St. Pete welcomes boom in urban murals
ST PETERSBURG -
A lanky boy squeezes an orange at the corner of First Avenue North and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Donning the garb of an old-timey newsboy, he’s part of a growing trend – though he’s only two-dimensional.
A familiar sight to anyone who routinely travels west on one-way First Avenue North, the boy and the orange are a subtle advertisement for the men’s clothing shop whose external wall they adorn.
The image is one of number of colorful works of art appearing in urban St. Petersburg. More than 15 such creations have gone up in recent years.
There’s no single reason for the increasing prevalence of murals, local artists and their supporters say. They’re the result of a confluence of factors: a growing number of artists capable of creating murals; building owners willing to give over their walls; an arts community that recognizes the form’s legitimacy; and a city that supports urban art when it’s created legally.
“I think what’s happened in St. Pete is really amazing,” said artist Leon “Tes-One” Bedore, who co-curated an exhibit featuring the work of muralists at the Morean Arts Center. “It makes the city kind of come alive.”
The Morean, a hub for St. Petersburg’s burgeoning arts scene, has a mural of its own. It features cartoonish insect-like figures amid a vibrant assortment of color, on the back external wall of its glass-blowing shop.
“I think it’s definitely a legitimate art form,” said Wayne Atherholt, interim director of the center. “The late 1990s was probably when we first started seeing it in museums.”
Aside from a now-fading baseball mural on a wall in the Grand Central District, a seascape on a water tower at Crescent Lake, and a yellow submarine – now painted over – facing First Avenue South on the way into downtown, the city had few murals until the recent movement that also offers some consistency in style and tone of the works.
“Over the past five or six years there has been a big shift in terms of the quality and the quantity of murals around town,” said Pat Jennings, owner of The Art Supply Store on Central Avenue. “A really wide range of artists … from people who are acknowledged artists with global reputations to youngsters who are just starting out and doing their first murals.”
Jennings said until recently, urban murals – typically done with spray-paint – often were considered vandalism and frequently were painted illegally.
“When we first started selling aerosol paint six years ago, we would have visits from the gang squad,” he said.
The city’s only restrictions on the form are that it shouldn’t ostensibly advertise a product, contain profanity or be done without permission of a building’s owner. On the whole, St. Petersburg leaders see a cityscape infused with creative designs and color as a way to perpetuate the city’s image as an arts destination.
“Murals contribute to and just elevate the aesthetic of an area,” said Elizabeth Brincklow, the city’s Arts and International Affairs manager. “It’s just been proven that when you lift up an area with a mural that it’s a deterrent to someone coming along and tagging it.”
Some places, such as the Grand Central District warehouse of spray-paint manufacturer Art Is Sin, allow budding urban artists to practice on their walls.
The 600 block of Central Avenue, a hub for local and visiting artists, lends much of its back external wall – visible from First Avenue North – to muralists looking to refine their craft. One of the murals is a vibrant tribute to St. Petersburg artist Bill “Woo” Correira, who died last year.
“We had all this space here, so it seemed natural,” said “Rasta” Geary Taylor, a muralist who owns a shop along the stretch, adding the artists have received encouragement from city officials. “The city has been awesome,” he said.
Taylor said those who paint murals, whether with spray-paint or by brush, do so for various reasons. Some are paid for their work; others aren’t.
“Sometimes what happens is the artist has to fund their own mural. So sometimes you run out of money, or you run out of paint, and you aren’t able to complete it all the way,” he said. “That’s the only thing I think we’re struggling with right now.”
Sebastian Coolidge, 24, makes his living painting private and public murals.
“Doing public murals is cool because everyone gets to see your art,” he said. “No one can have it, but everyone has it. There are not a lot of things where you can do that – where you can give it to everybody and nobody. For free.”