On a 65-by-26-foot portion of a wall in Butler Plaza, a massive green gator windup toy is painted. Behind the toy, the shadow of a fully grown, growling gator looms.
“I can only hope if, and when, people stop to look at the mural that they see themselves in it and understand the message behind it,” the mural’s artist, Leon Keer, said. “We are all the small alligator that hopes to grow into something or someone bigger.”
Keer unveiled his Gator-themed 3D mural in Butler Plaza Wednesday morning. This mural is the first piece in a multi-part art-walk sponsored by Butler Enterprises to draw out customers and supplement the shopping experience at the growing economic hub in southwest Gainesville.
Lory Goldsmith, 38, attended the unveiling and said she frequents the area often.
“I am happy that they have started to beautify the space. After all, who doesn’t like to look at cool art?” she said.
Keer is a Dutch pop-surrealist artist and a leader in anamorphic art. He has been an artist for 30 years and has presented his work at places as near and fear as Art Basil in Miami to a gallery in the United Arab Emirates. The Gainesville mural took him five days to complete.
He said public art is about connecting communities and bringing color to the everyday mundane aspects of life.
President of Butler Enterprises Deborah Butler hired urban art curator Iryna Kanishcheva to find artists for the art-walk area.
“When we were still in the brainstorming phase, we knew we wanted something to do with a gator because it is such a big symbol in our community,” Kanishcheva said. “I knew I had to pick an artist who could turn a gator mural into an interactive experience – something the audience can step into and become a part of.”
Shoppers can interact with it by posing and making it look like they are winding up the toy. Kanishcheva said Keer, a master optical illusionist, was the perfect fit.
Mary Reichardt, a Butler Enterprises spokeswoman, worked alongside Kanishcheva on the art-walk initiative.
“Nowadays, retailers have to go to the extra mile and provide an experience that can’t be offered by online stores,” Reichardt said. “This art-walk allows us to give our customers a cultural experience and attract more clientele who may not regularly shop with us, yet.”
Butler herself earned a minor in art history at Emory University, so she wanted to combine her love for art and property development. She plans to commission more artists in the future – local and international – to continue the art-walk beyond murals.
“Why should a crosswalk just be a raised piece of concrete or little pavers?” Butler said. “We want the pieces to capture one’s imagination, and Leon’s work does this perfectly.”