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From the Magazine: Coral History

From its newly installed position in Boca Raton’s South Beach Park Pavilion, the various tendrils of artist Gregory Dirr’s sculpture “Recycled Reef” snake this way and that. Weighing some 2,000 pounds, it would be an impressive simulation of a coral reef even without the 1,000-plus additions clinging onto its appendages like barnacles: the sunglasses, the calculators, the cassette tapes, the weathered sports trophies.

With this accumulated plastic detritus plastering every inch of the sculpture, “Recycled Reef” becomes something deeper. It’s a monument to our collective waste—a totem to the stuff we throw away but that never goes away. Dirr and his wife, Ashleigh, scavenged many of these discards from Boca beaches.

“Whenever I do stuff like this, I think it’s more about being beautiful and being a good object that people like, and feel proud of, in their community,” says Dirr, 35, from his home in West Boca. “[As for] being preachy and teaching a lesson, I feel like that should come after. It should be something that hits you after you already like it. It’s a subversive way of forcing you to take part in it.

“Because it’s art; if it’s not beautiful and it’s not something cool to look at, then what’s the point, really?”

The City of Boca Raton selected Dirr’s concept after putting out a call to artists to design a public work that integrates recycled material. “Recycled Reef” is not Dirr’s first foray into public art, nor his first deployment of recyclables. He upcycled Plexiglass for “Spirits of South Florida,” an immersive series of sculpted animals threatened by extinction that dotted the grounds of Dreher Park in 2020.

“Red Kingdom” by Gregory Dirr

As an accomplished professional artist with a lengthy and eclectic C.V. dating to 2004, Dirr often has several irons in the fire—he’ll juggle commissioned pieces for public and private clients with his own passion project: “The Big Book,” a series of intricate and motley acrylic paintings that comprise a larger narrative, and that will eventually be accompanied by a book. Influenced by vintage American comic books and video games, it follows the adventures of Little Girl and Little Boy as they journey into mystical worlds that evoke both Lewis Carroll and Renaissance art.

“It’s meant for young adults to adults, but I wouldn’t say it’s Harry Potteresque, where there’s adult situations,” Dirr says. “There’s no bad language, people don’t die in it. It’s very existential in the sense of, what’s worse than dying? Or how do you love someone if you can’t have a physical or sexual connection with them? So what is love in that sense?”

Dirr has spent 10 years, on and off, toiling on “The Big Book,” and hopes to one day be awarded a residency where he can devote as much time to the words as he has to the visuals—and then to seek a publisher.

A graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Dirr grew up in the same West Boca house in which he lives now; his parents’ sentimental Norman Rockwell scenes, which take up most of a living-room wall, make for a jarring contrast to Dirr’s modernist paintings hanging catty-corner.

He has not held a full-time job since high school, confident that “the jobs will be there.” It has seen him through so far, while continuing to provide ample opportunity for his most personal work, and the universal, democratizing principles of “The Big Book.”

“I try to make everything acceptable to everyone, whether you’re a baby [or] 90 years old,” he says. “If you go to see the Mona Lisa, that affects everyone. … you get your own interpretation of this thing some guy made so long ago. Art has to be able to do that, or it’s just not really art.”

This story is from the May/June 2022 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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