May 15, 2021
When walking down the roads and ally ways of Downtown St Pete one name will stick out to you over and over again. Derek Donnelly is a St Pete native and has decked many walls with his tropical style. You can see him on the buildings in Tampa, on the side of the Galley in down town St. Pete, on Beach Drive, and on the side of St. Petersburg College to just name a few. His realistic and tropical style comes along with the people of St. Pete as they move about their days like old friends saying hello.
We were first introduced to Derek Donnelly when he invited us to check out the mural he was doing for Fairgrounds. At this point St Pete is Super Cool was in its infant stages and we were a bit starstruck that a big time muralist wanted to meet us. Derek was extremely friendly and from there a nice friendship formed. He is nothing but committed to a city that he grew up in and through his art and many projects works hard to elevate. He graduated from Gibbs High School and did odd jobs here and there till fate brought him back to art. Derek also enjoys writing and could have gone towards that if art had not taken a stronger hold. His one big dream would be to do a movie, make something people wouldn’t expect of him.
Fellow artists tease Derek about his numerous amounts of turtles that we see him paint. I even have one hanging in my bedroom that I purchased from The Merchant. But there is a method to his madness, when talking about how he became the turtle dude Derek mentions that of course he would paint the beauty of his tropical hometown and as a tourist state you sometimes have to cater to the masses. Looking across his body of art though you will see he loves also painting portraits of people in pop culture and music. His latest mural was of Bob Marley which graces the wall of the soon to be opened restaurant Ti Bamboo Caribbean Restaurant & Lounge. Derek started painting more turtles when his friend and mentor Woo passed and he started painting more of them in Woo's honor.
When you hear Derek talk about his friend Woo you can hear in his voice that he was very loved. Woo was an integral part of the beginnings of the thriving art scene we know today and he was a great supporter of many artists we love. I like to think that Derek has taken his place in some ways acting as guide and protector of the younger artists and making sure everyone gets their fair share. I truly believe this is what has helped create the cohesive team of artists that has helped grow St. Pete.
You can hear more of our talk with Derek Donnelly on our Podcast Good Morning St Pete on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more.