The Listener

Mural Artist: Nico Cathcart
Location: Newport News, Virginia

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“The Listener” is part of The Newport News Street Museum project, which is a collaboration between the Contemporary Arts Network, headed by Kira and Asa Jackson, and the city of Newport News, Virginia. The project aims to bring art into the community and features both local and national-level artists that vary from abstraction to realism, including: Nadd Harvin, Carl Medley III, Mahari Chabwera, Earl Mack, Austin Miles, Yusuf Abdul Lateef, Andrew Samuel Harrison, Dathan Kane, Alex Michael and Asa Jackson. Long considered an artistic desert, The CAN and the Street Museum are changing the face of what Newport News looks like.

About the Mural:
“The Listener”, 40’x40’ (4 stories tall, with the highest point about 65 feet from the ground.) Painted using Sherwin Williams primer, Floetrol and Golden Paintworks Mural & Theme Paint.
See it at:
2410 West Avenue
Newport News, Virginia 23607

My piece is on a historic building – The Warwick Hotel. The building is currently used for low income housing. It’s an old building with a lot of rich history. I’m painting on a blank patch of the building which is a repair from the damage of a large fire which destroyed a wing in the ’60s. The building was a newspaper office, radio station, mayor’s office, post office, bank, barber shop and even served as a secret offloading place during prohibition. I put together a piece that considered a lot of these elements.

The focus of the mural is a reporter who listens to “the city” and jots down notes. He is framed by an architectural detail of Tudor Rose roundels. The Tudor Rose is taken directly from the ceiling design of the hotel. The mural also includes elements from the hotel’s history – an antique mailbox (post office’s past), an antique safe (bank), a ship (the prohibition drop-off, as well as the nautical history of Newport News), and an antique barber’s chair (from the newspaper clippings in the lobby). 

The model for the reporter is symbolic, chosen to reflect the community that sits with the mural daily. As I have been painting him, the residents (there is a group of about 10-15 folks that sit out every day and watch) have taken to calling him Mr. Warwick. On his hat is the symbolic “press ticket”. On his lapel is a swan brooch, which is a nod to the Warwick name (and family crest). The family crest is found everywhere in the architecture of the building, specifically within the wooden decorative trim in the lobby, as well as in the historical documentation in the lobby display. On the pencil he is using, I have included the old call letters for the radio station that was housed in the building, which was another form of relaying information and truth to the residents of the city.

I was thinking about the Warwick’s family motto, which would have been included in print versions of the crest in the lobby – “Vic ea Nostra Voco” (I seldom call these things mine own) – which is really about the importance of community, of listening to the community and responding. This has ties to the journalistic tradition as well as the role of the artist – which is, at its heart, a responsibility to the public to relay the truth. Essentially this piece is encouraging listening to the city while acknowledging its past.

About the Maker

My name is Nico Cathcart. Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, I spent some time kicking around New York State before landing in Richmond, Virginia, where I am currently residing. I am a mural painter and studio artist who specializes in socially and environmentally informed, realistic works. I am hearing impaired, in the process of going profoundly deaf, and communicate through a combination of lip reading, ASL, and CC apps.

Do you have any other projects coming up that you’d like to share?
I’m looking more into finding balance between my studio and street art careers in the coming year. Among my upcoming projects, you will be able to find me at Colfax Canvas in Aurora, CO, Paint Memphis, and 934 Mural Fest in Columbus, Ohio in the coming months. I will also be showing with Modern Eden in a few upcoming shows, as well as a fundraising auction to support the James River Park System.

I am currently featured in “Street Art by Women”, a collection of 50 leading muralists who identify as women, with forwards by Martha Cooper, and the Graffiti Museum in Miami. You can grab that and read about some really wonderful international painters.

What advice would you give aspiring mural artists?
WORK! This is not an easy profession, and there are a lot of setbacks. For each project that goes forward, there are 10-100 that fail. Keep going, and find your own style. There are no shortcuts to this kind of art, and gimmicks have a shelf life. Just put in the time and effort, and be true. You can do it 🙂

See more of Nico Cathcart’s work:
Instagram: @nicocathcart

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