The utility box art wrap project, started by community organizer Juelz Ramirez and cosponsored by the Chinook Center has finally come to fruition in Southeast Colorado Springs. See our November 2020 cover story: “Color In Your Cheeks".
On March 2, six utility boxes were wrapped with art from local artists Seth Lockard, Ian Bruner, Katherine Harris, Talisa Caldwell, Stephanie Merchant and Phelan Carrasco. The six artists used a variety of styles and techniques, and their experience runs the gamut from professional artists to enthusiastic hobbyists.
Lockard is an instructor at Pikes Peak Community College’s multimedia graphic design program and a professional illustrator. His art pieces, portraits of a vulture and a cowboy, titled Pale Moonlight and The Bounty Hunter, are displayed at the utility box at the southwest corner of the intersection of Hancock Expressway and Delta Drive, near the 7-Eleven.
Lockard wanted to evoke the Old West history of Colorado Springs.
“Growing up in Colorado Springs, my whole life, I’ve been around all sorts of different influences in our environment here,” he said. “I like to do a lot of portraits. With these two pieces, they were done separately, but I guess I was leaning more towards the feeling of the Old West and thought it would be interesting to try these out, working in these two different mediums.”
Lockard’s pieces started as paint on canvas.
“I’m all analog, everything is traditionally hand-painted,” he said. “Pale Moonlight, that one was done in gouache. The Bounty Hunter is gouache and a little bit of acrylic. Gouache is a water-based paint, almost identical to watercolor, except that it’s opaque. It’s an easy medium for me to work on...”
Just east of Lockard’s work, at Hancock Expressway and Delta Drive, near Action Cycles and Leather, are Bruner’s pieces. Unlike Lockard, Bruner is a digital artist.
“All these, the initial source image came from Google Earth,” he said. “I just go on there a lot and find images that are interesting, and then manipulate them digitally from there. They’re all sort of manipulations, digital collages, cut-ups.
“I thought it would be cool to have a chance for people in Colorado Springs to interact with contemporary art, and the inspiration for them are all a little different,” he said. “The one with the guy sitting at the desk with the brains was sort of inspired by Mackenzie Wark’s new book Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse? ...They’re all kind of tableaus, freeze frames of a narrative, if you will.”
Merchant’s art, a dark green forest scene with colorful mushrooms, is located at the northwest corner of South Academy Boulevard and Astrozon Boulevard.
“Back in 2012 I moved to Maryland to be a caregiver for my mother, and she passed away in 2018,” she said. “While I was there, I fell in love with mushrooms. I never noticed them before, because obviously in Colorado we don’t have very many, but they were just all over the place at her house. I was constantly photographing mushrooms while I was there. Each one is like a mini-masterpiece in itself. I started researching them and I fell in love with them even more because of how they helped the environment and everything.”
As a professional artist, Merchant usually does commissioned works for individual buyers. Her mushroom piece was originally created as part of an art show for Commonwheel Artists Co-Op.
“I had envisioned doing a painting of mushrooms, and I bought the canvas while I was still in Maryland but I never really got a chance to finish it because I was busy taking care of my mom,” she said. “When I moved back to Colorado Commonwheel Artists Co-op was having a mushroom-themed art show. It was incredible, other people were in love with mushrooms as much as I am. I got the canvas out and all my reference photos together.”
North of Merchant’s utility box, at South Academy Boulevard and East Fountain Boulevard is Caldwell’s contribution.
“Everything I do with my creativity, I like to bring in positivity and soul expansion,” she said. “I like to use acrylic paint on canvas, so those are all just blown-up versions of my acrylic paintings. I like to use brighter colors. I also really enjoy anime, so most of the time my human pieces are cartoony, anime-inspired. I also really like animals, that’s why most of the pieces on there are animals.”
Caldwell’s pieces depict a woman, two elephants, and a lion.
“The woman painting is called A Dangerous Woman,” she said. “I created that piece off of a Lana Del Ray song called ‘Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have.’ She’s amidst the darkness, and the background is dark, and it’s a starry background representing uncertainty and the unknown, yet she is looking off into the distance with a slight smile on her face, feeling that she still has hope. I have dreadlocks myself, so I wanted to give her dreadlocks because she’s kind of a reflection of me. I wanted to give her bright colors in her hair because there’s actually a belief that dreadlocks hold our energy and our stories, so I gave her bright, beautiful colors that show she’s just full of creative energy. She’s full of beautiful, bright stories. I wanted to give her a queen, elegant look because all women are queens.”
Heading west, to the Pikes Peak Park neighborhood, you will find the site of Harris’ work, which has a specific local connection for her.
“My piece is technically kind of a dedication to my mom,” she said. “The Colorado skull with the bouquet on it is a painting that I did for her, for her birthday. I did it because you know, I’m an artist, so I was like, ‘I’m not going to buy her flowers, I’m going to paint her some.’ I grew up in that neighborhood [Pikes Peak Park], my parents are still in that neighborhood, so I’m very happy that I was chosen because I grew up a couple streets down from where my utility box is.”
Local connections are important for Harris, who credits Paes 164 of the Knobhill Urban Arts District for helping her develop as an artist.
“I have always loved graffiti and that’s always been something I’ve been interested in,” she said. “Somebody in town I look up to is Paes. He’s been in the community for a while, and he’s given me a lot of chances. When he did the mural on the side of Platte Furniture, at the beginning I was one of the artists that got to put up a mural. He’s given me tips and tricks. He goes way back; he’s got videos on YouTube and resources out there. I’ve always appreciated him and his help that he’s given to the community.”
The artists agree that these utility box wraps add an important element of culture to Southeast Colorado Springs. “We’re such a large community and there’s so many fantastic artists that live here, locally, I just feel that anything you can do to add some beauty, when there’s art involved, it’s a really positive thing,” said Lockard. “It’s a win-win for the community to have that exposure and be able to experience that, and for the artist to be able to be showcased and represented in Colorado Springs, and show the community there’s great art being produced from people that might be their neighbors.”