If you asked me a month ago which one of the NEON District’s murals is my favorite I would have answered “whichever one I’m standing next to,” because they’re all straight up fabulous. That was until I actually got to help paint “Norfolk Nautical,” located at Granby Street next to the Greyhound Station, and then that one shot to the top of my list with a bullet.
The mural, “Norfolk Nautical” is a charming collaboration from mural artists Chris Soria and Misha Tyutyunik. It is a fusion of two artists whose techniques and styles are both distinct and harmonious, making this mural a rare duet of brush strokes, spray paint, tessellation, and subtraction reminiscent of The Cut‐Outs by Henri Matisse.
image | instagram.com/chrissoria/
The artists were encouraged to take on a wall by Esteban Del Valle, whose work is also featured in The NEON District. DeValle was impressed by the energy of the community and the open embracing of the arts. He contacted Soria and Tyutyunik and encouraged them to take on a blank wall. One catch: their work would have to be gratis. Soria and Tyutunik were just wrapping up a huge community project with underserved youth and had two days free. They agreed to donate their time and skills and come to Norfolk for 48 hours. Within 11 hours a GoFundMe campaign generated enough funds to cover their train tickets and paint.
I stopped by to see the work in progress, and to ask if they needed anything. Water. Beer. Poke Bowl from Zeke’s Norfolk. They took me up on the offer of water, and while they rehydrated, we exchanged some pleasantries. When I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t do more to help because I lacked any artistic skill, Misha handed me a brush. “You can fill in the black. If you’ve got time, we’ll take the help. We’ve only got two days. Anything would be great. Really great. Talk to Chris. He’ll get you started.”
image | instagram.com/mdot_season/
Soria looked at me with what can only be described as an amused mix of caution and concern. I was wearing a short skirt, a white dry‐clean only top and a huge Pollyanna grin. “You’re not worried about slopping paint on your clothes? Because if you’re not, I’m not.” I wasn’t. So he marked the areas where I could fill. In a nutshell, the whole bottom half of the mural.
Soria climbed the ladder, I worked the low half, often uncomfortably close to the wall considering I was wearing a skirt (“the wall is not judgmental,” Soria assured me). While we painted, we chatted. The mural was inspired by mermaids, Norfolk’s naval history, the Chesapeake Bay, the Norfolk Southern Railway, the colonial years of Virginia County, and the vibrancy of the NEON arts district.
They knew they wanted a more saturated pastel color scheme, but the integration of the distinctly Norfolk elements… those decisions were made long after they’d arrived and work had started. Once the black was done, Soria went back into the shapes and overlapped some more of the tessellation pattern and splashed the wall with more color. In some areas, there are drips going over the black too. The entire mural was done freehand, using house and spray paint.
Soria and Tyutyunik have been friends for years and this is their fourth mural collaboration. Both have thriving individual mural businesses and successful studios. In the off season, Soria and a partner run a corporate pumpkin carving business, ManiacPumpkinCarvers.com.
By the end of the day with these wonderful artists I was a total fangirl. I’m never washing the paint off my watchband.