A Mural Artist Runs with the Horses

02 Dec 2022

The layers of meaning in the dramatic scene of horses racing through time

By Elizabeth Sugg  »  Photos by John Patota

Painter and muralist Nick Napoletano who also employs his artistic eye towards design and technology endeavors was just back from an 18-month research trip to 17 different countries when he journeyed to Southern Pines to create a stunning mural on the side of Harbour Place at 311 Broad Street. Steve Harbour, who owns the building along with his siblings, had seen Napoletano painting a mural in Charlotte almost three years ago, pulled over to the side of the road captivated by what this artist with a spray paint can was creating, and introduced himself. The result is a fanciful, allegorical scene of horses running through space and time, a painting for everyone to enjoy and marvel at its symbolic meanings, a collaboration between Harbour, the Arts Council of Moore County, the Southern Pines Planning Department and the community who welcomed, fed and housed the artist during his two weeks of dawn-to-dusk hard work.

Imagining things on a large scale began at an early age for Napoletano who created not only buildings but entire cities with their own distinct cultures with Legos as a boy before moving his aspirations to becoming an architect. A high school art teacher encouraged him to explore fine arts rather than architecture because it might tie him to a computer rather than unleash his talent. She helped him develop a portfolio the summer after his junior year, and he received a full scholarship to the University of Hartford where he got his BFA. A stint under the tutelage of egg tempura painter Fred Wessel further developed Napoletano’s style of allegorical realism which is alive and running with the horses in the mural in Southern Pines.

Interested in his oversize creations being a force of positive change, the mural is about time. At first glance the scene is of three horses running, a nod to Southern Pines'  deep ties to all things horses. Two steeds are fully painted while the lead horse breaks forward in softer, ghosted hues — the future, the past, the continuum of time? Napoletano wants us all to interpret his work as we wish but admits he hopes the mural will “encourage people to be more present.”Beneath the layers of spray paint are words and phrases the artist writes out on his surface as written cues for what goes where. As you gaze at the horse painted with ancient Aztec symbols inspired by Quetzalcoatl, a god and the “the wisest of men”, meant to inspire our own future with innovation as we ourselves continue through time, may be phrases like “You are Powerful”, “Find Ways to Help Each Other” and “The Time is Now”. Two birds are depicted in the scene representing Harbour’s parents, each flying with one end of a long string in their beaks which Napoletano intended to represent a strand of DNA. That genetic heritage passed on is part of the continuum we all share, and this provocative mural is another we can share in as well.

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