At just 22, Christopher Vitale is already a well-known artist on the Treasure Coast mural scene. Born in Port St. Lucie and raised in Stuart, Vitale has been painting for as long as he can remember. “I was encouraged from a young age by my grandmother Marian, a talented local artist, to use art as a mode of expression,” he says.
Vitale was still a senior in high school when he completed his first mural in 2017. “My aunt Jackie was one of the operators at Ground Floor Farm (now CoLab Kitchen) in downtown Stuart,” says Vitale. “She mentioned to me that they were planning a large mural project for the fence surrounding the property.” In the end, the project included works by 15 different local artists, each of whom was assigned a designated section of the fence—one of them was Vitale. His mural, Roosters for Goosers, is emblazoned with colorful roosters on a bright green grass background.
After graduation, Vitale left for Washington, D.C. to attend college at the Catholic University of America (CUA). When he returned home to Stuart for a gap year during the pandemic, he was commissioned for his second and largest mural to date, House of Refuge at Sunrise. Completed in May 2021, the 16-foot by 57-foot mural is located on a building in downtown Stuart adjacent to the Old Colorado Inn. “The piece honors the House of Refuge historical landmark on Hutchinson Island,” Vitale says of the mural.
He also painted a piece for a local church that year called The Washing of the Feet. “I was commissioned by St. Joseph Catholic Church to create a mural for the exterior wall at the entrance of the church property,” says Vitale. “The artwork features the biblical scene of Christ washing the feet of his disciples.”
Set to graduate from college this May with a double major in English and Studio Art (with a concentration in painting), Vitale is currently finishing up his latest mural, on the exterior of Salve Regina Hall, CUA’s art building. After graduation this spring, he plans to return home to Stuart with his degree and continue painting murals.
When Brenda Leigh moved to Stuart in 2000, the city’s band shell in Memorial Park immediately caught her attention. The artist quickly zeroed in on the run-down structure and envisioned how she could bring it back to life. “It was in rough shape,” she says of the band shell. “So I went to the City of Stuart and offered to paint it for free.” The project—a beautiful east-facing sunrise—firmly established Leigh as a mural artist in the Stuart area. Since then, she has gone on to complete 22 public murals and hundreds of pieces in private homes on the Treasure Coast.
It was in California—where Leigh attended college and worked for a mural company as a background painter—that the artist, now 68, learned to “paint large.” She moved to Miami, where she worked as a wallpaper designer, then traveled the world on a sailboat for a year and a half, eventually landing first in the Caribbean and then Hawaii, where she honed her skills as a muralist. “I love to paint and have always wanted more than anything to be a self-supporting artist,” she says. “Murals became the doorway for that to happen.”
Today, Leigh’s primary income comes from painting murals in private homes, which allows her to donate her time and talents to public projects around Stuart. “I have always offered my abilities to the city for free, or for just the cost of the paint, as a way to bring artistic awareness to the city,” she says. “It’s been my experience that when a city invests in its artists, it grows.” In addition to the band shell, some of Leigh’s other local projects include murals at Stuart’s Haney Circle, Esplanade, and City Hall Annex, as well as the beautiful mosaic tree in Memorial Park.
Her favorite project was a 2010 commission by the Public Art Advisory Board to create a piece at Stuart Beach. She collaborated on the work with Tracy Canada, an art teacher at Jensen Beach High School, who offered her students as assistants. “People came out of the woodwork to help us,” recalls Leigh. “Retired tile workers offered help, people brought in coral and shells from their yards, homeschool groups came to lend a hand…. A community project was born.”
Next up for Leigh are pieces for the Elliott Museum as well as a park in Port St. Lucie, and a community project in Flagler Park. Says the artist: “The South Florida world is filled with blank concrete walls, and we aim to cover them in art!”
In 2004, 16-year-old Jupiter resident Bulk Styles (“Bulks”)—then known by his given name, Mark Rupprecht—was doing what most teenagers do. “I had long hair, I was skateboarding… I wasn’t doing anything,” recalls Bulks, now 33. Then one day, he discovered a website featuring graffiti art and went on a quest to connect with local street artists. He soon met artists who were well known in the world of graffiti and learned how to paint on a canvas of concrete walls and abandoned buildings.
