Meet the Filipino-American artist behind the 151-foot ‘Jax’ sculpture coming to new downtown park

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The artist known as Jefrë, born Jefre Figueras Manuel, has created life-size public art pieces in cities like Manila, London, Abu Dhabi and Orlando.

After a Thursday’s decision by a city committee, it looks like his next massive art installation will be in Jacksonville, part of a new park where the Jacksonville Landing once stood.

Perkins & Will, which received the highest marks out of three designs presented to the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA), was picked to redevelop Riverfront Plaza with a beer garden, a hotel, a play area and a multi-million dollar 151-foot stainless steel “Jax” sculpture designed by Jefrë.

Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer said the sculpture — tentatively named “The Jax” — is a big reason why it chose the Perkins & Will design over two other contenders.

The Filipino-American artist from Florida celebrated the selection on his Instagram page.

“I always been blessed to create artworks for developers or buildings but this is the first time I been blessed with creating an ICON for a CITY!” he wrote on Instagram. “Thank you @cityofjax for this amazing opportunity and thank you to @perkinswill @perkinswill_miami for trusting me and being inviting me to be on your team! Let’s Go!!!”

So what was the inspiration behind the design?

“This is really art about the people,” Jefrë told News4Jax on Thursday. “It’s really about understanding the city, the people and the culture.”

During a presentation last month, Jefrë said his vision for the sculpture started with the St. Johns River.

“It’s really this idea of not having the river being horizontal but bringing it vertically into the city,” he said. “And as I was looking at vertical forms I started out with this idea of an anchor, the idea that you know, Jacksonville is an anchor to Florida.”

When he started looking at forms related to anchors he looked at ropes and that’s when the idea started to come together.

“But it was interesting, as I sort of bisected the anchor it started looking like a “J.” And I really wanted to look at ideas of where there was really not only about the river but also the people of Jacksonville,” he said.

And the symbolism goes deeper than that. The “J” is 310-feet long, which represents 310 miles of the length of the St. Johns River.

“So there’s actually art in here that has some symbolism to what’s authentically Jacksonville,” he added.

Jefrë said the goal of the sculpture, which will cost $11-$18 million, is for it to become a cultural icon, create postcard moments and help the city make money in the process through branding and events.

“They all get close to 40 million visitors, and you can call it whatever you want if that’s the kind of attraction we get to the city of Jacksonville,” he said.

Although DIA loves the sculpture, not everyone is a fan. Some people say the words are hard to make out and look more like “Lex” or other words.

“Welcome to Lexonville!” one News4Jax commenter wrote.

Jefrë doesn’t seem phased by the criticism. He understands the sculpture can be seen or interpreted in many ways.

He’s eager to work on the new project and change the Jacksonville skyline for years to come.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.