Large-scale murals are ubiquitous now in Orlando, especially around the downtown core neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, an early adopter of this building beautification strategy is an art supply institution in central Florida, but the Sam Flax Wall Project is more than just a way to bedazzle the building or draw in customers. The artwork also creates a sense of community, commemorates momentous events and gets people talking.
“It can be provocative or soothing, and it makes us feel something,” said Jon KenKnight, general manager of Sam Flax Orlando. “We started thousands of years ago painting on the walls of caves. Those men and women were painting in charcoal and blood, telling their clan the story of the hunt or of travel or a sacred right. I imagine them by firelight painting and their community watching them. And that’s kind of what this is. We have our community surrounding these 11 artists watching them tell their story.”
The story of the Sam Flax Wall Project dates back to the mid-2000s. At that point, the store was still located at the corner of Colonial Drive and Shine Avenue. Andrew Spear and Charles Marklin created a scene that combined Orlando icons and art supplies, a mural that is still up.
When Sam Flax moved to its new space a few blocks away, Spear suggested bringing the mural aesthetic over as well. Instead of one mural though, multiple artists would be given a canvas on the side of the building to set their scenes. The first wall project took place in 2011, with follow ups in 2015, 2017, and in 2019 on Saturday, Feb. 9.
The 11 artists participating this year will have a day to bring their visions to life, barring any inclement weather. During the painting process, the public is invited to watch as the stories unfold with a street festival featuring food trucks, music, and more.
The emphasis on Feb. 9 is on the creation of the murals, but the impact for the artists and the community continues for long afterwards.
“Having work outside of one of Orlando’s main creative hubs is a good way to open the door to networking with other local creatives while also serving as an ambassador to what Orlando’s creative community has to offer,” said Chris McAlister. He created the mural “Cadavre Exquis” in 2017. “I also like to imagine just how many new artists are walking into that store for the first time seeing the exterior and getting inspired or finding work that they themselves hope to also do someday.”
“We get to become a part of the public’s daily commute and adventure throughout the city,” adds Justin “SKIP” Skipper, who will be working on his third mural at Sam Flax. “Good art that is presented and displayed in an open and public space affects the people who commute through that area in a positive way.”
Just go onto any social media channel, and you can find the positive reactions to the Sam Flax murals over the years. From fashion shoots to backdrops for impromptu music videos, the artwork continues to live on through interactions with visitors.
Although these murals adorn his store, KenKnight said there is no one reaction he hopes to get from the spectators during the event or after the murals are completed.
“I don’t hope that they take away this or that,” he said. “Hopefully they will take something away, and they’ll keep it to themselves until they can’t hold it anymore. And then maybe they’ll make their own cave drawing.”