Leon Bedore knew it was just a matter of when for his and fellow artist Chris Parks’ iconic State Lines mural, one of the oldest on Central Avenue’s 600 Block.
The mural adorned the back wall of downtown St. Petersburg’s State Theatre for seven years.
But for Bedore, who did graffiti in the 1990s, that longevity is precarious because of the nature of public art. Whether legal or illegal, it can disappear at any time. That’s what happened to the State Lines mural last month.
Now the wall that once showcased a 50-by-30-foot piece with imagery of a human face, snake, eagle and rose in orange, teal and yellow is now covered with gray stucco.
“When you do work in the public area, it really is temporary,” Bedore, who goes by artist name Tes One, told CL. “It’s subject to different owners of the property, weather. Sometimes the building can get tore down.”
“If you’re not aware of that as an artist in the public space, then your work might be better suited behind glass and framed in a gallery,” he added. “I’m certainly grateful that it lasted as long as it did.”
His collaborator Palehorse, whose real name is Chris Parks, called the seven years “a pretty good run for a mural.”
Bedore and Parks said that back in 2012, the State Lines mural was the first prominent mural in downtown St. Petersburg. Especially on the 600 Block. It was a blend of the two artists’ distinct styles, Palehorse’s imprint on the left end and Tes One’s on the right.
“At the time we painted it, it was a mural for the sake of art, instead of advertisement,” Bedore said. “Chris and I wanted to make sure it was a representation of art, it was a representation of our styles and that meant a lot to us at the time.”
The 600 Block has since become a hot spot of murals along virtually all of the back walls of the block’s buildings.
There’s the shark mural by artist Shark Toof on the east wall of the theater, while the facades continuing east of the building are home to the Mr. Sun and Twiggy murals by Chad Mize and the memorial mural of artist Woo, among others.
Since the early 2010s, downtown St. Petersburg has experienced a well-documented renaissance of public art. With the work of local artists sparking initial interest in the city’s art scene, events like the annual SHINE Mural Festival are now bringing in artists from as far away as Germany and Jamaica.
Bedore was a co-founder of the festival and the festival director for its first three years.
Restoring State Theatre
Originally built in 1924, the State Theatre was falling into disrepair in the years before local real estate broker and St. Petersburg native Kevin Chadwick bought the former bank building for $2.1 million in June 2018; he’s since charged himself with restoring it to a theater. That meant covering up the State Lines mural in the process.
This past summer, after a period of heavy rain, Chadwick’s contractor came to him to say that the building’s entire back wall was soaked and letting water into the theater. Chadwick’s contractor also told him the building’s walls were built with a material called hollow tile (sometimes called structural clay tile), which, unlike concrete block, allows water to run between.
Chadwick’s contractor then tried to fix the leak where the parapet wall and roof join but that didn’t work. Instead, he had to take the more drastic and costly route: Re-apply galvanized wire mesh to all the building’s walls and re-plaster them, covering the back mural.
“It’s not like a paint job. There was quite a bit of money spent getting the theater to where it is watertight again,” Chadwick told CL. But he said when the wall is done “curing,” he’s looking to have that back wall re-christened with a mural.
“The first thing we’re doing is we’re going to go back to the original artists and give them the first chance, if they’re interested, in re-producing another mural,” Chadwick said.
Creating State Lines
Chris Parks remembered how the mural came to fruition.
“The State Theatre was interested in putting a sign on the back of the building so that bands that were loading in could differentiate it from buildings around it,” Parks said. “They had originally hit up the Vitale Brothers about painting a big State Theatre sign on the back.”
He said Johnny Vitale of the muralist team Vitale Bros. told him about the idea and the two of them went back to the theater’s owners with the suggestion that it would be more interesting to have a mural done instead. Instead the venue’s promoters, Parks said, could tell bands “it’s the building with the mural on it.”
He remembers it being a process to get it on the back of State Theatre.
“It took a period of over two years of back and forth conversations and meetings with the business, along with fundraising efforts to make this happen,” he said. “We stuck to our guns on having full creative control on the project in order for this wall to be focused on artistic expression and not merely a commercial advertisement for the business.”
Bedore said for him, the mural was part of a “street art showcase” at the Morean Arts Center. In late 2012, he co-curated the show called Leave a Message.
“The State Theatre mural was part of that initiative, where we wanted to have some artwork from inside the gallery to exist outside as well,” he said. With the show and the mural, Bedore said he and Parks had clear intentions.
“Truly we were hoping this would be contagious. That this would become something that sparked inspiration in the city,” he said. But he said after creating art, there’s a sense of release that he has no control over it, whether in the way it’s interpreted by viewers or, in the case of public art, what happens to it next.
“We were able to create this piece that existed and it represents a moment in time,” Bedore said. “When I’m done painting [a piece], that’s it. I’m already on to the next thing.”