Biking, utility boxes, and “our” neighborhood painter

posted in: Bikes, Creativity, Serendipity | 10

A while ago, the city of Fort Collins figured out that the least expensive way to deal with graffiti on utility boxes was to hire artists to paint murals on them. A program hiring artists to transform the transformer boxes began in 2006, and is explained in part in a PDF of the city utilities newsletter from 2008.

I like graffiti that has artistry to it and that doesn't deface other artists' work. Unfortunately, a lot of the graffiti in this city consists of clumsy and ugly tagging and some of it does mess up other art.

The murals, on the other hand, are creative and diverse. The program saves the city money and stashes cash in artists' pockets, on its way to doing further good in the community.

Eighteen artists are working on boxes around town this year.

What a delight it's been for my daughter and me to discover that the boxes along our most-often-used section of bike trail have been scheduled to be painted. Most of the painting has been done in the more central parts of the city. One pair of boxes will feature birdlife, especially Red-winged Blackbirds (by Redwing Street; PDF here—I've only seen one of these boxes so far, and it's complete).

There's also a whole series of boxes offering new doses of evolving brightness, courtesy of artist Francisco Esteban. My daughter and I first became aware of the sudden addition of graphic imagery on the boxes. Here's one color set-up:

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And another:

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I was initially worried, thinking that the colors and white dots were interesting but would invite tagging, because of their simplicity. It was interesting to find myself considering that the design of the artwork actually goes a long way toward discouraging ugly additions later.

Later, we occasionally caught sight of the artist working on the pieces. Of course, we've been on our bikes so we've zoomed on past. I'd been planning to take my camera and get pictures of the boxes, just by themselves, figuring I wouldn't happen to be there when the artist was.

As the weeks progressed, we began to see that the white circles were turning into bicycle wheels, and small flocks of black-and-white cyclists were accumulating, slowly, on one of the boxes.

Sunday I biked downtown to have breakfast with a friend and remembered to take my camera. On the way back, this was what I saw . . .

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I managed to overcome my natural shyness and stopped and asked if I could take some snapshots and share them on my blog.

Fortunately, it turns out that there's a lot more to come for these boxes. I love the radically different colors in this pair. And the whole painting set-up. This guy knows what he's doing, as an artist and from the pragmatic angles.

Many more of those ovals have already turned into lines of racing cyclists:

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The work is proceeding steadily, and I'm enjoying watching the construction of these pieces. I looked up the concept PDF and learned that there will be additional colors coming in the cyclists' jerseys after the black-and-white portions are all in place. It turns out that I can also follow the progress of the murals online in another PDF, although I'd rather do it in person as I bike along the trail.

I also enjoy seeing how this artist gets to his work site.

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On one of my trips past where he's working, I'll need to ask about the bike. I haven't seen many cargo bikes around town. These vehicles can handle up to 400 pounds (about 180 kg).

Fortunately, there's a summer ahead of us, and it's going to take a while to make those transformer boxes even more beautiful. Considering how long Francisco is going to be working on them, we're figuring he's a new part-time neighbor. It's really nice to have artists hanging out and doing good work in our part of the world. It makes me want more art, everywhere. It's also fantastic that artists are being paid to do work that has both aesthetic and practical value.

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10 Responses

  1. Fascinating – I love the way you look at all sorts of things and show them to us.

  2. I’m glad you enjoy my randomness, Freyalyn! Sometimes I wonder about my variety of topics, but “wonder” is part of what this blog is about–!

  3. I love that idea!
    How fun to be able to watch how the artwork develops week by week.

  4. I just hope that the funding is adequate for the amount of work!

    I like that he has, from what I can tell on his website and the public art materials, at least these two aspects to his artwork: the landscape/floral work appears to be quite fluid, while what he's done for the transformer boxes is very graphic and intricate.

    The bike rides are great anyway, but seeing the incremental progress of the artwork has added a layer of interest to a stretch that I normally think of as "there are enough trees here to keep me from getting completely drenched if it starts pouring."

  5. I’ve envied the beautiful boxes in Fort Collins–what a treat that you’ve found the artist, and can let us follow the progress of yet another creation, if only virtually. Thank you!

  6. I'll see if I can update at intervals through the summer, Kris.

  7. Ah, there was just a public art call by the City of Calgary to paint up utility boxes like this too! The money’s not bad for what the job is either.

    (If anyone’s interested, the posting is at http://www.calgary.ca/docgallery/bu/recreation/public_art/Painted-Utility-Box-Project-2011.pdf)

    Too bad I can’t paint much more than a fence or apply polyurethane to my unfinished spinning wheel, or I’d apply…. 🙂

  8. Francisco

    Thanks for the compliments and making the time to write about my art work.

  9. Thought you might enjoy this blog post and the links therein:
    http://islandweavings.blogspot.com/

    But you probably already know about:
    http://isleofauskerry.com/

  10. Design of the picture is really looks amazing. These type of box are really good to be look in public. About one week ago I have been taken a good picture of pots from the market. I use to be hang on my bedroom.

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