Downtown Jacksonville is gradually being adorned with eye-catching murals.
The colors in the murals immediately grab the attention of any passersby casually walking down one of the busy streets. Bright reds, greens, blues — the murals have it. Not to mention the large intricate painting of animals typically included.
The artist responsible for a number of the murals is Shaun Thurston.
Now his murals will be adorning the atrium at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville. He was revealed last week as the mystery artist who will be working under wraps in MOCA’s atrium until One Spark begins on April 9. He will unveil his final work at a special event immediately following the festival’s opening ceremony at Hemming Plaza.
Thurston’s project seeks $24,000, half of which he plans to donate to MOCA for future Project Atrium artists.
It won’t be the Jacksonville artist’s first appearance at One Spark. Last year he entered as a creator, painting what he aimed to be 20 murals before the festival’s start. His participation with MOCA this year is an extension of his 2013 work.
Growing up, Thurston was always fascinated by art. As a child, he was surrounded by art history books and drew inspiration from everything he read.
“I was grounded a lot as a child,” Thurston said, with a chuckle. “Most times, the only things I would have when I was grounded were a piece of paper and a pencil. It just took off from there.”
As the years passed, Thurston found himself immersed in his art wherever he would turn. During his teenage years he used graffiti to develop his artistic skills, despite the fact that during those times graffiti was seen more as vandalism than anything else.
Thurston grew up lamenting the fact that most of the walls in Downtown Jacksonville were barren and void of expression.
“Public art is representative of expression and progression,” he said. “I want people to see my work and immediately have the word ‘beautiful’ come to mind.”
Thurston describes his art as pluralistic. It reflects nature and real life and is constantly evolving. He wants viewers of his art, whether they have an artistic background or not, to see the sensibility and realism of his work.
Most of Thurston’s murals include paintings of large animals such as tigers, owls and dogs. As an animal lover, Thurston tries to recreate the experience of spending time with animals through his work.
“Since the beginning of time people used animals as a means of artistic expression in caves,” Thurston said. “I want to recreate that kind of expression through my murals.”
A typical day for Thurston includes getting up early in the morning and taking his daughter to school and then picking up a morning coffee at Bold Bean. The rest of the day consists of painting walls Downtown for his One Spark project, which raised $4,000 last year.
“I don’t ever want to be comfortable,” Thurston said. “I like to take risks and work for what I get. I wouldn’t say I am completely comfortable now, but I am not hurting either. I am very fortunate to receive many calls and commissions.”
Additionally, Thurston has completed numerous public art murals in Jacksonville, and even more in Atlanta. One of his most recent Jacksonville murals is the mural outside of Chamblin’s Uptown bookstore and coffeehouse on Laura Street. Thurston also recently completed a mural for the First Coast No More Homeless Pets Thrift Store, in which dogs and cats are depicted as wind blows their ears back.
“I want to prepare this city for an art explosion,” he said. “That way, art is accessible to anyone.”