Arts & Culture

Behind the Scenes With Charlotte Muralist Nick Napoletano

Muralist Nick Napoletano is behind the newest mural in South Charlotte, which was commissioned to honor hospitality workers during National Travel and Tourism Week.

Photography by Cody Hughes

From the stillness a seed of hope is planted.

This timely quote lives in Charlotte’s newest mural at 201 Rampart Street in South Charlotte near Sycamore Brewing. The artwork, full of deep blue and rich golden hues, was commissioned by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) and Charlotte Center City Partners to honor hospitality workers during National Travel and Tourism Week.

Muralist Nick Napoletano (@napoletanoart) created the stunning piece, which pays tribute to those in the hospitality industry who may benefit from an uplifting message during the COVID-19 crisis.

Photography by Cody Hughes

Get to Know Nick Napoletano

Napoletano began painting large works in oil after living in Tuscany.

“I was 20 at the time and after seeing some of the most iconic classical works of art known to man, I challenged myself to paint a piece in a similar fashion, without instruction,” he said.

Napoletano picked up a few traditional painting texts, and when he returned to the U.S., he poured all of the money he had into an 8’x16’ figurative oil painting responding to the natural disasters that plagued the first half of 2011.

“I spent just over two months spending every waking moment painting this massive piece in a donated studio space in Hartford, Connecticut. I slept maybe a total of eight hours the last week of painting before my father and I drove the painting out to a gallery in Michigan in a 26’ box truck. We actually had to remove a 100-year-old piece of glass to get the work inside the gallery,” Napoletano said.

The painting sold within two weeks. Now, Napoletano had the seed funding he needed to start his career.

“I have been painting large-scale ever since,” he said. “I picked up a spray paint can almost five years ago and took to the medium, as you can build up layers similar to traditional oils, but in about a quarter of the time. After that, I could paint large works much quicker and more efficiently. While my work is still varied, the public works are particularly inspiring to me and how I hope to inspire others.”

Photography by Cody Hughes

Murals for Positive Change

Napoletano’s work has always been focused on positive change, which is why he was selected to prepare the mural for the CRVA and Charlotte Center City Partners.

“My work targets areas where voices need to be heard. COVID-19 has touched everyone on the planet in some way. When we see images of masks pop up all over the world, I think it’s important that we acknowledge where we are and the suffering we are going through,” Napoletano said. “We must also keep an eye on what we can practically do day-to-day, moment-by-moment. We can prepare now for what happens on the other side of this. As we flatten the curve, as we step into the new world that awaits for us, how do we find our footing?”

When Napoletano was asked to design a response piece that celebrated the service, tourism and hospitality workers amidst this historical pause, he felt it was important to recognize the service these individuals provide that can easily be overlooked.

“It was especially important given this time we are in to be able to collaborate on this project,” he said. “As an artist, I feel we are naturally built to interpret, process and translate intense moments like this to understand the root of what this experience is teaching us.”

Photography by Cody Hughes

“It’s moments like this, when we are collectively suffering, that we can come together and be in service to each other,” Napoletano said. “In this piece, we recognize those who take care of so many of us on a day-to-day basis. If you have an abundance of resources, whatever they may be, now is the time to give back.”

Napoletano sees the current situation as an opportunity to recognize how we are connected and dependent upon one another.

“I think it’s important that we tend to our local community, our ‘local garden,’ and begin to plant the seeds of the new future that waits for us,” he said. “It’s up to all of us to design a new way of living when we are done with this.”

The mural depicts a young girl carrying a backpack full of gifts labeled with the names and occupations of various service members within the Charlotte community.

Photography by Cody Hughes

“It’s through the practice of sharing resources that we can begin to rebuild a foundation for our future, post COVID-19,” Napoletano said of the design.

A silver and gold map of the world rests behind the girl’s head, hinting at the pandemic’s global impact. Small symbols are hidden throughout the piece. You may recognize one as the infinity symbol, which sits on her headband.

“More than ever, we are aware of just how connected we are to the collective fabric and web of humanity.”

Napoletano chose to paint a child because children innately hold the wisdom of hope and have a different way of processing emotions.

“Children radiate vision for what the future can hold without limitations,” he said. “By tapping into our inner child, we can begin to find the small moments of peace, stillness and inspiration that we can begin to build upon.”

Napoletano wants Charlotte to see this piece and realize that we can all plant seeds of positive change, and that every gesture — small or large — matters more than we realize.

“It’s through these moments of consideration and generosity that we can rebuild a community that is closer than it was before,” Napoletano said. “Now, it’s incredibly important to carry hope in our hearts and be the light of the lives of others when they falter, or don’t have strength. This collective support will be how we chart our way into the future of how our community — both locally and globally — will look.”

Art During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the hospitality and tourism industries heavily, but it’s also impacted the art industry.

“Creatives are having to get even more crafty and creative in order to make a living,” Napoletano said. “I look around at my peers and many are finding new ways to distribute content. Thanks to the support of local businesses, many muralists have been able to maintain their practices.”

Most of Napoletano’s client work has shifted to the fall, and he was able to move most of his local work to the spring and summer. His focus will be on preparing more images that inspire hope, motivate change and create positivity. He believes that muralists have large platforms to make an impact, so he’s worked with local artists like John Bates (@clt.cheeks) and Sydney Duarte (@duarte_designs) to create positive messages during this difficult time.

“Arts and culture are at the center of what makes us human. Now more than ever, the arts provide us with relief. They provide us with content and a way to translate what we are all feeling and going through. The arts help us reflect and inspire us to create change. Through the arts, we can begin to feel normal, feel human again,” Napoletano said. “Reach out to your local creatives. Ask how you can support them. Buy paintings and ask them what content they have available. Commission something if you feel inspired.”

Photography by Cody Hughes

Looking Ahead

Napoletano believes that the current situation has been a moment of pause and reevaluation. A moment to reflect on our lives and our priorities.

“Many of us are suffering, but through holding hope in our hearts and sharing this hope with others, we can plant the seeds of a new world. A world where compassion and empathy for our neighbors is the cornerstone of community,” Napoletano said.

As we enter into future phases and begin to open our doors again, he asks that we take this moment to reflect on what we can contribute and how we can make this world a better place — how we can start planting the seeds of hope for us to grow stronger as a local family.

“If you have it in you, be the change you want to see in the world. It all matters."