ST. PETERSBURG — As the Shine Mural Festival brings color to more St. Petersburg walls, it also brings important messaging about concerns in Florida’s waterways.
Shine is coinciding this year with Tropical Storm Eta, which doused South Florida and is currently spinning around the Gulf of Mexico. Muralists are dashing between raindrops to get their walls painted by the time the festival concludes on Saturday.
St. Petersburg artist Elle LeBlanc, whose mural on plastic pollution will live on a massive wall at Brick Street Farms, was optimistic about getting it done with the help of friends.
“We’re just going to do as much as we can, while we can,” she said. “Once we get our groove and hopefully, over the next couple evenings the weather holds out and we can piece it all together and just paint away.”
The festival is in collaboration with the Pangeaseed Foundation, a Hawaii-based organization focused on the intersection of culture with environmentalism. Its international Sea Walls public art project commissions artists to paint ocean conservation-themed murals.
Sea Walls: St. Petersburg highlights the top 10 issues in local waters, including sea level rise, plastic pollution and algae blooms through 10 murals painted by a lineup of Florida artists.
Despite there being two Sea Walls murals in last year’s festival, which were funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, this is the first year that every mural has a message about conservation.
NOAA funded two more walls this year, including a community project with artist Chris Roberts, a.k.a. Brain Storm, and kids from the St. Pete Youth Farm that draws attention to local academic programs and STEAM careers in marine science. The mural is at Johns Hopkins All Children Hospital’s Research and Education building.
While there are less murals this year, 10 compared to the usual 20, it’s the first time the lineup has been all Florida artists.
Jenee Priebe, who organizes the festival, told the Times in August they chose Florida artists because of the impact the pandemic had on the artist community.
“We want to make sure we’re doing our part to create opportunities for local artists,” she said.
Mission accomplished. Artists Jabari Reed, Nneka Jones and Lili Yuan are painting their first large-scale murals.
Tampa artists Jones and Bianca Burrows are working together on a mural at Goodyear Rubber Products about overfishing entitled “The Global Currency.”
“We focused on the aspect of overfishing being driven by money,” said Jones, who practices activism with her artwork.
Painted in blues, greens and reds, the imagery includes a hand holding an empty net and a Mother Nature figure who is partially camouflaged to indicate that she’s fading away.
Jones said that while they were painting, a passerby commented that the mural looked like a dollar bill.
The final panel, Jones said, is meant to encourage viewers to reflect on what they can do or change to help resolve the problem.
Reed of St. Petersburg, who goes by the artist name iBoms, was familiar with the topic of algae blooms, but consulted with Pangeaseed to find out which sea creatures were directly impacted by it. He included the puffer fish, sheepshead fish and will incorporate a stingray, perhaps as a tattoo of his main character, Ashi.
In the mural at Grand Central Brewhouse, Ashi sits in a pool of red blooms that are actually dead fish heads. Reed said he was attracted to the word “blooms.”
“I liked the softer approach to a harmful topic,” he said.
He’s conceived as a sponge, his bloody nose releasing the toxic water.
When asked if he considered himself an activist, Reed said, “Not intentionally, but the nature of how I create always ends up promoting wellness for humans."
When Miami artist Brian Butler was assigned the topic of ocean acidification, defined by NOAA as referring to “a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere,” he said that a mantra of carbon punishment began to emerge.
Butler was thinking about what he could do to amplify the mural’s topic, which he takes very seriously. Under the moniker The Upper Hand Art, he’s designed album covers and concert posters, and said that music has been a central interest of his since he was a teenager.
Additionally inspired by Tampa Bay’s history as an epicenter of death metal, Butler tapped Miami musicians Ale Campos and Eric Hernandez to create a metal band called Carbon Punishment. They recorded two grindcore songs with lyrics about ocean acidification and death, giving the mural a score.
“Even though I don’t play an instrument, visual art is a way for me to participate in music,” he said. “I’ve grown up listening to heavy metal and it felt like the right vehicle for putting the message out.”
He connected with canned water company Liquid Death, who supported the musical aspect of the mural and also ended up as a sponsor for Shine, giving water to the muralists as they paint all week.
Butler’s imagery on one wall at Müv Dispensery includes the words “carbon punishment” written in a heavy metal font style. On another adjacent wall, he will recreate the pH acidity color spectrum with crustaceans and other sea creatures that get progressively crustier the higher they go on the acidic scale.
“I normally take a friendly aesthetic, but this one seemed like it should be more grim,” Butler said.
Together with the mural, Carbon Punishment is described as “an enviro-metal project determined to out-doom the planet’s foreboding future.”
Like all of the Shine murals, Butler’s will be embedded with information via the Pixelstix app, accessible through smart devices. His will include a link to the songs on a Bandcamp page.
Butler said the band’s abstract name means it could grown into something bigger. He also said he thought about the potential for people driving by to see the words “carbon punishment” and look it up on the internet, effectively spreading the message of the topic of ocean acidification.
“We have hit a tipping point where murals are tools for messaging,” he said.
If you go
The Shine Mural Festival, Sea Walls: St. Petersburg runs through Nov. 14. Find a map of the murals at stpeteartsalliance.org