Paddock Mall unveils destination art mural

E.J. Nieves in front of “Paddock’s Valkyrie. Photography by James LaSalle with InfinityPhotos19.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted April 16, 2021 | By Susan Smiley-Height, Ocala Gazette

Ocala artist EJ Nieves’ ‘Paddock’s Valkyrie’ is meant to be interactive

E.J. Nieves in front of “Paddock’s Valkyrie. Photography by James LaSalle with InfinityPhotos19.

When the Washington Prime Group launched a mural project across the country to bring local art to some of their town centers, the group’s Paddock Mall property was one of those chosen.

Ashley Wheeler-Gerds, general manager for the mall and Gaitway Plaza in Ocala, said she wanted something to make the city stand out “along the likes of Tampa, Nashville and Atlanta.”

The massive “Paddock’s Valkyrie” mural created by EJ Nieves, located at the entrance to the food court, is a real eye-catcher and is attracting plenty of people to stop and take a photo—which is exactly what it is supposed to do.

Wheeler-Gerds said the project took months to plan and bring to completion.

“I had met EJ and he was still up and coming in our community. I knew what I wanted and commissioned EJ to help me bring it to life,” Wheeler-Gerds stated. “He listened to each idea and looked at every inspiration photo for a destination piece. I gave him specifics on color combinations to stay within our Paddock Mall and Washington Prime Group brand. He really elaborated on those and brought it to something I fell in love with.”

Nieves said it took him two weeks to create the spray-painted mural and that he worked mostly after hours.

“When I was painting it, the initial concept was wings. They sent me some ideas and I took theirs and mixed them with mine,” he said. “The wings looked very angular, more warrior than angelic. A friend said it reminded him of a Valkyrie. Then I added the gold on the tips as a symbol of strength. I think it really looks strong, like a warrior, so that’s where the name ‘Paddock’s Valkyrie’ came from.”

Wheeler-Gerds said the mural was a perfect fit.

“We delivered a gift to the community that can safely unite us as one. Hundreds of photos, videos and TikToks already flow bi-coastal, helping put Ocala and Paddock Mall on the destination map. We have had visitors from other cities come just to take a photo, stop on a road trip, or just locals wanting to be part of the movement.”

Josiam Vargas follows Nieves on Facebook and said he was keeping tabs on the project.

“When it was finished and I saw how great it came out, I knew I had to get my wife and son to take a picture,” Vargas said.

He went before the mall opened recently and had to fight the rain to get the snap.

“I think the most interesting part of it is that the beauty and meaning is in the eye of the beholder,” Vargas said. “Some people see different things within it. I see it as a metaphor for starting over and birthing a new you.”

Nieves said he finished the mural at 4:18 a.m. on the Saturday before Easter as Wheeler-Gerds had said they would like for it to be available that weekend.

“I went home for a little bit that morning then came back in early so we could do a Facebook live,” Nieves said. “After that, I sat down in the food court and I saw a father taking photos of his wife and daughter with the mural. That really was a heartfelt moment.”

Wheeler-Gerds said more art projects are planned for the mall.

Mall visitors are encouraged to visit the mural and snap photos, then upload them to social media using the hashtag #paddockmural.

To learn more about Nieves’ art, find him on Facebook and at

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