Ernesto Maranje turned a racquetball court’s blank wall into a mural that embodies Gainesville’s natural environment.
Local curated art project 352walls invited Maranje, 37, to paint a mural for the upgraded Northside Park, located at 5701 NW 34th Blvd., which was renovated with new equipment and facilities in October 2020.
Raquel Vallejo, one of the project coordinators, said she wanted Maranje to paint a mural last year after seeing his work in Wynwood, a neighborhood in South Florida known for its many murals. But the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the collaboration.
“We saw each other last December and he said, ‘You know, I happen to have one week in January,’” Vallejo said. “I said, ‘I'll take it.’”
After about a week of painting, the wall now depicts a giant horse surrounded by flowers and a scenic environment.
Vallejo said Maranje’s aim was to capture the history behind the horses of Paynes Prairie.
“These horses have been in Paynes Prairie since 2,000 years now,” Vallejo said. “This is the first time when the Spaniards brought the horses and then the natives kind of took over the horses and started domesticating them, and so it was the evolution of the horses in Paynes Prairie.”
Maranje said much of his inspiration comes from nature, and he likes to paint a lot of flora and fauna so the viewer can connect with nature and feel like they are part of it.
Vallejo said working with Maranje is an honor because he is one of the few artists that work freehand. She described his technique as organic and intuitive.
“He literally came here, looked at the wall, and I figured that he maybe had a sketch or some kind of drawing to show me and he didn't,” she said. “I said, ‘and how do you propose to do this?’ He said, ‘Freehand.’ I said, ‘Wow.’”
Maranje said every artist has their own process, and his process involves a lot of experimenting.
“Every wall has its own challenges and benefits,” he said. “So it allows me to tweak my process and learn something new. The wall I'm painting now is a racquetball court with a few sets of windows, so it's fun to incorporate my design into that shape. The end result always represents my work evolving and changing.”
Since its completion Jan. 30, the mural has already had an impact on the park, Vallejo said, and she hopes it sparks discussion for park-goers over time.
“The people that are looking at this mural are going to sense, it's an improvement,” she said. “It's a creation. It's artistic. It's a gorgeous piece, so I think lots of passersby are going to enjoy it and talk about it for a long time.”
Maranje said one of the main reasons he loves painting murals is because he loves to go to different communities, explore and bring a little extra happiness to the neighborhood.
With the completed mural, he said he hopes he can remind people how special their environment is.
“I live in South Florida, so I'm a close neighbor,” Maranje said. “But we don't have the same wildlife. Having Paynes Prairie and all of its wild horses and buffalo is something special.”
Contact Kristin Bausch at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @BauschKristin.
Kristin Bausch is a third-year journalism major at the University of Florida and a staff writer with the Avenue. Giving people an opportunity to share their story is one of her favorite things about writing. When not writing, she’s probably dancing.