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Zulu Painter’s art rolls through the county on PSTA bus

Bill DeYoung

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(Photo: PTSA)

The artwork covering one particular Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus during this Black History month depicts Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a collection of upturned faces and inspirational words like “community,” “trust” and “education.”

It is the work of Zulu Painter, whose distinctive murals are found in outdoor spaces all over the city. This one, in fact, originated in 2018, on the side of a barbeque restaurant on South 16th Street.

Within a year, Painter says, that building was razed, mural and all. He paraphrases the old Joni Mitchell song, later covered by Counting Crows and others: “They took down a wall … and put up a parking lot.”

Zulu Painter

The dreamlike mural, in shades of black, purple and dreamlike midnight blue, lived on, in a manner of speaking.

“I try to keep my murals documented as best as I can on my website,” Painter says. “So I offered them a selection, and that’s what they chose.”

PSTA had reached out to Painter specifically. “I had no idea they were doing anything like that. The only other artist I knew that was doing bus wraps was Chad Mize.”

Painter, who keeps a studio inside the Arts Xchange (in the Warehouse Arts District), has been an integral part of the St. Pete arts community since he arrived from West Virginia in 2005.

“It was so random,” he explains. “A good friend won a trip here, a free stay at the Sirata Hotel on St. Pete Beach, and invited me to come along. And I’ve been here ever since.”

The presence of the Dali Museum was a factor – Dali had always been a major influence on the young artist. “To find out that the Dali Museum was here was mind-blowing,” he says.

The original mural

He got caught up in the burgeoning society of local muralists, whose de facto leader, the late Bill Woo, presided over semi-regular gatherings at the Sake Bomb bar on Central. “Bill Woo was the glue, the unifier,” says Painter. “Woo connected so many artists downtown.”

And connection is a central theme in Painter’s work, especially his murals – which usually feature some combination of human faces with abstract or graphic-style images.

“It’s always been about connecting,” he explains. “In elementary school, it was about connecting. We had folder contests; we’d have all our work in our individual folders, and at the end of the week, after we’d decorated them, drawn on them, put stickers on them, the class would vote on the best folder.

“And that was where I first got a response from people that weren’t family. I didn’t even know the power of art.”

Painter’s MLK mural (it’s not painted directly on the bus, it’s literally wrapped) will be rolling all over the county for weeks, even months, after Black History Month 2021 has officially ended. “It’s huge, it’s huge,” enthuses the artist. “It’s humbling and it’s part of a dream, where I wanted to grow art.

“Working with fellow artists James Oleson, Sebastian Coolidge, Derek Donnelly, from our days at Sake Bomb at art meet-ups, the idea was always just to grow art everywhere. And this opportunity was just a godsend.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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