Encinitas Boulevard underpass to gain public art project

Renderings of four colored mosaic strips that will be on the new Encinitas Boulevard freeway underpass.
(Courtesy of the City of Encinitas)

Minneapolis-based artist to use innovative digital glaze printing system to create four mosaic panels

An artist who specializes in using laser printers with ceramic glaze as the ink will create four, brightly colored mosaic strips for the new Encinitas Boulevard freeway underpass.

The Encinitas City Council last week unanimously approved a $140,000 contract with Minneapolis-based artist Amy Baur, backing the recommendation of the city’s Arts Commission. Baur’s proposal also received the most votes in a community survey late last year.

She’s expected to start work on her project in March, city Arts Program Administrator Jim Gilliam reported after the council vote.

Irene Abraham, the chair of the city’s arts commission, told the council during its Feb. 17 meeting that the arts commissioners used multiple criteria when selecting their top pick from among the 14 proposals submitted to the city. In addition to assessing each proposal’s artistic merits, they also considered how much experience the artist had with big projects, she said.

In Plain Sight Art, the studio co-owned by Baur and her husband Brian Boldon, has produced numerous public art pieces since its founding in 2004, including many displays for colleges and public transit facilities, a list on the company’s web site indicates. Two are listed for the current year, one for a courthouse in Maryland and one for a university in Louisiana.

The four, 3-foot-wide panels proposed for Encinitas Boulevard will feature a mix of geometric patterns with images of area wildlife and plants. On one panel a giant bee settles on a flower, while on another an egret stretches out its wings.

In an artist’s statement she submitted with her proposal, Baur wrote that she took her inspiration from the concept of the underpass as a gateway to desired destinations.

“From east to west through the underpass, there is an anticipation for Encinitas, community, beach and ocean energy. Driving east, a sense of earth, geologic force and mountain landscape informs our approach to the project,” she wrote. “Imagery from Encinitas’ environment — birds, plants, water, coastal and mountain flora and fauna — are layered with geometric shapes reflecting concrete patterns above and below the artwork.”

Abraham said the arts commission members were particularly impressed with the glaze printing technique that Baur uses for her mosaics, saying it will give the panels a look that’s like modern stained glass.

“It’s a very beautiful and luminous product that comes out,” she said.

Council members said they were happy to see any color coming to the new freeway underpass structure, which was finished last summer and has indentations in its concrete walls for the future mosaic project.

“Looking at the blank stone wall has been kind of boring and this will liven things up,” Councilman Tony Kranz said.

Mosca said he could suggest another large blank wall that could use a big mosaic —-the gray wall in front of City Hall.

“If you can improve that space, you’ve done a lot to improve the quality of life in Encinitas,” he joked.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune