Second Saturday Art Walk
Sat., Sept. 12, 5-9 p.m.
Last Sunday, Ya La’Ford played chicken with a late-afternoon thunderstorm — the kind that arrives in St. Petersburg like clockwork during August — daring the weather to keep her from finishing an 85-foot mural she calls The Sunnel. Her hustle stemmed from the return, then imminent, of the Tampa Bay Rays to battle the Minnesota Twins on home turf Tuesday. The vivid blue Sunnel, which stretches along the underground tunnel where Rays fans stroll to games from Ferg’s Sports Bar, was ahead of schedule for the SHINE St. Petersburg Mural Festival, but just in time for the team’s homecoming.
For La’Ford, an artist somewhat more accustomed to working on canvas and inside art galleries, the public mural is also her most ambitious outdoor project to date. She took the location to heart, channeling her own distinctive geometric style into abstracted sunbeams — sliver rays on a blue field — that appear to emit from a rising sun at the tunnel’s entrance. La’Ford hopes the piece will offer a moment of inspiration on the way to the ballpark.
“There is a light at the end of this tunnel,” she says.
The organizers of SHINE plan for St. Petersburg, the golden child of Florida’s west coast, to shimmer just a bit more after 17 invited artists produce large-scale murals downtown during the run of the festival from Sept. 1 through 12. In addition to La’Ford’s Sunnel, another high-profile piece is already complete: Chad Mize’s community-based mural, which emblazoned the word “SHINE,” in multi-colored letters, on the exterior of The Amsterdam bar on Central Avenue at 11th Street earlier this month. Sponsored by Creative Pinellas, the project involved
a dozen twenty local youth enrolled in a multi-faceted arts program at Bloom Art Center, who painted alongside Mize.
Tes One, aka Leon Bedore, a well-known local artist whose work blends graphic design and street art, is at the creative helm as curator of the festival, but the collaborative team around him constitutes a who’s-who of St. Pete’s visual arts community. Along with John Collins, executive director of St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, the nonprofit fiscal sponsor of SHINE, and Wayne Atherholt, the City of St. Petersburg’s Director of Cultural Affairs, he’s been aided along the way by Diane Shelly, executive director of Florida CraftArt, which offers regular public tours of existing downtown murals, and more, including Mize of Bluelucy, marketing firm Shared Vision and The Art Supply Store — the latter supplying paint for SHINE artists.
“We’re working within our means with people who care about this,” says Tes One. “Local artists, art patrons, community members and members of the city who just have a shared interest: How cool would it be if we elevated mural art in the city?”
Tes One views SHINE as the evolution of an impulse begun in 2012 with the Morean Arts Center exhibition Leave a Message. For that show, he assembled about a dozen Florida-based artists whose aesthetics cross boundaries between graffiti culture, graphic design, painting, sculpture and other methods; a sequel exhibition opens at the Morean on Sept. 12. After the first exhibition, a spate of invited murals — including art by Tes One and his frequent collaborator Bask, Mize, Pale Horse (aka Chris Parks) and Sebastian Coolidge — cropped up along Central Avenue, and he figured he had a bit of momentum on his hands.
“The intention was, if we kick something like this off, we hope that it becomes a creative, contagious thing the city wants to see more of,” he says.
SHINE is what’s next, and Tes One hopes the festival will become an annual event. His lineup includes a stylistically diverse mix of artists, with many accustomed to working nationally and internationally as well as in the regions where they live: 123Klan (Montreal); Evoca1 (Miami); Hoxxoh (Miami); Carrie Jadus (St. Pete); Hitnes (Rome); Erik Jones (NY-based, but born in St. Petersburg); Morning Breath (NY); Pep Rally Inc. (Tampa artists Jay Giroux and Josh Pearson); Shark Toof (LA); Andrew Spear (Orlando); Michael Vasquez (Miami-based, but another St. Pete native); Vitale Brothers (St. Pete); Ricky Watts (Northern California). Despite his efforts to include more women, La’Ford is one of only two; the other, who goes by Klor, is half of husband-and-wife team 123Klan.
Greg Mike of Atlanta, who paused to talk last week before hopping on a plane to Switzerland to participate in the Vision Arts Festival, is typical of the more jet-setting SHINE artists and the creative economy that the festival ultimately aims to expand in St. Pete. Apart from painting five to ten murals a year in cities like Miami and Toronto, Mike runs a design studio and gallery space called ABV, doing business with corporate clients, releasing art and products — often featuring signature characters — and organizing Outerspace Project, a SHINE-like festival in Atlanta.
In the ‘Burg, Mike says, he’s planning a more abstract approach, but won’t know exactly what’s right until he arrives.
“I like to work on a few rough sketches, then get in the environment and be inspired by the city and the people,” Mike says.
An inspiring city and people? Something tells me St. Pete’s got that one covered.