The windy, wet visitation by Tropical Storm Nestor and his extended family of droplets – the rain that wouldn’t leave – played havoc with the opening weekend of the SHINE Mural Festival, causing startup delays for a number of the large-scale artists. What’s the point of painting an outdoor wall if Florida’s famously erratic precipitation will wash it all away an hour later?
“If it continues to rain like this, we’re going to have a really big problem,” SHINE director Jenee Priebe admitted Monday morning. “Although we always kind of account for losing at least one whole day to rain throughout the course of the week. So while it was inconvenient, it was nice that it was at the beginning of the week. We’re hoping we’re just getting that out of the way, and the rest of the week will be nice.”
Typically, the sun came boldly charging through 20 minutes after she spoke those words.
From Kingston, Jamaica, Taj Francis, aka Taj Tenfold, actually made significant progress over the weekend. “The rain kind of got me,” he laughed from his hydraulic-lift platform Sunday afternoon, “but I’m a little used to the rain. Because the weather’s usually the same in Jamaica – it’s sunny, then rainy, especially in October.”
Most of Taj’s murals are in his home country; some are in Mexico. “I would say I have about three murals at most in the U.S.,” he said. The work he’s creating at 1720 Central (FRS Team by Rogers) is the face and hands of a woman, sporting dreadlocks, and holding onto something thin and pointy in her right hand. There are dark blue ocean waves, too.
The artist is known for Caribbean imagery and colors – he admitted, however, that this image will change over the course of SHINE week. Most of the bright yellow lines visible Sunday will disappear.
“Don’t get too tied up in anything you see right now, I’ll say that,” he explained. “A lot of this is just guides – that’s ‘cause yellow is the easiest to paint over. That’s really the only reason.”
St. Pete artist Leo Gomez got an early start on his 135-by-20 foot giganto-wall, at 1955 3rd Avenue S (the Ice House of St. Petersburg), putting down the blue base coat before the rain first arrived on Friday. Gomez, who describes himself as “a lettering artist specializing in typography work,” had projected and traced the lettering by mid-afternoon Sunday. His message: SUNSHINE ON MY MIND.
“A lot of my work is either St. Pete-based, or something that shares positivity,” Gomez explained. “In this case, I wanted to merge the two. I wanted to do something that anyone in the community can relate to, but also has a bit of a positive punch to it. So to me, ‘Sunshine on my mind’ is waking up every morning and making the choice for good energy, good energy, good energy, moving forward towards the day.
“And this is the Sunshine City, right? So it’s allowing this to take the city into what we do on a daily basis, and go on with our days.”
Hamburg-born and Berlin-based siblings Florin and Chris Schmidt are painting a massive wall, the north side of Nova 535 (535 Dr. Martin Luther King N). Because their work was intermittently interrupted by weekend downpours, by mid-afternoon Sunday they were still spray- and hand-painting a series of enormous green borders.
They will form the borders, Florin said, of a staggered set of frames.
“Lately,” he said, “we have more focus on the digital age. We bring in and reflect on that. So in our recent work there appear a lot of elements you find in your digital screens, like open browser windows. You can already see that the sections are open browser windows. A lot will happen inside.”
The idea, according to both brothers, is that although our lives evolve around the internet and all things digital, there are pitfalls. Animals are signature characters for the Schmidts; they intend to depict a wolf (representing the organic side of life) somewhere in the finished work.
“We always like the area of conflict in between, because we are kids from the ‘80s,” Florin said. “We grew up all analogue, and grew all into these new technologies. So we have a certain nostalgia for the old times, but also totally appreciate all the benefits of the digital world.”
The obliteration of their 2015 SHINE mural, by a newly-constructed building, didn’t phase the mural-making twosome Morning Breath, a.k.a. Doug Cunningham and Jason Noto.
“It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes, you know?” Cunningham shrugged.
“We always say that we’re the beginning stages of gentrification,” laughed Noto.
The Brooklyn street artists’ SHINE ’19 assignment is the north wall of 250 MLK North – the venerable Coney Island Sandwich Shop.
Their murals are a combination of bizarre, alluring images, mashed up with advertising slogans, and sayings, and cool things they just made up. They are ardent fans, they explain, of American typography, from the 1940s through the ‘70s.
Sunday afternoon, a (not-yet-painted) slogan at mid-wall read HOW TO CRACK THE STRANGE.
It’s all about the power of words, explained Noto. “I’s our own juxtaposition of a play on words that are meant to be something – but by twisting one little word you can change it to something else. We have a lot of fun with that. And then we have a little dialogue going on throughout the wall that’s abstract but has a little message.
“It’s something that gives you a feeling when you see it.”
Cunningham put down his brush – he was painting the teeth on what appeared to be the giant face of a smiling child – and chimed in. “It’s almost as if we change just one word in a sentence, it makes it strange … we try to create curiosities. A lot of our imagery is from vintage advertising, along with strange ads that were always kind of gags or novelties. Like X-Ray Specs or many other weird things. Get Rich Quick schemes, or ‘Spray this Powder and Make Money.’’’
Their work is at once idiosyncratic and oddly familiar.
“A lot of times people ask us ‘Who are the artists that influenced you?’” Cunningham said. “And it’s kind of a strange question because for us, we don’t know their names! It’s whoever these guys were that drew these little one inch by one inch advertisements that were printed in the back of comic books or these other cheap pulp magazines.”
Added Noto: “I like to think of some old shady dude in Hackensack, New Jersey who’s ripping kids off.”
The SHINE Mural Festival continues through Oct. 26. Click here for a map of the artists’ whereabouts.
Here are several fantastic works-in-progress photos taken over the weekend by Edel Mohr, the official SHINE photographer. Thanks, Edel, for permission to use them!