How did Project Atrium affect your career?
I think it was the ceiling for working in Jacksonville and being told I'm a local artist, or a Jacksonville artist. Each public piece I do becomes the only reason some people will know of me. That's normal. I think I was asked to be an Atrium Gallery artist because of everything I had done before that moment, but the people who never saw or paid attention to my paintings became aware of me overnight. In that sense, it was a very quick expansion of the awareness of my art and took me from being a few people's favorite obscure painter to the general public's popular choice. I won a voter's poll in Folio Weekly for best artist and best exhibition because of it. That brought me from the intimate circles of the Riverside arts community and into the everyday education of what's currently happening in this city. There have been introductions that were made during that time from which I am still receiving opportunities.
Project Atrium: One Spark featuring Shaun Thurston from MOCA Jacksonville on Vimeo.
What are some of the main projects you have worked on since Project Atrium?
Getting the outside of the Museum of Science and History was a longtime goal, and that was my biggest surface area and tallest building that I have painted.
I've traveled a lot and to West Coast a couple of times since that. Travel is always so inspiring. I want more and more privacy as I paint, so going after high profile projects isn't as interesting to me as painting my friends' new building or a private wall in an Ortega garden. High-profile work is necessary, challenging, and very rewarding, so I will have something in the works every year, but I love to get back to hidden places to paint for only the few who stumble along.
Many of your wall murals have become treasured landmarks in Jacksonville. You have a philosophy for how you approach these works, right?
During my life, building owners in Jacksonville, as I've mentioned in other interviews, were very closed-minded when it came to accepting art as the expression of an individual or a community that didn't contribute to the expected image of a Southern Baptist space that put business, consumerism, and Jesus first. Profit-driven decision makers told me local art was cute, but not important. I knew that the bridge between art, religion, and the South was built of natural imagery. Sadly, investing is linked to a quantifiable metric of return. It took many years and many people to get this city open to murals as a valid way to spend time and resources, so I was doing it for free, out of pocket, and spending way too much time on each project.
I wanted to remind the public that doesn't venture into a gallery or a museum regularly that art is a universal language, and like basic instructions or rich textural poetry, there is a place for all of it to be relevant. If my murals have become treasured it might be because they represent the desires that most of us have for living in a diverse, culturally stimulating environment that nurtures creative forms of expression. Art should be an act of giving, and it's hard to reconcile with such a self-motivated ego driven pursuit. I'm always trying to see the work through the eyes of the oldest and the youngest humans with the understanding that I have been and will be all of them at some point in my existence. So I aim to make something totally unique to each space, which can only be done by spending some time and effort understanding the street and community where the work will live. At the same time, historic imagery and the expected ideas of art accompanying a well-known local story will not be painted by me. It's too obvious.