He adopted the tag “Bulks” on the suggestion of a fellow street artist he happened to meet, a legend on the graffiti scene. “He said, ‘I’m going to give you a name,’” recalls Bulks. “He looked at my work and said, ‘This is a bulk amount of work you’re doing.’ Then he named me Bulk.” The nickname stuck.
After painting graffiti for more than a decade, he parlayed his talent into a career as a mural artist, one of his first commissioned works being a piece at Leftovers Café in Jupiter in 2017. “To have my work at a successful restaurant, being seen by so many locals, it was affirming,” says Bulks, who has since painted murals at a slew of other well-known spots in the area like Ocean Republic Brewing in Stuart, Lynora’s in Jupiter, and The Parched Pig in Palm Beach Gardens. His broad portfolio of work to date includes large-scale paintings for restaurants, gyms, golf courses, retail stores, and breweries. He has also worked on exciting projects like a mural for the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix at the Hard Rock Stadium last May and the offices of entertainment news corporation TMZ in Hollywood.
When he finishes a mural, there is no one he enjoys revealing it to more than his 93-year-old grandmother. “I love to show her my murals,” says Bulks. “She always tells me, ‘I’m glad God keeps me alive to see this.’”
Grandma will have a lot more to see this year, as Bulks is working on multiple projects at the moment all over the country, from the Treasure Coast to Las Vegas. “No one in school ever told me I could do this,” he says. “And now I wake up every single day and love what I do.”
Jensen Beach resident Brent McAhren, 60, followed an unconventional path to becoming a mural artist. He was studying industrial management at Purdue University in Indiana, but after struggling with chemistry, a counselor suggested he consider a design track instead. When he graduated from college in 1985, he began his design career creating silk screens for circuit boards. That was followed by a stint in the layout department at the old newspaper The Stuart News, then a job teaching art and Photoshop at Inlet Grove Community High School in Riviera Beach from 2004 to 2012.
In 2013, McAhren switched gears and started creating set designs for Stuart’s StarStruck Theatre, which he still does today. It was there that he would be introduced to the world of mural painting. Recalls McAhren: “Debbie Duval at the Elliott Museum posted on Facebook asking if anyone wanted a little black and white kitten because the kitten didn’t get along with her cat.” When the development director at StarStruck adopted the kitten, Duval happened to ask her if she knew anyone who could paint a mural for the Elliott. McAhren was hired.
“[The Elliott] wanted it to feel like you were walking outside the historic buildings looking at the cars and plane and motorcycles,” McAhren says of his mural design, which features additional design elements suggested by museum staff including a bluebird and a pelican. He spent seven 10-hour days in 2019 completing the mural—and managed to sneak in depictions of Duval’s cat sitting in a window and the black and white kitten peeking out from a corner.
Since then, McAhren has painted local murals for companies including Shears of Joy and Shark Shack Sweets in Palm City and the Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast in Jensen Beach. He has also been commissioned for work by the City of Palm City as well as private residences. Later this year, look for two upcoming murals—a project on Johnson Avenue in Stuart (across from the Wawa) and another in downtown Jensen Beach—which he is finalizing illustrations for now.
More to Love
Talented artists from all over South Florida are coming to the Treasure Coast to create some incredible murals in the area. Here are two to look out for.
Miami-based Brazilian street artist Ruben Ubiera is the artist behind the gorgeous murals inside Hudson’s on the River in Stuart and has been tapped by the restaurant to create an exterior mural in 2023. The artist’s work can also be seen locally at the Stuart Boathouse and at the new Mexican cantina Mero Mero, which opened in Stuart last October.
Known for his lifelike paintings of fish and marine life, K.C. Scott had been commissioned for everything from Shark Wake Park in West Palm Beach to the Los Buzos Resort in Cambutal, Panama. Now the Lake Park–based artist will be leaving his mark in Stuart, with a mural at the new Atlantic Point Marina. Scott also designs an exclusive line of lifestyle wear and accessories available under the K Scott brand.