Reginald O’Neil aka L.E.O., participant of 352walls, tells about the meaning of his work and Gainesville.
Tell me about the meaning of your work…
This is a portrait of Richard Hallman who was a 16-year-old kid who got killed in Miami, Florida; he is the cousin of Tremont Harris and friend of Antonio Galloway. This is a portrait of him playing Optimus football which is literally for the Overtown Tornadoes, and this is a photo from his last year playing before he passed in March this year… 
What is your relationship with Richard?
Well, I don’t really have a strong relationship with him, I grew up with him and also watched him grow up, because he was younger than me. He was 16 and I’m 23 years old. I wasn’t a mentor or
anything, he was just this kid in my community who played football. I watched his cousin, Treon, grow up as well because both of them are from Overtown… Tremont played for U.F. and he’s the quarterback now and Antonio Galloway is the wide-receiver.
How did you find this information? You had developed your idea before you came here, right? Normally you get your ideas when you visit a town, but this time you were prepared, weren’t you?
Yeah, I was prepared because I knew 352walls was in Gainesville and I knew Tremont played for U.F.; so I already had the idea because when his cousin was killed it took a big toll on the community as a whole then another young kid, Marvin East was killed on the same day. At the time, I didn’t have much to say, but when I had the opportunity to come to Gainesville, I just felt like this was the perfect time and the perfect place for me to pay tribute to this kid.
Sixteen-year-old Richard Hallman, of Allapattah, and 10-year-old Marlon Eason, of Overtown, who didn’t know another in life but have been bonded in their so-far inexplicable shooting deaths, were buried following separate funerals in the same church. – MiamiHerald.com
I noticed, you often paint people from Overtown.
Well, I’m working on a series about Overtown because it’s my neighborhood; its where I grew up and lived for 23 years.
You even painted in the school that you used to go to?
Yeah, I used to go to a school named Jose de Diego. I painted the grandson of Curtis young, who was an Overtown-based artist as well. He was a real famous artist but no one outside of the art-world.
Besides your mural career, you have a pretty good career in hip-hop music…
Yeah, maybe not a pretty good career… but I do hip-hop as well. I rap and that’s about it… I rap, I make music, and I guess I’m pretty good at it.
Is there more passion to something among those two arts or is it similar to you?
Kind of… they are parallel. This is going to say cliché, but I honestly feel like whatever I can’t paint or feel that I should express in words, I would use music for that outlet rather than painting a picture of it. Which kind of is a contradiction because I can do both but I feel that some things are better explained. I’ve been rapping way longer than I’ve been painting and I’ve been drawing for a long time too but I didn’t know how to trust myself with drawing until I started to paint. I started to learn about concepts and stuff like that and now I have a different voice other than rapping because rapping was
What is your impression of Gainesville?
I really like Gainesville! I didn’t have much of an opinion of this city but then we go here and spent some time and it’s been great… There are so many food places downtown… I really like it.
Even despite the fact that you went to jail here? Haha … Tell me about that.
Haha, yeah! I still like it … I just don’t like that one lady … Well, I don’t know her to like her or not, but it was just that one altercation out of the whole trip. Well… Elio and I were outside the hotel waiting for Axel Void to come downstairs so we could leave and go paint. So, we were sitting there listening to Kanye West and Travis Scott… there’s song called, “Piss on your grave,” and were listening to it out loud, then this lady, who turned out to be the general manager of our hotel, came out and started being very rude and yelling at us. She could have just said, “Could you please turn that down, my office is right here – “or whatever. She could have been politer but she was just rude form the get-go. So we just asked her why she was being so rude and then she just escalated because she thought she could control us and could try to bully us or whatever she thought… and then I don’t know she just called the police on us and all this other stuff…
That was probably really bad music to be playing out loud…
It’s good music!
Okay cool… So, I saw a lot of people stop by to talk to you while you are painting… Do you enjoy it?
Yeah I do! I like it because then I can explain what I’m doing or what I’m trying to do; and I like meeting the people too because some of them will sit there and talk to you about random things and you get to know them and you get to learn. So it’s good, it’s not distracting at all either.
Is this the biggest mural you have done? Has it been hard for you? Did you sketch it first?
Yeah, it is the biggest and I did sketch it out first. It hasn’t been hard, actually, I thought it was going to be but as I got going, I just went section by section. It wasn’t a physical as I thought it would be.
You even painted in the rain, which is amazing, the paint started to drip but you fixed it!!!
Yeah, I did. I’m really happy with it.
Thanks so much. I think it looks great!
Thank you for inviting me and having me here!
TRANSCRIBE BY RACHEL SOMMER