Friday, July 29, 2016

Fil-Am International Artist JEFRЁ Reconnecting With His Filipino Roots

Wazzup Pilipinas!

JEFRЁ – a name that’s been steadily gaining recognition in the Manila creative scene. As the internationally acclaimed public artist and former landscape architect brings his considerable talents from his Florida studio to create even more thought-provoking pieces here at home, it won’t be long ‘til JEFRЁ becomes a Filipino household name.

Born and raised in Chicago to parents who were natives of Ilocos Sur and Laguna, Jefre Manuel Figueras studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before pursuing a degree in Landscape Architecture from Ohio State University.

“I went into the arts at the Art Institute of Chicago in the beginning 'cause I wanted to pursue my passions from high school into college. But then my parents were concerned about the struggles of a starving artist, saying, how am I gonna make money in art? So I went to Ohio State to study Urban Design and Landscape Architecture to be a city planner.”

His first decade out of college had him working for established firms like Skidmore Owings and Merril; and working for clients and involved in partnerships with some of the biggest industry names Santiago Calatrava, BIG Architect’s, Zaha Hadid and Philippe Starck – until a heart attack changed his view of the world and the legacy he wanted to leave. 

At the age of 35, JEFRЁ underwent triple bypass surgery, quit the firm, and used his 401(k) retirement funds to do competitions and study at Morpho Ecology at the Architecture Association in London.

“When I came back from London, I decided not to go back to a firm. I started my own practice (now known as StudioJEFRЁ) and joined competitions. In the US, there are a lot of competitions that have public funding. There were 300 to 400 people who would apply and then they would shortlist the three finalists. You would present your idea and if you won, you were awarded the project. In my first year, I was a finalist in 12 projects. You hope to win one... I won eight in my first year. I was the fastest emerging artist to win that number of competitions in my first year believe it was credit to proposing site specific art as a form of catalyst for economic redevelopment .”

Touring the cities of Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Antonio and across the Atlantic to London and Abu Dhabi, one is bound to find a JEFRЁ creation. His works have a way of simultaneously imbibing the culture within its surroundings and turning that culture into a stand-out, modern piece.

Take, for example, The Beacon and The Code Wall both showcased in the heart of Lake Nona’s Medical City in Florida. Inspired by advancements in technology, medicine, and their roles in his own life, JEFRЁ collaborated and commissioned with world-renowned digital artists to complete his larger-than-life digital museum.

Comparing himself to other artists, JEFRЁ notes that he is not a “theme or material-based studio artist” – and that helps set him apart from the rest of the pack. Context, primarily through getting to know the community’s locals, is central to his site-specific works.

“When I go into a city and they ask me to do artwork and they ask what kind of art I wanna do, I say ‘Art that inspires people, art that can one day be considered your Eiffel Tower or what he describes as a city’s postcard moment. So if I can do the Philippines’ International Monument or Iconic Destination, that would be my dream.”

JEFRЁ’s first entry to his native homeland was made possible by The Net Group, developers of Net Lima and Net Park. He is on the process of creating a sculpture called “Selfie” – something which he hopes to be BGC’s most iconic piece as he completes it by the end of the year.

That, then, led to JEFRЁ’s introduction to the developer giant SM Group. He became one of the first artists commissioned for permanent art sculptures at SM Aura (Sculpture Contour Series) and at SM Ecom 5 (Talking Heads). The former “explores the concept of the unknown customer service representative” in a country known for its business process outsourcing industry while the latter features “four culturally symbolic animals” executed in layers mimicking the artwork site – an upscale shopping mall – and another Philippine icon, the Banaue Rice Terraces.

Since starting his own practice, JEFRЁ has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as the Consultant of the Year for 2016 and as an Up and Coming International Public Artist by the Marlborough Gallery in New York City. As a landscape architect, he has been given the Designer Award of Merit by the AIA in 2008 and named as one of seven Faces of Design by the Florida Inside Out architecture magazine in 2007.

Out of the slew of recognitions, JEFRЁ is most honored by his recent 2016 nomination by the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum Award for the category of Design Mind. He is looking forward to his future endeavors locally and nationwide.

For his latest works, like his official Facebook page:; and follow him on Instagram: @jefre_miami.

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