THOMASVILLE — The alligator in The UnVacant Lot in downtown Thomasville is not an ordinary gator. The reptilian mural is the work of an artist thrilled to be outdoors painting after a coronavirus-related quarantine.

Although typically found in marshy areas of the Southeast, until the end of summer, the wildly-colorful, 32-foot-long reptile is sitting still for viewing at 217 W. Jackson St. in The Bottom Creative District.a

Artist Toni Ardizzone takes viewers to a swamp with her homage to a mascot of the South.

"'Dinosaur of the South' is a celebratory work engaging the viewer with rhythmic, vibrating color and untamed brushstrokes. Like the alligator, which as a species has survived for more than 84 million years, the work embodies the resilience and strength needed to survive," said Darlene Crosby Taylor, Thomasville Center for the Arts public art director.

It is hoped the project, created in the unprecedented era of COVID-19, will convey the healing power of art. 

"Presented by Thomasville Center for Arts, in partnership with Hurst Boiler, the experience is sure to bring joy, hope and a sense of place to this community space," Taylor explained. 

Ardizzone created the larger-than-life mural on-site in three phases. The project required six weeks using a brush and roll technique.

With each phase, Ardizzone left the work in a state of evolution to keep one guessing about what would come next. By layering the piece and building on the work over time through a laborious rhythm of movement marked by bold strokes of color, she reconstructed her canvas over and over, Taylor said.

Ardizzone grew up in Indiana — "very far from alligators," she said.

She moved to Tallahassee two years ago and views alligators as "exotic creatures." The reptiles possess integrity and power, the artist said.

While Ardizzone enjoys painting murals and incorporating colors in each painting, the Thomasville project removed her from a virus quarantine to the outdoors and an opportunity to paint again.

She recalled the fun she had during the mid-May, three-day project in the courtyard-like setting.

Ardizzone developed the whimsical gator concept before the invasive virus arrived. She put the idea on hold.

"As I was working, it became more and more vibrant and responsive to the times," the artist said, adding that a creature considered vicious took on a lazy, friendly flair. "That kind of personality just kind of came out."

Ardizzone combines refined methods with a blue-collar skill set to create large-scale murals and tactile paintings. She received a  BFA from Indiana University's Herron School of Art and Design in 2006.

Taylor said the artist's prolific body of work has led to several solo exhibitions across the U.S., as well as international recognition. In 2019, Ardizzone was selected for two artist residencies, including Ayatana in Quebec, Canada, and the Palimpsest Project in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She received her MFA from FSU this spring.

Connect her at www.toniardizzone.com or Instagram @toniardizzoneart.

The UnVacant Lot public art experience is free and open to the public seven days a week from sunrise to 11 p.m. 

To learn more about Thomasville Center for the Arts and other projects designed to engage the community, visit www.thomasvillearts.org/publicart/unvacantlot/ or contact Taylor at dtaylor@thomasvillearts.org.

Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820 

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