Art abounds in Key West, where Floridian artists regularly take it to the streets to create murals, fountains, and sculptures. Meet some of those artists here and gaze upon their work out there.
Stroll through Key West, and you can’t help but find yourself in front of a piece of art. That’s because the island’s well-traveled streets and public interiors are beautified by a plethora of murals, as well as sculptures and fountains, celebrating everything from marine life to the community’s welcoming spirit. With a hard-working Art in Public Places board and area businesses, like The Capitana Key West, commissioning new work regularly, Key West’s murals and other public art pieces not only enliven the streets but gives voice to the colorful community of artists who have lived and created in this area through the years. With that in mind, we highlight some of those artists and give you the locations of the artwork, so you can go on the hunt to spot these beauties in person.
Rick Worth’s “Wilhelmina Harvey Crossing the Seven Mile Bridge” Mural [900 Simonton Street, Key West]
One of Key West’s most loved and prolific public artists is Rick Worth, a self-taught painter whose enthusiasm for the local culture has prompted some of the most iconic public art in Key West. He is, perhaps, best known for this tongue-in-cheek mural, a spin-off of Emanuel Leutze’s iconic “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” at Bobby’s Monkey Bar. In it, George Washington has been replaced by Wilhelmina Harvey, Key West’s well-loved first female mayor, the American flag by rainbow stripes, and most of the oarsman are local celebrities. Worth is also the creative mind behind the 100 brightly painted cars you’ll see about town, a project that got his name out into the community when he first arrived in Key West many years ago. Once you see his work, you’ll know why his quirky and magnanimous style endears him to his fellow islanders.
Debra Yates’s Smathers Beach Promenade Wall [2601 South Roosevelt Boulevard, Key West]
Debra Yates grew up in Key West and has lived on the island for most of her life. Once an art director in New York City, today, Yates has partnered with her son to bring “sophisticated and sustainable exterior design to coastal landscapes, redefining the importance of outdoor living.” One of her pieces that does just that is The Promenade Wall at Smathers Beach, where she has installed one of her signature mosaics. Yates designs the murals, smashes ceramic tiles with a hammer, and painstakingly fits those pieces together into an abstracted version of the sea, sun, and warm Florida landscape that make Key West the paradise it is. You can also see Yates’s work at the Key West Airport.
K.C. Scott’s Marine Life Mural [2401 North Roosevelt Boulevard, Key West, Key West]
K.C. Scott wasn’t always an artist. He was a pro golfer before he put down his 9 iron and picked up a paintbrush. While he’s technically not a local Key West artist – his gallery is actually in West Palm Beach, no more than a half-hour away from Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa – he was commissioned by Opal Collection to paint a mural that is displayed both on the exterior and inside the lobby of their newest hotel property, The Capitana Key West. But the piece – depicting tarpon and spiny lobster in their natural Florida Keys habitat – isn’t just for guests to view during their visit: It actually serves as a contribution – equivalent to $75,000 – to the Key West Art in Public Places program, a local effort to facilitate the creation of new beautiful public works of art for the residents and visitors. So anyone can take a stroll to the hotel to gander at the big game fish and the spiny creatures of the deep. He’s a true talent, even if it did take him a while to share it.
Jay Gogin’s Police Department Fountain [1604 North Roosevelt Boulevard, Key West]
The late Jay Goggin was a longtime passionate potter and ceramics teacher at Florida Keys Community College. An eccentric and beloved artist in Key West, he founded the Mud-Pi ceramics club, a faux fraternity in which students crafted ceramic vessels, plates, sculptures, and murals to be displayed throughout campus. A lover of Raku Japanese pottery, you can also see some of his work at Gallery on the Green, but nothing tops the towering ceramic and mosaic-tiled fountain he designed that stands at the entrance to the Key West Police Department.
Robert Wyland’s “The Bite” Mural [201 William Street, Key West]
Marine-life artist Robert Wyland – who simply goes by the name “Wyland” – may only be a part-time resident of Key West, but he’s a figure most locals know: Hailed a “Marine Michaelangelo” by USA Today and recognized for his art and conservation efforts by the United Nations and on the floor of Congress, he’s considered the most famous marine-life artist of the day. The island is home to his mural “Florida’s Living Reef,” locally known as “The Bite,” a huge underwater drama in the Historic Seaport area near the corner of Caroline and William Street that is part of his 100-mural series titled “Whaling Walls.” The international series features life-sized whales and ocean life on huge buildings to bring ocean conservation to the public mind. A passionate conservationist, Wyland has earned top honors for this project. Plus, the large scale of his work gets him lots of attention.
David Harrison Wright’s “Dazzle” Mural [5655 MacDonald Ave, Stock Island]
While no longer with us, the art of David Harrison Wright lives on in Key West. A prolific plein air painter, Wright was an active member of the Key West art scene. You can see three of his paintings in the permanent collection of the Key West Airport and many others around town. Dazzle, however, is his only mural, but it certainly brings attention to the Stock Island Fire Station with its bright and energetic colors reminiscent of fire, water, sand, and sun.