Take Heart In Art

In 2020, new art is a welcome distraction. The recent pandemic shutdowns have not stopped the creation of some remarkable new works.

“Even in this time of social distancing, we can enjoy public art,” says Laura Walker, division head for the City of Ocala Cultural Arts and Sciences Division, which commissioned the new art approved by the Ocala Municipal Arts Commission. “I am so excited to see the support of our partners, sponsors and community in continuing to expand our collection of public art.”

Life on a Large Scale

New sculptures bring opportunities for exploration and education. 
By Lisa McGinnes

Water is Life

Artist: Aspen Olmstead, www.aspensart.com
Location: Tuscawilla Art Park, 213 NE Fifth Street

Dragonflies are one of nature’s loveliest examples of the cycle of life. The egg hatches in water, revealing a nymph that lives in water for years before its metamorphosis into the graceful, winged creature that will fly for only several precious weeks of adult life.

A new sculpture by Aspen Olmstead that captures the exquisite dragonfly is nearly ready for installation at Tuscawilla Art Park. 

“Dragonflies are dependent on a clean water source to complete their life cycle,” Olmstead learned from Rachel Slocumb, a conservation coordinator for the City of Ocala Water Resources Department. “That’s why I chose the dragonfly,” Olmstead reveals. “Because without clean water they wouldn’t exist.”

Her newest piece is a homecoming for both the artist and the artwork.

“Years ago, when I was about 19, my first apartment was right off Tuscawilla,” Olmstead recalls. “We’d spend a lot of time there. It was really a happy place to go. We would explore around where that new pond is, adjacent to the art park.”

The artist’s explorations included collecting broken glass, which she has upcycled into translucent wings of this suspended sculpture.

“I’ve been collecting broken glass from Tuscawilla probably for about 10 years,” she says. “I’ve been trying to incorporate repurposed, reclaimed and found items in my sculpture. I love that these bits of glass are almost coming home.”

Slocumb says the City of Ocala Water Resources Department is excited to sponsor the sculpture.

“It is a great representation of the importance of preserving and protecting our valuable water resources,” she relays. “Dragonflies are slightly intolerant to pollution, so by reducing pollution we will be able to provide not only dragonflies, but all living things a healthier environment.”

Olmstead says she felt “the need to kind of convey how important clean water really is” to the community she loves.

“It’s been wonderful. I really feel embraced by my community. I’m disabled, so it’s important to still feel relevant in a community that I can’t actually work in anymore. I’m still able to find a way to touch others. It’s a really important part of my life.”

Chatter Bugs and Whisper Tubes

Artist: Adam Walls, www.adamwallssculpture.com
Location: MLK First Responder Campus, 500 block of NW Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

The modern but businesslike buildings that will house new fire and police stations will be flanked by some less serious spaces including a community basketball court and a community room—and a whimsical, interactive courtyard sculpture.

Chatter Bugs and Whisper Tubes is designed to intrigue both kids and adults.

“The sculptures already look like a ton of fun. They are so playful in design,” enthuses artist Adam Walls, a sculptor and art professor from North Carolina who has designed artworks for spaces across the Southeast.

“My kids are really enjoying them, but at this point there’s been a lot more adults than children testing them out,” he admits. “It seems impossible to walk past them and not try them out.”

When the campus is completed and the art pieces are installed, Walls says the sculptures will invite kids of all ages to crawl through them or whisper through the antennae.

“I love the sound component,” he says. “When you speak into one antenna, you’ll hear your voice reverberate inside the form and come out through the other antenna.”

The accompanying sculptural bench has built-in whisper tubes, which Walls explains “act like cans on a string.” The seating area is themed around the concepts of community, partnership and communication.

Patchwork Parable

Artists: Stephen and Jessica Pigman, www.stephenpigman.com

Location: E.D. Croskey Recreation Center, 1510 NW Fourth Street

For weeks, Jessica and Stephen Pigman have been up and down ladders and perched on scaffolding, holding drills and levels, wearing tool belts and hard hats. The husband and wife artists are creating a functional relief sculpture at the E.D. Croskey Recreation Center at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Complex.

Patchwork Parable, which was recently completed, evokes the bold geometric patterns of traditional African American quilts in vibrantly hued primary colors. Adjoining panels mirror the African mud cloth pattern that adorns the Ocala Black History Mural in the complex’s adjacent Webb Field.

“We chose our quilt concept because they are familiar and comforting,” the Pigmans explain. “They reincarnate discarded scraps into something of beauty and value. The recreation center serves such an important role in the community and we wanted to match its welcoming, joyful spirit.”

The function of these artistically designed panels is sound absorption, which will enhance the music and theater performances held in the center and will brighten up live concerts that need to be moved indoors during times of inclement weather. Residents who take part in basketball, Zumba and other fitness classes will be able to enjoy the artwork along with their chosen recreation.

“This project involved a lot of construction, scenic art and upholstery, but also acoustic science because the piece had to be functional,” the Pigmans say. “We drew from our theater experience and background in music to choose materials that are commonly used to dampen the stage sounds in theaters.”

