reminiscent of many of his contemporaries in the visual art canon.
Fueled by the encouragement of his older brother, Tyler began drawing at the ripe age of six. Honing his skills over the next few years, he began his professional career at age 11 by trading drawings he had made of fictionalized cartoon characters with his classmates for snack money. Evolving from cartoons at the behest of his high school art teacher, Tyler delved into Realism, where his talent for bringing faces to life on the page emerged, enabling the teenage talent to profit from his graphite and charcoal portraits throughout his high school career.
Tyler moved on to attend the prestigious University of Alabama — with his mind set on entrepreneurship and business. During his final semester of Business school (rather, B-school, for those familiar with the parlance), Tyler made a well-calculated move to attend the College of Arts and Sciences at UA, earning Baccalaureate degrees in both Business and The Arts. It was during this period in Tuscaloosa when the young artist began to mature, expanding his range of mediums and exploring a passion for painting — shifting from the black and white world of charcoal into the whimsical, colorful land of oils, acrylics, inks, and digital media.
Next Stop: Nashville
As all great things come to an end...or, in this specific case, university graduation...Tyler Z. Key — now self-dubbed "TZKey" — moved to Nashville, Tennessee. It is in music city that he used his business savvy to find a creative niche in the music industry, providing live figure paintings for local and national music acts. Again tapping into that duality and bridging the gap between music and art, Tyler begins producing digital illustrations for album art, logos, show posters and band apparel. He created his first piece of chalk art in Nashville benefiting the Mama Here School for the Hearing Impaired during the annual Nashville Chalk Art festival. While always a fan of street art, a trip to the west coast and its meaningful, vibrant graffiti scene illuminated and invigorated him to begin a movement in Nashville. Seeing street art as way to communicate and reach the common man as well as the wealthy, to whom art is traditionally exclusive, Tyler began creating compelling street art using spray paint. A medium he has been intrinsically tied to ever since.
Realizing an opportunity, TZKey used his connection with the music industry and began curating themed “graffiti parties” at the famed Nashville music venue “The End”, showcasing incredible live street art on their courtyard walls to the soundtrack of an array of talented musical acts. At these gatherings he would bring together a community of muralists, musicians, fire-breathers, aerial acrobats, art enthusiasts and local vendors to create what one could only call a post-apocalyptic renaissance fair in the vein of P.T. Barnum. As the word spread of these parties, so did the attendance and excitement; and, before long became a staple institution of the Nashville arts and counter-culture scene, with everyone wanting to see what would be created next. Along with adoration from fans of his art, he began to receive attention from local businesses, concert promoters as well as other music venues. Now, his murals can been seen from the Rock Block in West Nashville to music venues in East Nashville and has even been featured on the major network television production Nashville. His art can been seen touring the national festival circuit via “the Greatfull for Cereal Bus” or at installations for festivals such as Bonnaroo, Hulaween and ACL.
Tyler's artistic style sets out to portray both sides of the brain… again, duality between creative expression and analytical logic, often depicting realism alongside free-form, psychedelic and abstract color-bursts. With a passion for finding allure in the overlooked and a yearning to improve and make beautiful his community, TZKey’s long-term vision is to realize a project he has conceptualized as “Aesthetic Vandalism”, a massive endeavor to enrich the mundane spaces throughout our world and bring attention to the drab concrete filled walls that surround us, opening our minds to a new way of thinking and feeling, creating a sense of mindfulness, wonder and happiness and a chance to slow down a bit and appreciate something in this fast-paced, me first society.
When Tyler is not working on commissioned murals, or creating live, black-light finger paintings at concerts, he spends his time making the world a more beautiful place for those with developmental and intellectual disabilities by practicing art therapy and opening the eyes of his students to a brighter, and more expressive future. Again, using art and analytics to illuminate the spaces and people that are most overlooked.