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SHINE up close: Meet the Open Call artists

Bill DeYoung



For all the attention being paid the crop of national and international artists in town for the 2018 SHINE Mural Festival, there’s so many reasons to talk about the newcomers – the local muralists getting their first shot at immortality, SHINE style.

On an otherwise nondescript (i.e. brown) rear wall of an industrial strip at 4139 7th Terrace South, five young St. Pete residents are applying brush to concrete. They are the “Open Call” artists, winners of a St. Petersburg Arts Alliance search for the finest “unknown” mural artists in the city. They’ve each been assigned a section of the wall, where they’ll be applying paint, and their hugely individual styles, every day – come and watch them at work – through Oct. 14.

Four of the five were hard at work in the Tuesday afternoon sun (the fifth, St. Pete graffiti artist Jake “Tasko” Jacquillard, happened to be AWOL on the wall when the Catalyst showed up).

Level of realism

California-born Michael Vahl is best known for his lifelike-but-eerie mural of Salvador Dali on Baum Avenue. Vahl’s specialty is portraits of well-known faces – everyone from Jim Morrison to Lil’ Wayne – with a textured, urban graffiti-art look.

He does it through a combination of spray painting and drybrush (using tiny amounts of oil paint on the tip of a brush).

His SHINE mural depicts a three-eyed Aztec goddess surrounded by Rorschach ink blots “I’m Mexican, so that’s where that came from, and I’m also fascinated by the human mind”).

Unlike some mural artists who create freehand, or use a “square/percentage” technique to block out the final work, Vahl projected his mural image on the wall and traced it before applying paint. “I’ve done some freehand ones,” he says, “but I feel that in terms of efficiency, projecting is the best way. That’s what I mainly go to.”

He painted the outline with brushes, along with the feathers in the goddess’ headpiece. Everything else is being done with spray paint.

One man’s realism is another man’s impressionism.

“I’ve always really wanted to paint faces, and I don’t necessarily feel like I’m at the level of realism that I want to be at,” he admits. “Spray paint’s a little harder for me, only because I’ve been doing it for three years now, and I don’t practice with it as much. I just try and capture as much detail as I can in portraiture. I’m trying to achieve a certain realism.”

Sarah Page

Space travel

Cold reality wasn’t on Sarah Page’s mind when she created the image for her mural, which depicts a (female) astronaut adrift in the universe. “What I was trying to do with this one was take people out of reality, and bring mystery and wonder to the city,” says the Georgia native.

“If you’re going to paint something on this scale, make it something that’s going to excite people and inspire people. I wanted it to be otherworldly. I wanted it to be something you didn’t see every day.”

Page, the marketing director at Quantum Leap Farms, an equine therapy business in Hillsborough County, has done two smaller murals, “but nothing on this scale.”

She also used the projection method to get marry the wall to her design, which has more than a little basis in Sarah Page’s own reality. “She’s floating through space and reaching towards the future,” Page explains. “I think we’re making great progress in the space industry right now. I’m a science nerd. I’d like to see more women involved in the sciences.”

Justin Wagher

Light and shadow

St. Pete native Justin Wagher is a graduate of Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, and according to the Arts Alliance, one of the youngest working artists in the city.

On the 7th Terrace wall, Wagher is creating a shadowy, grey and black cityscape of telephone poles and their spidery connecting wires. “Color,” he says, “confuses me.”

Primarily a canvas artist, Wagher has a solo show coming up in November at the Morean Arts Center, where he has an office job. “I tend to do murals when the opportunity’s right,” he explains. “When the funding’s there.”

His bosses at Morean gave him the week off to work on his SHINE project. “They’re really understanding when it comes to my responsibilities with art and stuff like that, so I’m super grateful to be in that position.”

He created his shadowy images by manipulating photographs on his laptop, then painting the final version on a piece of wood. That became his template for the wall image, which he’s painting freehand – no projection was utilized – using brushes and sprays.

“That’s what’s fun about the murals – everyone has such a different process and whatnot,” Wagher enthuses. “I have used projectors in the past, on other projects, but this is such an organic design that I can push and pull, and have it fit the wall perfectly. I can manipulate it a little bit as I go.”

Melanie Posner

Working large

SHINE is the fourth mural project for Melanie Posner, Philadelphia native and St. Petersburg resident. “I’m usually in my studio doing oil paintings; I just recently got into the mural world,” says the artist known for her photo-realistic paintings of women’s faces and hands.

“But I always, always loved to work large. When I was in school I was creating 6×8 foot paintings all the time, so getting into murals really started to make sense for me.”

Like Wahner, she creates her initial image digitally, manipulating photos until she arrives at the right blend of photo realism and blended colors. Her SHINE image was projected and traced on the wall.

Posner is painting with brushes only, using ordinary house paint.

“I don’t know if it’s me or the majority of artists,” she says, “but I never tell myself I can’t do it. I’m always trying to learn and grow, and just become better at what I do.”

A graduate of the University of Tampa’s Fine Arts program, Posner says she’s thrilled to live and work in St. Pete. “There’s so many talented people, so many creative people, in this one little vibrant city,” she gushes. “It’s awesome.”

Stay tuned for more on SHINE 2018







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  1. Avatar

    Steven kenny

    October 11, 2018at8:42 am

    Typo. Justin’s last name is spelled Wagher.

  2. Avatar

    Steven kenny

    October 11, 2018at8:43 am

    Wonderful article!

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