The couple from St. Augustine is uniquely qualified to craft this piece. Musicians themselves, the Pigmans regularly design educational exhibits for museums, including Ocala’s Discovery Center, and design and build stage sets for theater organizations throughout the region.

Sponsored by AdventHealth, this particular project was commissioned by the City of Ocala Cultural Arts and Sciences Division to address “the sound tunnel that currently exists when bringing performances inside the building.”

Meaningful Murals

Whether purposely sought out or unexpectedly stumbled upon, outdoor public art murals are attention grabbers. Larger than life, delightful and thought-provoking, murals make us stop, linger and wonder. Here’s a look at some of the recently completed public arts murals.
By JoAnn Guidry


Artist: Drake Arnold, www.drakearnold.com

Location: Ocala Citizen Service Center at 201 SE Third Street

Tasked with painting a mural with an electricity theme, artist and Ocala native Drake Arnold delved into the subject and found a kindred spirit in Michael Faraday.

“The mural was for the west exterior wall of the Ocala Citizen Service Center, where people can pay their electric utility bill,” explains Arnold, who works in both traditional and digital media. “Of course, most people know about Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and even Nikola Tesla’s contribution to the field. But when I read about English scientist Michael Faraday and his electromagnetism discovery, I decided to make that the focal point of my mural.”

Indeed, an imposing Faraday dominates the stunning black and white narrative mural, daring anyone to challenge his discoveries. Next to him is an electrical table with four compasses on it, which Faraday used to prove there was a connection between electricity and magnetism. To the top right is an artistic rendition of an electromagnetic field.

“I rolled the whole wall with black paint and then spray painted the images. It was a revelation to use spray paint for a fine art piece,” recalls Arnold, who has a bachelor’s in fine arts in digital art from the University of Tampa and has worked as a motion graphics designer for Fortune 500 companies and as a music festivals artist. “I decided to go with black and white to get back to the fundamentals, the basics of art to tell a story.”

Over a six-week period, Arnold actually painted two murals on the side of the Ocala Service Center building. Adjacent to the Faraday image is a drop down to the left where Arnold continued the black and white theme, however he switched to an abstract style. The second mural features several 3D boxes and waves of energy, the latter created by Arnold using a push broom with which to paint. And, in keeping with the electricity theme, he painted over and incorporated outside electrical boxes into the second mural. There’s also another twist to Arnold’s Faraday mural.

“Anyone can download my Fractal Spirit AR mobile app for free on the Apple Store and Google Play Store,” says Arnold, who is a member of the Marion Cultural Alliance. “Then when you look at my mural, you’ll see interactive images. This is the first augmented reality mural ever done in Ocala.”

In addition to Electromagnetism, other Drake murals can be viewed inside and on the outside fence at Muddy Lotus Tea Kava Bar, and inside and on the back alley wall of The Courtyard on Broadway. The first mural he ever painted in Ocala is a blue heron on the west wall of the Brick City Center for the Arts courtyard.

Creative Refuge

Artist: Justin Alsedek, www.gypsea-arts.com

Location: Brick City Center for the Arts Courtyard at 23 SW Broadway Street

For Ocala artist Justin Alsedek, his mural’s location and theme are very personal. After years of traveling from beach town to beach town as a pastel chalks portrait artist and establishing his Gypsea Arts, Alsedek decided it was time to settle down.

“When my wife Sarah and I found out we were going to be parents, we thought we needed to put down roots,” says Alsedek, who has a bachelor’s in fine arts photography from the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. “Sarah has family in Ocala, so here seemed like a good choice. Then I discovered the Marion Cultural Alliance and my art just blossomed into painting with acrylics.”

When selected to paint the mural on the south-facing wall inside the Brick City Center for the Arts courtyard, picking a theme for the piece was easy for Alsedek.

“I have an affinity for butterflies. I can relate to the metamorphosis they represent, so in some form they have become a part of my art,” says Alsedek, now father to 3-year-old son Ki. “Of course, with butterflies comes flowers. And that tied into how I felt I have blossomed as an artist thanks to finding a home with Brick City. I felt like those were all the elements that I needed for the mural.”

Originally drawn on his computer in Photoshop, Alsedek then projected the image up on the wall and sketched it in from there. Over a two-week period in June, he painted it in with various brushes, describing the process as “almost paint-by-number.”

The result is a brightly colored whimsical mural resembling a page from a children’s book. On the left is a giant zebra longwing, Florida’s state butterfly, sipping nectar from a small white flower. The other focal points are the large magenta-colored flowers and sizable green leaves, dripping raindrops from a typical Florida summer afternoon shower.

“The mural is actually a selfie mural, the first one in Ocala. People can take refuge under the giant leaves and take their selfie there, then post it #SelfieMuralOcala,” offers Alsedek. “I love doing murals, especially outdoor ones because it brings art out to the people.”

All Hands On Deck

Artists: Cosby Hayes and Sarah Painter, www.spchwalls.com

Location: 517 NE 9th Street

From a distance, the murals’ bright colors and unusual patterns draw your attention to the concrete embankments flanking the underpass at the Ocala Skate Park and spark your curiosity. Appropriate to their location, the murals feature giant skateboard trucks, which are the T-shaped metal undergirdings of a skateboard. The title of the murals is a play on a common phrase but in this case refers to “the deck” on top of the skateboard, where the rider stands.

