Six years ago, Iryna Kanishcheva knew nothing about street art.
She studied business and pharmaceutical sciences, unaware of the murals she would soon come to love after traveling Europe.
After moving from Ukraine to the U.S. three years ago, she wanted to share her newfound passion with the residents of her new hometown: Gainesville.
Kanishcheva later submitted a proposal for 352walls, a project to expand urban art in and around downtown Gainesville.
Each artist, she said, is bringing his or her own styles — developed in countries around the world — to Gainesville.
Along with cities like Miami and Baltimore, artists involved in the project traveled from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Spain, Ukraine and elsewhere.
“I wanted to bring this kind of art in Gainesville because we didn’t have this before,” Kanishcheva said. “I wanted to bring this kind of culture and bring economic development.”
Russell Etling, the cultural affairs manager for the Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, said he loved the idea.
He said the murals have already advanced their plan to make Gainesville a cultural destination.
“We are receiving feedback from people who visited or extended their stay because of the murals,” he said.
Kanishcheva met each artist on her travels, and now they’ve reunited to create murals that represent the city.
“I selected the international artists because I tried to choose the best and most relevant ones,” she said.
Nine international muralists have passed through Gainesville and left their mark downtown since November. In addition, 13 local artists have also painted 10 murals on the Make.Work facility, which formerly housed Discount Hi-Fi.
The international artists have drawn attention to buildings both busy and vacant alike.
On The Top restaurant, an Argentinian artist who goes by Paste painted a floral piece in hues of teal, periwinkle and eggshell.
On the former Shadow Health building, Jaz, another artist from Argentina, painted a scene of creatures and plants not often seen in the urban environment.
Nathalie McCrate, the project manager of the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, said the murals have morphed certain overlooked buildings into landmarks.
“This mural is a perfect activation of underutilized spaces downtown,” she said. “Some of them are obvious and some are more secretive — ones you have to hunt down.”
Raquel Vallejo, the project coordinator of 352walls, said each mural has a unique style and includes elements of inspiration from Gainesville’s landscape.
“They have gone all over the world,” Vallejo said. “Wherever they are, their work is particular to where they are.”
Ukrainian muralist duo Interesni Kazki, consisting of Aleksei Bordusov and Vladimir Manzhoare, started their mural on the side of Market Street Pub and Cabaret on Thursday.
The name Interesni Kazki translates to interesting fairytale.
“We search the local area for the atmosphere,” said Bordusov. “Usually we do it freestyle. We have sketches that we did before. Maybe we will combine something and add details that connect it to Gainesville. We’ll see.”
Before they arrived, Interesni Kazki were told about American football and the Gators. Neither had been to Gainesville or knew what to expect.
“Murals for this town bring more life, some fresh dreams,” Bordusov said. “The town feels a bit boring. But murals bring some life.”
They also feel they can bring their own ideas and culture to Gainesville during their short visit.
“We try to reflect some details from local places and mythology,” said Bordusov. “Sometimes we use details of Ukrainian culture.”
Muralists create their work in only a few days, without much preparation, Vallejo said.
“They come here with an open mind and when they get here, they figure it out,” she said. “It’s really an organic process.”
Wes Bivins, a clerk at Downtown Convenience, watched muralist Gaia paint his store for six days.
“I don’t think they showed up here before they started work. I don’t think they stuck around,” Bivins said. “They were just kind of throwing it together.”
Still, Bivins appreciates the change in scenery outside his shop.
“Every time I turn the corner and see that flower up there, it’s almost photorealistic,” Bivins said. “He did (the flower) in four hours — the guy is a boss.”
Vallejo said the fast pace is common among muralists.
“This process is specific to the urban art genre,” Vallejo said. “None of the artists know what they are going to do until they get here.”
Sometimes the final result is a surprise even to the Interesni Kazki duo.
“We usually develop the story during the work,” Bordusov said. “Two weeks can change the story a lot.”
The pair believes their work should never have an implied meaning.
“It’s better when the work is multidimensional in meaning,” said Bordusov. “Each person finds their own meaning. It’s interesting to hear what people see.”
Even after the artists depart, Gainesville residents will find their own meanings in the global perspectives depicted on local stores and restaurants, Manzhoare said.
“It’s like a bit of globalization in a good way — a cultural exchange,” he said.