This Saturday, July 23, would have been Jimmy Breen’s 38th birthday.
Instead, there’ll be a different kind of party at the Vitale Brothers Studio – a Celebration of Life for the St. Pete painter, illustrator, muralist and nationally-known graphic designer, who died unexpectedly June 20.
Dana Tafelski, whose sister Julia married Breen in 2016, said her brother-in-law lived and breathed his art.
“He was always coming up with new ideas,” Tafelski recalled. “Even on his off time, when we’d just be spending time together, he’s always coming up with new things he wants to do. Or he would be telling us where he’s at with a project. Showing us all the steps he took, and so excited to share what he did. He had so much passion for it, and loved everything he did. He loved getting to do art every day, as a career.”
Breen, originally from Indiana, started designing and printing T-shirts for his favorite bands before he’d turned 20. A designing gig with the independent Florida record label Fueled By Ramen brought him to the attention of Warner Music Group, which hired him as a freelance artist to create merchandise for legacy artists like the Grateful Dead, and contemporary acts including Michael Buble, Bruno Mars and Green Day.
The company bumped him up to fulltime in 2017. By that time, Breen was already living in St. Petersburg, married to Pinellas Park’s Julia Tafelski (they met as students in the University of South Florida graphic design program), and creating both creative and commercial art in his adopted hometown.
I went out to L.A. once when I first got hired with Warner, but I didn’t want to leave St. Pete and I made that clear. I said “Look man, I’m in love with St. Pete, I don’t want to move to L.A. I don’t want to move to New York and I don’t want to move to Nashville.” In fact, I told them they should open an office in St. Pete!
Jimmy Breen/St. Pete Catalyst, Feb. 17, 2021
Dana Tafelski worked alongside Breen at Wax & Hive, the graphic design studio and storefront he opened on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd. Part of Jimmy’s charm, she said, was his palpable enthusiasm for the community, and for the art of others.
“I wouldn’t consider myself an artist,” she explained, “but even when I would do little doodles and stuff, he would be obsessed with them. He would think that they were great. He would always hype me up about it, and want me to do more, and use my creative energy towards whatever I was interested in.
“Any time anyone had a conversation with him, whether it was a client or a friend, family member or random person, he would really probe what your interests are, and what you care about. He wanted you to follow your dream. He wanted everyone to succeed and do the things they enjoy, because he had the chance to do it with his career.”
He was a key member of the St. Pete chapter of Creative Mornings, the positive-thinking breakfast club that meets over coffee to exchange ideas, and contributed to the 2019 SHINE Mural Festival.
Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. Celebration of Life, at 5013 20th Avenue South, is open to the public.
“We basically wanted to celebrate his life in a way that he would want,” Tafelski said. “To bring people together in the community and show his art – and get them creative, too.”
Along with a considerable exhibit of Jimmy’s art, curated by Julia inside the Vitales’ spacious gallery, Saturday’s event will spill into the courtyard – “Julia put together a playlist of music he loved” – with Breen-specific “creative activities.”
The underlying idea, explained Tafelski, is “doing things we feel would honor him. Putting on a celebration that I know he would want to be there for.”