“We wanted to create a unique visual backdrop for the skate park, one that would please the skateboarders and make others wonder what they were seeing. By painting the skateboard trucks much larger than life, it created an interesting contrast,” offers Cosby Hayes, a Tallahassee-based artist who created the murals with his partner Sarah Painter. “It was by far the most unusual murals that we’ve ever done. It was a uniquely challenging project, but a fun challenge for us.”

The first challenge for Hayes and Painter was that the project began in June, the official start of Florida’s heat and humidity. Added to that daunting fact was that the duo was painting on concrete, which conducts heat, and had to deal with the angle of the embankments.

“We basically painted in the early morning and late night,” says Hayes, who has a bachelor’s in fine arts from Florida State University, as does Painter. “The City of Ocala provided us with outdoor events lighting to use when we painted at night. Everyone with the City of Ocala was wonderful to work with throughout the project.”

The duo used exterior latex paint primer and then a sprayer to paint the giant, colorful skateboard trucks while crab-walking up and around the embankments. The murals were completed in 16 days and perfectly frame the Ocala Skate Park.

“We were honored to be part of the Ocala’s ongoing public art project,” says Hayes. “Public art projects are a great community investment. They make our communities more vibrant and interesting places to live and visit.”

Self-guided public art tours are available at www.ocala.oncell.com

Reflections Through Flora

Artist: Ernesto Maranje, www.maranje.com

Location: Brick City Center for the Arts at 23 SE Broadway Street

A larger-than-life black bear peers out from a quintessential Florida nature scene of cypress trees and sabal palms. He is flanked by a pair of roseate spoonbills looking for just the right spot to land in the water and a half-dozen monarch butterflies seeking sustenance in the flora.

The living-art mural, on the west-facing side wall of the Brick City for the Arts building, also incorporates attached, custom-fabricated plant trellises to allow for actual plants to grow into the painted wall. The only one of its kind in Ocala, the mural is a collaboration between Miami-based artist Ernesto Maranje, artist and fabricator Mike Zeak and horticulturalist Suzanne Shuffitt.

“I was first drawn to nature by an aesthetic curiosity. And I’ve always been interested in colors, patterns and textures, like animal fur,” says Maranje, who began painting while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. “Later, my curiosity grew to explore our connection to nature and to realize we too are nature. And that is what fuels my art.”

Traveling between Ocala and Miami to work on the mural, Maranje also had to pause the project a few times thanks to the Florida summer weather and the COVID-19 outbreak. Using spray paint, Maranje worked on the mural for about four weeks. Zeak and Shuffitt then came in to add their contributions.

“My process involves abstract marks inspired by floral elements to create a cohesive whole. This mural portrays the unity of plants and animals by pulling together different segments from each for the finished product,” explains Maranje, who has painted murals in Greece, Spain, Iraq, Ukraine and the Kingdom of Jordan. “The use of live plants in my work is something that I’ve never done before and it really makes it a unique piece.”

Tiny Treasures

Artist Diane Cahal has captured the essence of 10 nonprofits in miniature displays.
By Susan Smiley-Height

Small Spaces, Big Places

Artist: Diane Cahal, www.artisticlunasea.com

Location: Various sites around downtown Ocala

Diane Cahal, a Texas native who has been a “cheerleader” for the arts in Marion County for more than 20 years, is a master at creating Polaroid manipulations, abstract watercolor and acrylic paintings, dioramas and miniatures.

It is the latter that caught the attention of the City of Ocala, resulting in the Small Spaces, Big Places exhibit of 10 pieces that have been installed in “secret garden” locations around the downtown area. The works include, for example, the headquarters of the Boys & Girls Club of Marion County, the Reilly Arts Center and Ocala Civic Theatre.

Cahal says that through her work with the Marion Cultural Alliance’s popular Horse Fever projects, she “experienced what public art brings to a community.”

“So, I wanted to give back, like a gift to the city,” she explains of the miniatures. “The works are not to scale, are not models and are not replicas. They are my artistic impression.”

The miniatures, which are coated in heavy resin, are mounted on stands that have been anchored into the landscape. It is expected they will remain “viable” for up to eight months.

The city’s Cultural Arts and Sciences Division commissioned Cahal to create the miniatures. The project was funded in part by a grant from the Ocala Municipal Arts Commission through the State of the Arts license plate fees.

Cahal earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in photography with a minor in studio art from Sam Houston State University in Texas. She is currently serving her second term as vice president of the Magnolia Art Xchange.

Although she has been creating artistic works for decades, it was after she had a stroke in 2018 that she embraced her craft full-time.

“Strokes have a funny way of stopping the world for a little life evaluation and assessment,” she notes.   

Cahal lives near Dunnellon and says that “living is just better surrounded by creativity, culture and the arts.”

You can take an interactive journey at ocala.oncell.com and view all 10 miniatures.

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