One of the joys of public art is that it is site specific, created for and to a certain extent by, its setting. When more than one work of public art exists in a location, viewers have the opportunity to explore how a single site can lead to vastly different works of art.
This is true for two new murals created by local artists at Salt Lake City’s 9 Line Bike Park, at 900 S and 700 W. Shredding the Knar by Charlotte Pili and Free Flight by Josh Scheuerman were funded through a partnership between the Salt Lake City Arts Council and the Department of Parks and Public Lands. The murals, completed in the fall of 2019 and slated to remain in place for three to five years, are distinct from each other, while each teasing out site-specific elements.
Pili’s Shredding the Knar is 400 square feet of murals wrapping the starting ramp blocks at the 9 Line Bike Park. Her surface was the concrete retaining blocks from which riders launch into the course. Pili’s work features riders, bikes, and dust clouds, among the occasional speech bubble exclaiming “Send it!” Action lines show her images to be in motion, just like the riders at the park. Local artist and dirt jump rider Liberty Blake describes it as “very playful, very accessible.”
Shredding the Knar responds to the 9 line park. The colors are harmonious with the park’s plants, sky, and dirt jumps. Blake notes that Pili’s surface was rough cement. “She made a really smart choice by not trying to cover every inch of the starting ramp blocks.” Instead Pili purposefully leaves space between her images, so the original color and texture of the blocks is visible in places. “I wanted the work to be cohesive with its environment,” Pili explained.
Nearby, in Scheuerman’s Free Flight, a fleet of paper airplanes and origami birds flies in front of blue geometric mountains and a glowing orange and yellow sky. The mural transforms the Parks Department’s storage container into a beacon among the dirt tracks and jumps of the park. Free Flight was born from Scheuerman’s visits to the site and interactions with the community there. “Looking around the park, there are good views. I wanted to showcase the Wasatch Front,” says Scheuerman. “The geometric shapes pop more. The only part I blended was the background, which mimics the sunsets I saw when I visited the park.”
The storage container is situated between the jump lines and a smaller scale pump track. “I went to the park during the day and met a lot of parents with their small kids there. The younger kids see the older kids on the jump track and everyone there has some attachment to flight through the action sports they are participating in: you are always trying to get air.” Josh applied that concept to his own childhood and landed on the images of paper airplanes and origami birds– something most visitors to the park likely made and flew as children. Blake picked up on the connection between Scheuerman’s paper airplane imagery and the jump tracks. “The idea of these mountains breaking away into origami airplanes is just magical.” Says Blake. “You know a lot of us who love to ride and jump are pursuing this feeling of flying, weightlessness.”
The bike park itself transforms an area that could otherwise be dormant. “It takes an urban environment that is pretty rough – underneath the freeway, not very nurtured, dirt everywhere – and turns it into something surprising. There is play – all ages can come and learn about something new and watch other people at their sport. You can really develop the unappealing in unexpected ways,” says Blake. Scheuerman spoke to the role of art in energizing the space. “It’s filled with jumps and people and activity. Adding the art is really a next step in pulling people in and making it an active, appealing spot.”
The riders who frequent at the 9 Line Bike Park noticed this. “The number one thing I’ve heard,” said Pili, “Is ‘Thank you!’ The riders really appreciated the improvement because when I was there painting, they felt like we were paying attention to the space, taking care of it.” But it’s not just regulars at the park who are impacted by the work. Pili’s mural sends a deliberate message of welcome and belonging. “I wanted the starting blocks to look like people of all shapes and sizes and genders belonged there.”
Scheuerman hopes his work can help activate the artist inside his viewers. He knows firsthand the magnetic effect of his art; people can’t resist approaching him as he paints. “People will so often joke with me that they can’t even draw a stick figure. That’s disappointing to me because they no doubt can draw a stick figure and probably a lot more than that. I’ll say “I bet you’re really good at paying your bills though,’” Josh insists that people acknowledge their own achievement in things he deems much harder than making art: having a job and a family, maintaining friendships, raising kids. “My hope would be that people everywhere make more art on their own.”
Community members interested in checking out the murals at the 9 Line Bike Park are encouraged to visit the 9 Line Bike Park at 900 South 700 West. For more information on the Salt Lake City Arts Council’s Public Art Program, please visit saltlakepublicart.org.