Walk down Main Street and you’ll feel it: Downtown Melbourne buzzes with an artistic atmosphere.
The eclectic shops, exotic restaurants and luxuriant spas are united by one factor: the vibrant murals decorating their walls, painted by local artists. With stories as rich as their colors, these murals make Downtown Melbourne feel like “home” for native Floridians.
Ad Astra Aspirations
Chris Maslow balanced several responsibilities in the mural project: as curator, he chose each of the artists for each property’s mural; as an artist himself, he painted three murals. One is The Goliath Grouper and the Blue Crab on The Seafood Station, a work which helped Maslow through the loss of his beloved dog. Another is the explosion of flowers on Millefiori. And the third gave life to the mural project for years to come.
When the Downtown Melbourne mural project started in 2015, funds were scarce. Then, under Maslow’s curation and the leadership of project facilitator Jarin Eisenberg, the mural project gained the support of Florida Institute of Technology. As a gift, FIT commissioned a mural that Maslow himself painted, the famed panther mural. “The panther is the mascot, or the icon, of Florida Institute of Technology, and the panther is traveling through land, sea, air, and space in pursuit of the stars,” Maslow said, referring to FIT’s motto, “Ad astra per scientam,” Latin for “To the stars through science.”
Thanks to the support of the world-renowned university, Maslow and Eisenberg attained a state grant to keep the project going for a second wave of murals.
“It was the first time the organization has ever received that grant,” Eisenberg said. “Chris and I worked really hard to match that grant dollar for dollar, and that is how the remaining murals got completed.”
Artist Kimber Grobman was no stranger to large-scale painting, having painted murals in Trader Joe’s in California and, closer to home, on the walls of Crush XI. Still, at 53-feet-wide and roughly eight-feet-tall, her hibiscus mural on the side of the Melbourne Regional Chamber building was among the largest murals she had ever done. “I did have to stand on a little step stool on the scaffolding to reach everything, which was frightening because I’m afraid of heights, but I – well, I did it,” Grobman laughed.
The hibiscus flowers are a tribute to Florida’s tropical beauty, but that same tropical weather presented a challenge to Grobman. “It was raining one day, and everything I put on, all the rain pulled all the paint off. One day was just a disaster. But I managed to recover pretty well,” Grobman recalled, adding that despite the rain she completed the mural in less than a week – her record time.
Next time you walk by the Regional Chamber building, take a closer look: Grobman has hidden her name in one of the flowers’ leaves. “I like to try to hide something in everything I do if I can without taking away from what they’re trying to do,” Grobman said. “I like doing something that’s a little different. I like to be different.”
Backwater Blue Jays
The hibiscus flowers are a tribute to Florida’s tropical beauty, but that same tropical weather presented a challenge to Grobman.
If you didn’t take a group photo in front of the blue jay mural, did your brunch at Backwater really happen? Tattoo artist Mark Gilliam painted the iconic mural, but it didn’t start out as a wall-sized painting. Early in 2015, Gilliam drew the image on paper and then colored it “out of the pure want to experiment.” It was a quick, just-for-fun drawing: he spent around nine hours total on it over the course of two days, then put it to the side.
When the Melbourne Main Street mural project started up, he submitted the drawing along with several other works of art. The Florida-centric blue jays and oranges caught the eye of the owners of old-Florida-style restaurant Backwater. “In retrospect,” Gilliam said, “I think it was the most fitting business for the art and vice versa.” Soon, Gilliam’s sketch turned into the first mural in Downtown Melbourne.
In contrast to the quick two days Gilliam spent on the original drawing, the mural took him three weeks to complete. “I did it in between my full-time job of tattooing,” Gilliam explained. “I also chose to work a little slower on the project so I could render the imagery as close as possible to the original artwork.”
In total, 12 murals adorn the walls of businesses throughout Melbourne Main Street. If you walk the street to find each one, you’ll also find a community thriving with art and lifestyle intertwined.