In 2001, Justin Gaffrey was ready to rinse his schedule of furniture design and culinary arts. Instead, he was anxious to work hands-on and creatively in an effort to do what would make him happy and bring joy to others. A local restaurant owner and head chef, he sold his business “Caffe Sublime” in Gulf Place, and he decided to dip into painting.
Gaffrey began to paint every day and later began sculpting. He now has collectors state wide and internationally and travels all over the world with his work.
His pieces have been published in Southern Living, Florida Digest, and Better Homes & Gardens, and he has had museum and gallery shows in New York, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, and Richmond, Va.
When Gaffrey was just 10 years old, his family moved to Walton County, Florida. There, a love for nature and the water was born including scuba diving and snorkeling.
His work is partially inspired by nature and by the human nature and life experience.
When he heard the local talk and rumors about the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) and the call to artists, he was thrilled, “I have been excited with the reef program since the beginning.”
The UMA’s artificial reef is the first of its kind in North America and is located approximately 0.7 miles off the shore of Grayton Beach and is 60 feet deep.
Gaffrey’s sculpture “Self Portrait” stands eight feet tall and is inspired by the animal he identifies with the most, the deer. He also drew from other sculptures he has created.
Starting from the feet up, Gaffrey began welding various lengths of stainless steel bars. The end results of the sculpture were different than he had imagined.
It was originally supposed to include a rabbit and a bee, “It grew into its own being, almost like an ancient mythological deer.”
Gaffrey took a brave and bold chance, and relinquished the life he thought he knew. He set out to do what would make him happy, and it landed him 60 feet below the sea.
The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA)’s mission is to create marine habitats and expand fishery populations while providing enhanced creative, cultural, economic and educational opportunities for the benefit, education and enjoyment of residents, students and visitors in South Walton.