JEFRË’s Large Sculptures and Art Installations Activate Public Places, Connecting People in Shared Humanity. A New Exhibit At the Orlando Museum of Art Delves Into His Powerful Messages and Metaphors.
The artist known by the single moniker, JEFRË, believes in the power of art to activate public spaces and bring people together in shared humanity. Since a near death experience brought on by a heart-attack in 2008, JEFRË has been creating large scale art installations that serve as iconic landmarks and placemakers. He also creates human scale works of art, often multimedia and always with a powerful subtext or narrative from his personal life.
I met JEFRË several years ago through mutual friends at a social event at Lake Nona, where he resides. He stood out from the crowd, fashionably dressed and wearing his signature sunglasses and hat. There was an obvious creative edge and energy to him that drew in people. Over my many years writing about art and design, I’ve seen how art connects us. I first witnessed the power of his work several years ago with the activation of The Beacon and Code Wall in Lake Nona.
The 60-foot tower, Jefre designed to mimic an old stethoscope as a nod to Medical City, serves as a screen to project multimedia shows at night set to soundscapes. The public art piece functions as the stairwell to a parking garage composed of 1300 panels with laser cut outs of 0s and 1s, a nod to computer coding.
That night, I witnessed how public art can activate places and spaces as a bridge-builder, crossing language and cultural divides to remind us at our core we are all human with a shared love of beauty and a desire to feel alive.
JEFRË ’s mammoth works are powerful metaphors, thought provoking manifestations of universal truths and experiences. Although widely known and respected abroad, I’ve felt until recently, that the artist’s work flies under the radar locally. Finally, the art community “gets it” and is giving JEFRË the respect his art deserves with a solo exhibition at The Orlando Museum of Art, JEFRË: Points of Connection.
The exhibition features a series of site specific installations and sculptures constructed at a human scale introducing the audience to his past projects and works from his current studio practice.
“The hope is that other curators will see this and the ideas will travel to other cities and museums. It has a high level of thinking,” JEFRË says.
The exhibit begins with the work Rice Field, 2020 made of expired white and brown rice and set to the soundscape Swinging Bowls, 2020 by Ayo the Producer
JEFRË is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from the Philippines. Rice Field is a reflection on his heritage and the nature of life’s journey. The undulating topography of 13 bands of white and brown, rice referencing the US Flag, suggests ocean waves or the rolling hills of an Asian landscape. JEFRË’s poem Heart to Heart begins here and guides the visitor through the exhibition with stanzas in each gallery.
The Filipino-American artist’s poem Heart to Heart explores his immigrant identity, history with heart disease and creative work as a city placemaker.
Next we encounter A Flower In Bloom Series, 2020 X-Ray1/X-Ray 2 JEFRË created using film and medical lightboxes.
I move on into a large gallery space housing The Baks Series, JEFRË’s signature work. These large steel sculptures of polyhedrons represent urban dwellers and culture.
JEFRË sees people as the building blocks of the city. The heads of his sculptures are blocks that have become iconic forms with the poses of each figure conveying emotional and spiritual meaning. JEFRË creates these 3 dimensional sculptures using a system of connected polyhedrons that create complex three-dimensional plans in a system known as “low poly.”
The artist named The Baks Series for the phonetic pronunciation of the word “box” in American English.
The next gallery features JEFRË ’s challenges living with a chronic heart condition and his artistic awakening.
Medicine Library, 2020 Empty Prescription Bottles documents the amount of pills JEFRË takes daily to treat his heart condition, arranged alphabetically like a library. The work represents only a sample of the numerous pharmaceuticals the artist has taken for his heart condition since 2008.
In My Body: 56,345 Pills, 2020 explores the meaning of his pharmaceutical treatment with a free form sculpture that stacks pills from his daily regime of taking six pills in the morning and six pills in the evening. The artist’s life depends upon this ritual.
The central gallery space holds ONE Love, (BAKS Series) 2020. JEFRË made this 15 foot sculpture out of steel and moss with a cubed head that serves as a projection screen. Business mogul Richard Branson commissioned the work for his Virgin Fest and loaned it to the museum for the exhibit.
The sculpture features two seated figures placed back to back to transfer energy to each other. They serve as two symbols of international love and project the eyes of visitors onto the cubed head. The work is set to the soundscape of Heartbeats by Ayo the Producer.
I end my immersive experience with JEFRË’s art at the Talking Heads, Collection (Conscious series/COVID-19) 2020.
The 15 large acrylic heads are molds of JEFRË’s head and each speaks words of empowerment in different languages such as “I am free, I am brave, I am kind,” set to the soundscape Lots of Room, 2020 by Ayo the Producer.
On the floor beneath each head is a QR code that you capture with your phone’s camera and follow the prompt on the screen. The program will pronounce the word in the language displayed and provide an English translation.
JEFRË says the work is a reflection of today’s globally connected world and how the things that divide us— nationalities, borders and languages —must be negotiated to move forward while celebrating the possibilities of connection and progress.
Putting together a solo exhibition poses a unique set of challenges during a pandemic. JEFRË produces many of his large sculptural pieces in Asian workshops and had to ship his art to Orlando.
The Orlando Museum of Art allocated a generous use of space to properly showcase JEFRË’s works so visitors can appreciate the scale and perspective of each piece.
The exhibition runs through January 3. The museum is encouraging visitors to book advance reservations through the museum’s online timed ticketing system. A limited number of tickets will be available for on-site purchase each day. This exhibition is presented by AdventHealth and Dr. Phillips Charities. Additional support comes from The Mall at Millenia and Monster XP.
JEFRË (born Jefre Figueras Manuel ) currently resides in Lake Nona where several of his site-specific artworks are on view including “The Beacon” and “Code Wall” (2014) and a large sculpture of a mirrored dog, from The BAKS Series.
The artist is currently working on a 24-story high standing figure with arm raised, titled “The Victor.” Located at a bridge connecting the cities of Pasig and Quezon in the Philippines, the sculpture is expected to be completed in 2020 and will be one of the world’s tallest artworks. Other works in major cities around the world include “Reflection” (2010) in Philadelphia’s Unity Plaza, “Heaven’s Gate” (2019) in Manila.