The city of Aspen and Aspen Ideas Festival – partnering for a pavement mural next to the Wheeler Opera House – have chosen Carbondale artist Chris Erickson for the job.
The public art is scheduled for unveiling on Sunday, June 25, during the opening weekend of the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Erickson will be working with the partners and the community to install the temporary work at the intersection of South Mill Street and Hyman Avenue to promote pedestrian safety.
“Creating Aspen’s first ever public art plan is an exciting opportunity for the community to join in shaping something visionary and expressive of Aspen,” said Sarah Roy, executive director of Red Brick Center for the Arts. “This project serves as an example of how public art can bring people together, offer new experiences, and add uniqueness to our shared spaces. We invite all to help create this street mural, learn about public art, and share their ideas for Aspen’s public art program.”
This project was inspired by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Arts Initiative, whose studies have shown an improvement in pedestrian safety from public art projects, according to city officials A low-toxicity exterior paint will be used for this mural, and a non-slip aggregate will be applied to enhance pedestrian safety.
Erickson, a Colorado native who has lived and worked in the Roaring Fork Valley for 20 years and has an established relationship with The Aspen Institute, is a proponent of art that gets the community involved.
“The concept was intriguing to me because making art can be such an isolated endeavor,” he said. “With this project, I thought it was a great opportunity to build the community. We’ve been losing that as a culture, and I think Aspen is a little void of that right now. Any opportunity to bring a bunch of people together randomly to pursue the same thing and step back and see what we make, I think it’s going to be exciting. It’s an opportunity to interact with your neighbors and just be a part of something bigger than yourself.”
This isn’t the painter, sculptor, and installation artist’s first larger scale work in town with a purpose. In December 2021, his installation, “The Melted Gondola,” was prominently featured at the top of Aspen Mountain, challenging visitors and locals to think about climate change: aspentimes.com/news/were-melting-artist-chris-erickson-and-skico-want-climate-change-in-your-face.
He is known for building oversized, one-of-a-kind props used in events, private functions like weddings, and in his fine-art work.
“I consider myself an installation artist, whatever that means,” he said. “I create a lot of sculpture-based installation, which is great because it’s forced me to work in different materials and challenged me to learn and try new things. In my fine art, I make sculptural paintings, and that’s informed by some of the just experimenting with that other stuff.”
Originally from the Front Range, Erickson spent his teenage years in Denver during the mid- to late-1980s, which said had huge influence on his style as an artist.
“I think that my sense of place is a big determining factor in what I make,” he said. “I was really a hardcore skateboarder, and then at that time, there was a really great punk-rock music scene in Denver. Those two things influenced me heavily. And then the artwork associated with that was great artists doing concert posters, like Raymond Pettibon for Black Flag. And then snowboarding came along, and in Colorado, that was a revolution of sorts.”
After dabbling in graphic design in his early career, he followed his passion for snowboarding up here and set up a production company, PROP, building props and other installations.
He said that while the valley hasn’t always been the easiest place to a build a life, it has afforded him many opportunities he probably wouldn’t have had elsewhere.
“Carbondale has a great track record of supporting artists in the way that they can support artists. It’s typically not flush with cash, but there is a lot of inclusion,” he said. “It’s just an overall creative environment because there are a lot of creative people here. And then you have the luxury of having Aspen, and Basalt now, and there’s money and a big philanthropic undercurrent, which creates opportunities for artists like myself to make a living, which we all need to do.”
The upcoming installation will take place across June 24-26, which will involve some traffic diversions. The team has not released any design elements yet, but plans to give the community a small sneak peak before June without completely revealing the design before it goes up.
June 24 will involve the streets being blocked off and cleaned to prepare for the one-day installation on the 25. On June 25, the public is invited to come to the project site at the intersection of South Mill Street and Hyman Avenue and help paint the mural.
City and Aspen Ideas officials hope the main day of installation will be a community celebration, offering ways to engage beyond the painting of the mural, and they plan to prioritize the involvement of the public in the installation of the piece.
“The Aspen Ideas Festival is keen to integrate arts throughout our programming, and what appeals to us so much about this project is that it combines the remarkable expressiveness of art with a very real public need: safety on our streets,” said Kitty Boone, executive director of Aspen Ideas Festival. “This is a proven strategy in other communities: pairing artists’ work with issues of public safety on the ground. We thought it a great idea to try it here.”
By: Sarah Girgis | The Aspen Times \ April 21, 2023