International artist brings color to San Marco Square

International artist brings color to San Marco Square
Original art by London Artist Remi Rough covers the walls of Grape and Grain on Balis Place.

A painter with international fame has used the exterior wall of Grape and Grain as his canvas to bring life and color to San Marco Square.

Remi Rough, a street and gallery artist from South London, was commissioned by Grape and Grain owner Jonathan Davis and Art Republic Co-Founders Jessica Santiago and George Georgallis, to paint the wall June 15 and 16. Art Republic is a Jacksonville nonprofit that curates spaces that actively contribute to human health and performance by combining innovations in art, design, technology and wellness, according to its website.

The San Marco mural is the 37th Art Republic-sponsored street work to be painted in Jacksonville. Other works can be seen in Springfield and within the Downtown core, with several painted in June on the VyStar Building downtown.

“This is something we wanted to do for our city – to make it something of a living museum where you can just walk around and see wonderful pieces of art throughout our city,” said Art Republic’s Mark Ferreira of Riverside, who assisted Rough with the work. 

The mural comes on the heels of a spruce-up effort for Balis Place, the street between Grape and Grain and the San Marco Theatre, led by E. Zimmerman Boulos of San Marco. 

In May, Boulos enhanced the area by raising $12,000 from 20 residents including Davis and his brother, Ryan, and partner Frank Sanchez and securing a $4,500 donation from the San Marco Preservation Society to repair the sidewalk alongside the theater and simplify the landscaping. 

The sidewalk never slanted properly, causing a constant pool of water to gather, making it wet and muddy for people to walk through, said Davis, noting with the spruce-up, he and his partners envision putting outside seating in the area and occasionally closing the street, City willing, for outdoor events. “It’s really great real estate. Once it is well lit, colorful, and there’s outdoor seating and the landscaping is beautiful, it will be very different from the dark alleyway it was three years ago when it was constantly wet and muddy,” he said. 

Art Republic Artist Director Darryl Green with London Artist Remi Rough, Art Republic Founders Jessica Santiago and George Georgallis and Art Republic Assistant Mark Ferreira of Riverside
Art Republic Artist Director Darryl Green with London Artist Remi Rough, Art Republic Founders Jessica Santiago and George Georgallis and Art Republic Assistant Mark Ferreira of Riverside

The Davis brothers and partner Sanchez, owners of the San Marco Theatre, paid to trim the trees and put up string lights between the Grape and Grain building and the theater to add to the area’s new festive appeal. Also supportive of the project were former San Marco Theatre owner David Blue, and nearby building owners Eddie Fink and Keith and Joyce Kimball, who own the Grape and Grain building.

“For many years I thought that side street between the buildings looked like an afterthought and that somebody should do something about it,” said Boulos. “I finally realized that I was that somebody. The area was very dark at night and felt unsafe, so Lori Boyer had some additional street lighting added to the area,” he said, referring to San Marco’s former District 5 City Council representative.  “Once I was finished, I was approached by Jonathan Davis and his brother, Ryan, about the possibility of doing a mural on the side of the Grape and Grain building. Jonathan said international artist Remi Rough was coming over from London to do a downtown project for VyStar and that he would like to pay him to do his building while he was in town.”

Davis said the idea for the mural was born in March when he attended an out-of-town wedding and bumped into his old friends Jessica Santiago and George Georgallis, co-founders of Art Republic. At the wedding, he learned they were painting murals for VyStar in downtown Jacksonville, and he was able to discuss the idea of painting a mural in San Marco Square. On behalf of Grape and Grain, he gave a donation to Art Republic, and they agreed to organize the painting of the mural. 

“I’ve always felt that San Marco and the Square could use something like that. You’ve got classic buildings, classic architecture, which are art in and of itself,” said Davis. “I told Jessica and George, ‘I’ve got the perfect wall for you.’ They said to do something in San Marco would be an absolute dream, and we started to work on it from there.”

Davis sent Rough photos of the Square and surrounding neighborhood before receiving sketches and color palettes back and then approached the San Marco Preservation Society with his plan. SMPS rejected the first design saying “we’d like to do something a little differently that could tie in better with what we feel the building is,” Davis said, noting after a color adjustment switching the pink and black palette that was “more like South Beach,” to more Tuscan colors, the board agreed wholeheartedly. 

“The first color scheme was too dark for the Square,” added Boulos. “I had my wife, Terry, and several of the designers here at OE&S come up with some alternate color palettes representing the Art Deco and Art Nuevo eras. Remi took those into consideration and came up with a second palette, which we chose to go with, because the colors were less saturated and more in keeping with the area.”

“My biggest thing was making sure the design wasn’t something that was going to be offensive to anyone, and the geometric colorful design we decided on would be hard to offend anyone. I think it’s amazing. I was standing out in front of it the other day and no less than six people came up to take photos of it,” said Davis, adding visitors will most likely be drawn into the Square just to see the work of an artist of Rough’s international stature. “Pictures of this will be shared, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of times. It will bring recognition not only to the artist and the artwork, but also to San Marco.”

Linzee Ott, president of the San Marco Preservation Society, said her organization fully supported the mural. “We want to highlight the arts. We’ve already got so much art all through Jacksonville, and we want to showcase that in San Marco,” she said. “The San Marco Preservation Society has had some conversations about a potential competition or sponsorship of a local artist. That’s something we would like to see more of – art on our walls or wherever we can get it,” she said. “We weighed in on the scheme and the colors on this one. We offered our feedback on the overall atmosphere and characteristics of San Marco. We want consistency. We have our identity and our history but at the same time we want to be a young, fun, new and hip community as well. I think there is a perception among the historic communities of Jacksonville that San Marco maybe a little older and a little more traditional and conservative than Riverside or maybe Springfield. I think this will help people to see San Marco differently.”

Davis said logistics – especially time and rainy weather – were a big reason Rough did not paint the entire wall. He said plans are in the works to bring Rough and another artist back in November to paint something “super complementary” on the rear half of the building. 

Although many who have seen the mural voiced the opinion that Bank of America perhaps should do something similar on its blank wall that faces the Square, Davis said he wasn’t sure if putting up additional murals should become a trend in San Marco. “I think you take things one step at a time,” he said. “Do I think it would be great to turn every open wall in San Marco Square into a canvas? Probably not. I think you need to do things one at a time. Find the right artist, find the right canvas, find the right artwork and then go from there. Things change. Times change. I think this one piece is fantastic. We will tackle the next one when the opportunity presents.”

As he was painting, Rough said he enjoyed working in San Marco. “I did some research on the area, and it’s kind of like going back into time,” he said. “It reminds me of Hill Valley in the movie, ‘Back to the Future.’ The mural is very abstract, but that’s what I do. They wanted to do it here because this is such a lovely wall – so blank and boring. It’s nice to be able to give people free art. Instead of having to pay five pounds for entry, for everybody here, it’s free.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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