A Tour of St. Petersburg’s Murals
By: Bob Andelman
As outdoor murals have multiplied across St. Petersburg, it seems everyone has a favorite.
Science fiction fan? Get a picture of you and your friends running from the city’s former landmark – an inverted pier – giving chase on spider legs and shooting deadly lasers at tourists. The “War of the Worlds” design – itself painted over an antique Coca-Cola sign – is by the Vitale Brothers. (Corner of Baum Avenue & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N)
Science fan without the fiction? Pose beside a Carrie Jadus portrait of Nikola Tesla, whose inventions often rivaled those of Thomas Edison himself. (2232 5th Avenue S)
Admirer of Mexican writer Frieda Kahlo? There’s a popular Jennifer Kosharek mural of her face in “Mural Alley,” located downtown behind the stores on the 600 North block of Central Avenue.
The owners of China Finders (2823 Central) hired artist Sarah Sheppard to combine images of the plates and cups found in their store with Johnny Depp and the 2010 movie “Alice in Wonderland.”
And Big John’s Brake and Alignment auto repair shop (1210 1st Avenue N) commissioned the Vitale Brothers to paint a caricature of Big John on its metal entry doors: “Service with a Smile.” It’s more overtly commercial than most, but it’s guaranteed to bring a smile.
Some people like to admire the dozens of St. Pete street art murals from afar, but most mural tourists can’t resist interacting. St. Petersburg is selfie heaven for amateur smartphone photographers.
The growth of the central business district murals dates back to 2010, when major redevelopment plans for the entire 600 block of Central collapsed. Instead, the block became an artists’ colony of sorts, packed with independent galleries, boutiques and restaurants brought on at deeply discounted rents. Behind the stores, in the alley, the murals started appearing, each one more colorful, clever and sometimes funnier than the last.
“All of sudden,” said Diane Shelly, former director of the Florida Craft Art Gallery, “that back alley was such a cool place.”
And in a city of great pop art museums, including The Dali and Chihuly, many refer to the St. Petersburg street art as the city’s outdoor museum.
Every great museum needs a docent, and the Florida Craft Art Gallery (501 Central) offers multi-block walking tours every Saturday morning for $10 per person.
“When I lead the tours, we turn the first corner, and the tourists will be facing one way, and I’ll say, “Turn around.’ And everybody just says, ‘Oh!’” Shelly said. “Everybody does the ‘I’m-being-eaten-by-a-shark!’ pose behind the State Theater. Any evening that you go in the alley, you’ll see people taking pictures, doing wedding shoots, engagement shoots, fashion shoots. It’s pretty amazing what’s happened.”
To see the broadest swath of the city’s outdoor art, you can also hoof it up and down Central Avenue North (about three miles), starting at the 500 block and continuing west to 28th Street. But be aware that not all murals are easy to spot from the street. In fact, part of the fun is spotting those tucked away in unlikely spaces and walls.
Michael Vahl, whose commercial murals include a portrait of Madonna (Lucky Star Lounge, 2760 Central) and a variation of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” featuring a slice of pizza (Fortunato’s, 654 Central), was first to paint the city’s patron saint of museums in the Baum Avenue alley behind Ashe Couture.
“I think we have to pay homage to Salvador Dali,” Vahl said. “It’s appropriate because of The Dali Museum being in St. Pete.”
Artist Chad Mize has painted five murals in St. Pete – including the iconic blue and yellow “Mr. Sun” in the 600 block’s back alley and another behind Green Bench Brewing Company (1133 Baum Avenue) that is reminiscent of the late Keith Haring – and also doubles as a tour guide. He warns us not to fall in love with any one mural.
“Murals are temporary,” Mize said. “A building could be sold and the new owners will change the look.”
Some murals do have longer lives than others. For example, a cosmic painting of Marvel Comics’ superhero Dr. Strange cast a spell on the side of a business wall for several months, but as quickly as it appeared it disappeared, without warning.
The popularity of the murals spawned the “Shine St. Petersburg Mural Festival” (ShineOnStPete.com) that now attracts both local and international mural artists, whose efforts are sponsored by local businesses and organizations.
“When you’re driving along Central Avenue and you see art everywhere, it’s obvious that you’re in an arts destination,” Shelly said.
Don't Miss Murals
Native American woman and horse by David Rothman, two stories tall, in the alley behind Bay Food Market, 631 4th Street N.
UB&B Express, by Man Made Murals, is a train bursting through the outdoor wall of Urban Brew and BBQ (1939 Central).
Multiple artists created side-by-side murals all around the two-story Bloom Art Center block (910 5thAvenue N), opposite St. Anthony’s Hospital. (Fenced parking is available on the west side of the building.)
“The Sunnel,” painted by Y.A. Laford, located under 1st Avenue S, is a pedestrian tunnel to Tropicana Field, the entry to which is located between Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill and Fusion City Apartment Homes (1560 Central).
“Evil Don’s Children,” is on the west side of Evil Don’s Tattoos (2063 Central). Two of the children depicted are Evil Don’s; two belong to mural painters the Vitale Brothers.
Doberman and girl, located on the east side of Furnish Me Vintage (1246 Central), is one of the biggest murals in the city, three stories tall and the width of a city block; considered controversial by some because the dog is muzzled.
“Acid Rain Dance” is a two-story design by Ricky Watts, behind The Sage office building (600 1st Avenue N). It required 500 cans of spray paint to complete.
The Meat House (3101 Central) is wrapped in a mural of cattle, pigs, chickens and fish all enjoying their natural environments… at least until they find their way inside.
Other mural artists whose big canvas work can be seen across St. Petersburg include: Eric Jones, Michael Vasquez, Hoxxoh, Andrew Spear, Morning Breath, Sebastian Coolidge, Daniel Ryan, 123 Klan, Pixel Pancho, Evoka One, BASK, Stephen Paladino, Greg Mike, Justin Wagher.
Anywhere you see one mural, walk around the block and you will likely see more; look up, look down alleys, look into nooks. They are everywhere.
See a mural you love? The newer ones, besides being signed by the artist, typically are tagged “@” with their Twitter and Instagram account names.
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Photos by Bill Serne for VISIT FLORIDA