By Lauren Wood
Armed with a palette of colors, a handful of rollers and the support of early 2000s Black Eyed Peas songs, Emily Ding begins her 10-day project for the seventh annual SHINE Mural Festival in downtown St. Petersburg.
She draws upon feelings of self-growth and rebirth to produce an image of a baby deer in a bed of flowers, inspired by the city and the Rob Graham Enterprises building itself.
“It’s like Bambi but extra, extra, extra large,” Ding said. “I heard a bunch of perspectives from people inside this building, Rob Graham Enterprises, and how they do their business through a lot of hardships.”
Her artwork, which explores the concepts of flora, fauna and human behavior, is illustrated in a gentle, painterly style. It is reminiscent of an animal folklore book she received from her father when she was younger.
“I usually like to convey human emotions by using animals. I like to focus on conflicting emotions, or tender emotions, or both,” Ding said.
Beyond her beginnings in Houston, Texas, Ding’s work stretches to places such as Bali, Indonesia, and Shanghai, China. As an American-born Chinese artist, this project was particularly special for Ding.
“It was really cool painting where I’m from. It was really close to where my dad’s from, and my aunt visited, and my grandma saw my tattoos and saw me as a muralist,” Ding said.
Ding has other murals displayed across the United States, such as in Nevada, Indiana, Texas, Florida, and Michigan, where she was a part of the Flint Public Art Project in 2019.
She has also completed some murals in Los Angeles, where another SHINE mural artist is based.
Aaron “Woes” Martin, born on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, has been creating graffiti art since the late 1990s. Though his first mural was completed in 2010, he has since worked with major international corporations like Disney, Kidrobot, New Era and even Fandango for the release of Kung Fu Panda 3.
Martin is most known for his linework and vicious panda bears, with fang-like teeth, vacant eyes and sharpened claws. They were the product of a friend’s mistake, leaving Martin to paint with only two colors: black and white.
“It was a mistake, actually. I was painting a grizzly bear, but my friend forgot to bring my paint, so I only had black and white, so I had to roll with black and white,” Martin said.
Since then, these paradoxical panda bears have been Martin’s staple, following him worldwide and repopulating places like Switzerland, Mongolia, Berlin and Japan.
“I kind of adopted the fact that pandas were on the extinct list … so I was like, forget it, I’m going to try and put pandas all over the place,” Martin said.
During his time at the SHINE Mural Festival, Martin estimated that he uses approximately 300 cans of spray paint for his warehouse mural. After finishing this year’s mural, he wishes to come back and complete more art for the city one day.
“You guys have a lot of cool murals, and no one disses them, you know? I love it,” Martin said.
Although the SHINE Mural Festival ended on Oct. 24, Ding’s and Martin’s work still lives at 100 Seventh St. S. and 2343 Emerson Ave. S, respectively.