Visitors and locals cruising by Nedo’s, Lee Robinson’s General Store, and other familiar landmarks in Hatteras village may have done a double-take in recent weeks, as a series of colorful murals have seemingly popped up overnight at different locales throughout the community.
The new wave of artworks, which has now spread to the Red & White, is the work of Cape Hatteras Secondary School Art Teacher Justin Paxton, who is spending his summer vacation bringing street art to the heart of Hatteras.
Justin says the village-wide effort, (which is garnering a lot of attention), all began with a mural in the Fessenden Center gym, a school trip to Europe where colorful murals were scattered everywhere, and a YouTube Video.
“I found a video on YouTube that was based in Bushwick, New York,” says Justin. “Basically, the guy went through troubled times and used street art as a form of letting go. He started doing street art [in his community], and as more and more artists came around and wanted to join in, it brought this little part of New York back to life.”
“I thought ‘Why can’t we do that down here? Why can’t we start something like this?’”
Justin talked with community leaders in Hatteras village and got the green light to reach out to business owners and residents to find large-scale canvases that could be transformed into outdoor works of art.
The first person who reached out to Justin was Bill Ballance, who gave him free reign to spice up his garage doors that face N.C. Highway 12. “He said he had garage doors we could use, and to give it a shot, and if anything, we can paint it white if it didn’t turn out,” says Justin.
Justin enlisted a few students who spent their downtime during the end of the school year to help, and word of the project spread as more Hatteras locals offered spaces for Justin and his crew to cover.
The next project was the fruit and veggie fridge outside of Lee Robinson’s General Store, and then Justin and his volunteers moved on to a literally much larger challenge – the 50-foot wall that serves as the side of the Nedo’s shopping center. “I had a number of people help me out with that one,” he says.
Funding for the various projects is informal, and like most street artists, the murals certainly aren’t created for the financial payback. Some residents have chipped in a little money for paint, which is the biggest cost of the various artworks, while former and current students and friends stop by regularly to grab a brush and lend a hand.
Currently, Justin and his painting crew are tackling one of their biggest projects yet – a mural on the side of the Red & White that features a big, colorful marlin bursting through the side of the grocery store. It ties in with the other various murals nicely, which all pay tribute to various aspects of Hatteras village’s inherent character.
“I kind of try to figure out what the village is all about, and go from there,” says Justin on his inspiration. “Every time I’ve gone to a place, I ask the [owner] ‘what do you see, what can we make?’ Of course, it’s a fishing village, so when Mr. Sigmon [of Red & White] wanted something surreal, we made a marlin busting out of the wall, chasing yellowfin tuna.”
“This one is very challenging since it’s a very large wall,” he adds. “It’s almost two stories high.”
Despite the work involved to create coastal masterpieces on a two-story canvas, Justin’s projects seem to move along at lightning speed.
“It depends on the scale of the wall, and the difficulty of the design,” says Justin. “Red & white and Nedo takes about a week with 4 to 6 hours a day of time – so it’s maybe 20 hours or more of work for those walls.”
“When you do your artwork, you treat it like a job,” he says. “I try to spend 5-6 hours a day at work.”
And Justin gets help along the way, too. Through social media posts looking for volunteers, a number of folks have pitched in on various projects around the village – especially his students.
“They can come out, look at the work, and say ‘I did the waves,’” he says. “It’s great for students to just do something different, and see the results.”
The mural outside Red & White is coming together nicely and is well on its way to completion. And once that project is done, Justin already has offers lined up to tackle other bare surfaces throughout Hatteras village. As a result, Justin sees no signs of slowing down on his community-wide project to bring a little extra color to the already colorful village.
“I really enjoy it, and it seems like it has been a very positive thing for the community – it’s very different, but it speaks to them in the right way,” he says. “I’m hoping that later on, we start something new where other artists venture out and do a mural as well – I would love to see other artists come out…
“I’m focused on Hatteras because I feel like it has that connection with the artwork, and I really enjoy the culture of the village,” he adds. “I don’t do it for the money, I do it for the community, and so far it’s been very a really positive response, and I hope people [continue to] like it.”