Northlake Park resident, artist Jefre Manuel, who works under the name JEFRË, is a relative newcomer to public art. Three years ago, at the age of 35, the practicing designer had a heart attack and triple bypass. The experience convinced him to retire from architecture/landscape architecture and return to his artistic practice (among other places, he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Now, he’s won a number of large competitions thanks in large part to his approach to placemaking. “Because of my background in public space and architecture, I’ve never been interested in creating objects; I create places,” he says. “It’s not about a single element, it’s about a collection of elements that make a place.”
How long have you been an artist? When did you begin creating art?
I showed interest in art at an early age. As children, we all have a sense for creative exploration and experimentation. I remember my mother telling the story of how I loved to water our plants with soy sauce, or how I would take things apart. But maybe, that was a way to explore objects as individual components and discover how they work.
To further develop my skills, I participated in many art courses and competitions, and even joined drama programs during my grade school and high school days. I remember being excited that my cover art was chosen in a contest for the eighth-grade graduation program.
How would you describe your art?
It’s the literal definition of the word place. Millennium Park is a place not only because it has iconic sculptures. It also has great civic parks, architecture and restaurants. And people.
If you think about great cities, when I ask you, “What is your favorite place and why?” you’re not going to say the Sears Tower or the Empire State Building. You’re going to say Central Park or Millennium Park. Those are places. No one single sculpture or building or landscape will make a place. It’s all those elements combined – plus the people who use it.
Because of my background, I don’t really have a certain medium or style. I give you one specific thing related to context and history, and I don’t repeat it again. As a result, my work is very site specific. I’m not someone who has to find a place to plop a piece. I’m also very careful to be sure that 80 percent of my materials and work are all done with local folks, so the tax money is going back into the community. Programming is also very important – the idea that you’re not creating things that are static. The most successful public art pieces are interactive.
Besides your current medium, what else do you like to experiment with?
Art that has a meaning and purpose.
Where are you from? What brought you to Lake Nona?
Chicago. Before I became a fulltime artist, I worked for a community planning firm called Glatting Jackson. Glatting Jackson created the overall Lake Nona master plan, and I had the privilege of being part of the team that helped create the parks master plan. I believe in the plan so much that I was one of the first residents of Northlake Park at Lake Nona to own a townhouse on Glatting Green.
What do you enjoy about living in Lake Nona?
The park amenities, country club, proximity to the airport and, most of all, the residents.
Where in Lake Nona can readers view your art?
The parking garage in Lake Nona known as “The Beacon” and “The Code Wall.” Additional information:
“Fusion,” a sculpture located on the exterior lounge of Chroma Modern Bar + Kitchen, which harnesses its inspiration from the restaurant’s colorful small plate menu and serves as an artistic extension of “The Beacon.”
How do you feel about having your art displayed in Lake Nona?
99% of my work is all over the world. It’s nice to have one of my iconic works at the parking garage in the Lake Nona town center, located in Lake Nona, where I have been a resident for almost 20 years.
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