A dramatic expanse of sea and sky and storm, dominated by the enormous, weary face of a Spanish soldier, expands across 2025 3rd Avenue South. The mural faces east, looking out at 20th Street South.
This work by England’s Nomad Clan is called Return to Sea. 30 feet high and 110 feet long, it’s a massive scene that’s both realistic, and dreamlike. The mural is like diving into the pages of a swashbuckling novel.
At the center is a man’s face, bearded, worried – and exhausted. He wears the dark floppy hat of a conquistador, soft and rounded, with a short brim. He’s up to his neck in a turbulent green sea, fighting to keep his head above water.
The sea is roiling, layer on layer of whitecaps breaking and crashing. The sea is full of vivid movement – you can feel the ocean surging all around him, the tide trying to tug him under.
His face is still, in the center of this raging sea. His hat is cocked up, over his left eyebrow. His brow is furrowed, calm but despairing. His deep, dark eyes stare toward the left, focused on something that he’s looking at for the last time, something he hates to leave behind.
The waves surrounding him are beautifully detailed, like an illustration from a children’s book written in another century. The pale and deep green water’s rippling, undulating, surging. Water drops splash up toward his beard. Water boils around his chin.
All the waves have depth and weight and texture, white ripples and traceries revealing surging motion. The sea is kicked up by the storm that’s sparking in the upper left quarter of the mural – clouds that hold a dozen shades of grey and blue. The center of the storm glows with ominously gorgeous colors – pink and peach and gold, streaked by white bolts of lightning. The rosy colors, dangerously beautiful, spread up to the edge of the sailor’s sagging hat.
One smaller splash of color, echoing the gesture of a woman’s bending body, rests by itself to the left of the storm. The coral colors of the storm are reflected in gold and orange sparkles on the sea – where, to the left of the sailor, his ship is foundering, about to go under. It’s a wooden ship of the 16th century, with one bottom sail flapping, one lower sail hastily rolled up and the rest all torn away, masts bare.
Blue grey clouds boil to the left edge of the mural, with Nomad Clan’s abstract logo standing out in white. ‘NOMAD’ and then ‘CLAN’ below, in stylized capitals, with every downstroke a double line. The outline of a crown, underlined, on top. And below ‘CLAN,’ a zig zag like a lightning bolt.
Just to the right of the sailor, a huge wave rippling with whitecaps crashes, rearing up. Behind this bursting surge of sea, the upper left quarter of the mural is a beautiful dark blue, streaked with stretched-out light blue clouds spotted with palest grey. The deep blue of the distant sea behind the crashing wave, is calm, and peaceful. The blue of the water is the same blue as the night sky. The clouds stand out against it. Only a pale light smudge marks the horizon.
In the lower right corner of the mural, an oversized bottle bobs in the water – with, of course, a message. The bottle is enormous – only the top half is above the water but it stretches almost 20 feet, a squared-off rum bottle, with a wide neck and a splintered cork jammed in. Waves break and surge around the bottle. The bottle is mostly full of water. What looks like a hand-written label on the bottle reads, “Fountain of Youth – FLORIDA – NOMAD CLAN.”
Nomad Clan is a collaboration between street artists Cbloxx [“See-Blocks”], or Joy Gilleard [“Joy Gilley-ard”] and AYLO, also known as Hayley Garner.
Based in Manchester in England, their murals are internationally-known. And they created what’s currently the tallest mural in the UK.
CBloxx explains the story of this mural, based on Florida history.
“We finally managed to figure out what way we’re gonna call it – Return to the Sea. What the overall pieces is actually about is when the Spanish Conquistadores came over here by accident – they were heading off to Mexico and a storm pulled them back into the west of Florida. When he got here, he was like, met by, hostile natives who were a bit like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I think it’s not the first time – there’d been a guy previously come over and there’s been a lot of fighting and deaths. So I think they were really scared by these Spanish dudes.
“He ended up bringing 600 men ashore. I think something like 300 of them were killed. There was a lot of tension between them. Obviously, there were that essentially colonized the area, which, you know, I think they’re a bit cocky. They really should have considered that, you know what I mean? Anyway, it wasn’t going so well, so he decided to flee. They built like a bunch of rafts. And decided to take off and then were pulled into this massive sea storm, never to be seen again.
“So there’s folklore, like an ancient folklore passed from the natives that were in the area, the Tocobaga tribe. They believed that this entire area is protected from the storm systems.
“And we really loved that, we thought there was something really special with that. So we wanted to tell that story, but in a way that people would see it and see this big epic thing, and then maybe question what it’s about.
“But we kind of mashed two stories together in one. Because another Spanish conquistador bloke – a guy who went around with Columbus – came out here to find the Fountain of Youth, which was a thing? But it used to be somewhere, we’ve heard loads of stories from locals, where you’d take your girlfriend and go on a little date down there? And it’s completely covered up now. But they really believe that the Fountain of Youth was there. So they came all the way over to find it. And bottle it.
“Again, that guy who came over. he was massively unsuccessful as well. They kept trying with this area. But eventually, of course. The Tocobaga tribe and a few other natives were here for like, 600 years. When the Spanish eventually were successful, they managed to wipe every trace of their existence away in one hundred years.
“So there’s some really cool preservation societies around here. I think there’s a park dedicated to his actual guy who is called. . .” (looking it up on her phone)
So in the mural, it’s not just a message in a bottle, that’s the water from the Fountain of Youth?
“Yup. Panfilo de Narvaez. But I like to think that the seas were protecting, you know, like the people who were living here quite peacefully.
“So it’s a little bit about, like, history. And trying to pull back some of that knowledge and some of that storytelling back into the present day. Because really and truly, I know America’s got quite a relationship with Native Americans and, like, removing culture and stories and stuff. I mean, this doesn’t scream that, But if you if you were to, maybe look at it research on different levels, you’d kind of start to think about, maybe, what is this?”
So he came and tried and now he’s leaving. He’s heading back.
“Yeah. Return to Sea. We always like to connect whatever mural we’re painting to the area that we’re painting it in. Like for example, the sky last night was the exact colors in this section of wall. And we’re just like, what the hell is going on? It’s just perfect.”
Watch a video of Nomad Clan at work during SHINE 2018
Explore their work at nomadclan.co.uk.
An interview with the artists about “Athena Rising” – news.globalstreetart.com/2017/07/06/uks-tallest-mural-painted-by-nomad-clan
A video of “Athena Rising” in progress – youtube.com/watch?v=LBYfH8WhDi8
Follow Nomad Clan on Instagram – instagram.com/nomad.clan
Nomad Clan in action at Sweden’s Artscape 2017 – youtube.com/watch?v=iLM4hzdRptE