Sarah and Joshua Palmeri’s new “Color Field” installation comes across as the sort of pandemic-friendly art project we all need right now, an uplifting and unpretentious offering to the masses that’s just right for the troubled times.
The work, made of 6,000 painted, wooden dowels fashioned into abstract lily ponds, meets the moment with both joy and practicality. It’s set up outdoors, in a less-traveled section of City Park, so it can be viewed efficiently during these months when caution over person-to-person spread of the fledgling coronavirus has curtailed our ability to visit indoor museums and galleries.
“Color Field” can be experienced from whatever distance people are comfortable with. It’s easily incorporated into the daily exercise routines and evening strolls everyone seems to be taking right now; you can even bring along the dog.
If you go
“Color Field” is located in the southeast corner of City Park, close to 17th Avenue and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It’s free and open day and night. Info at colorfielddenver.com.
The piece is also crafty and hand-made with materials you could find in a hobby store and, in that way, it connects meaningfully to a period when so many folks are sticking close to home and turning to sewing, woodworking, cooking and renovation activities to stay occupied.
That’s not exactly how the artists envisioned the project unfolding when they dreamed it up a few years back, during their own frequent walks through the park. They simply saw the site of a dried-up and abandoned sediment pond and had the idea of bringing it back to life in a meaningful way.
Not many Denverites know the history of the park’s old water system and neither did the artists, who moved to the city in 2012. So, they did some exploring, uncovering old maps and master plans of the area that showed the series of manufactured waterways, noting that the sediment pond was originally “constructed as a man-made work of art inspired by Monet’s composition of still water, weeping willows, and lily pads.”
The pond was incorporated in the grand scheme that landscape architect Saco DeBoer developed for the park during the City Beautiful movement in the early part of the 20th century. Some of DeBoer’s ideas have survived a century of evolution in City Park, but others, including the elaborate waterways on the east end of the open space, have been forsaken.
The Palmeris, who married in 2014, saw in the site a challenge that was perfect for their combined skill set. Sarah is a painter known for exploring vibrant reds, blues and yellows in her abstract work. Joshua is trained as an architect and currently works for the city as an urban planner. The project served as “a visual way for us to meet each other in the middle,” according to Sarah.
She brought color and shape to the piece; he brought dimensionality and interactivity.
“Our collaboration seems to work because we have such different ideas on how to solve problems,” Joshua said. “But we spend time working through how to reach the same objective together.”
The dried-up pond — more of a weedy ditch these days — still has the six, odd-shaped, concrete seed beds that would have been submerged under water to hold plants when the pond was full. The artists decided to fill them with color. They used the painted dowels to represent the sort of exaggerated hues Monet employed in his paintings.
Working in their own backyard with a roller brush, they painted the sticks — each one of them individually — in shades of purple, gold, blue, magenta and more. Then they installed them in the ditch, driving them deeply enough into the ground to hold steady, but keeping the top of each stick at the very height the lilies would be if they were floating on the filled pond.
“Color Field” looks swell from a distance but its real power unravels as you walk through and between the six fields of color, which come together into a kind of interactive maze.
The sticks are set in grids, exactly 8 inches apart in every direction, and painted different shades on each side. The piece appears to change color as you move through it.
The work, which was modeled using 3-D software, is energizing, but it’s also contemplative.
Sarah’s advice for viewing it: “Spend a few minutes doing a walking meditation when you arrive. Let your curiosity guide you in and around the work, pay attention to the sounds around you, and practice feeling the largeness of the space with your full body and breath.”
At its core, the piece is about using cues from both the past and present to remake an overlooked place in the city. That made it an attractive endeavor for its funder, Denver’s “P.S. You Are Here” creative place-making initiative, which supports projects that “aim to transform our underutilized urban spaces to increase collaboration, honor heritage, build civic engagement, beautify neighborhoods, enrich communities and inspire long-term change.”
Though “P.S. You Are Here” accomplishes that goal by backing short-term interventions, not permanent projects. “Color Field” will only be on display through September. After that the site will be integrated into the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s “Nature Play” program, which will transform the area into an organic playground.
DMNS joined in supporting “Color Field,” along with Denver Arts and Venues, City Park Friends and Neighbors, City Park Alliance and the Denver Zoo.
The installation won’t be around forever, but that’s just fine.
In some ways, the piece was hampered by the pandemic. The artists originally wanted to invite students to help with the painting and construction and planned to host public programs. All that — and so much more — was quashed by the coronavirus and our need to keep apart rather than join together as a community.
But sometimes current events lift a piece of art to a higher purpose, and that’s the case here. In any other summer, “Color Field” might have been a minor gewgaw in a city crammed with seasonal splendors.
In 2020, it’s a star attraction, a chance to get up close and personal with art when so much local culture is a challenge to access; an oxygen-filled, stress-reducing break from the boxes we are compelled to live in for the time being.
It gets its meaning from the exact moment when it was born, and even if it lived a hundred years more, it would never again have the significance it holds right now. It’s a gift.
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