Encinitas artists perk up downtown San Diego park



The recently completed park at the downtown County Administration Center in San Diego has a definite North County coastal vibe, thanks to a public art project that features the work of two artists and a graphic design firm, all from Encinitas.

The park sits on land that used to be occupied by large asphalt parking lots at the north and south ends of the county building on North Harbor Drive, across the street from the Embarcadero. It features a large pool with fountains where people can cool off on a hot summer day, and a children’s play area.

The county decided to replace the lost parking by building an underground parking garage, and that’s where the public art comes in. A panel commissioned by the county chose a painting by each of the Encinitas artists, Allison Renshaw and Harold Cohen.

The works were then reproduced on metal sheets, which now adorn the formerly blank concrete walls in the parking garage stairwells. The original paintings hang inside the county building.

The oversized, outdoor versions of the paintings are visible to passers-by in the park, as well as people taking the stairs to and from the parking structure. The pieces add a splash of color to an otherwise gray concrete environment.

“I’m thrilled to be included. I’m very happy with it,” said artist Allison Renshaw, who works, surfs and lives in Encinitas with her husband, Rich Williams, and the couple’s son, Atticus.

Renshaw said she hadn’t known her work was being considered for the project, but she was honored when she learned her painting had been chosen by the panel.

“It was a very happy, pleasant surprise,” she said.

Her painting is titled “Last Call,” and is an abstract, mixed-media work consisting of a collage of fragmented images. Renshaw uses a variety of materials in her work, such as maps, ads and posters, which she cuts up and glues into place. She also paints with oils, acrylics, spray paint and even house paint. “You use it all together.”

While it seemed strange at first to exhibit her work in the stairwell of a parking garage, Renshaw said she has warmed to the idea, because it can be seen by park visitors as well as people using the garage.

“I kind of like the idea it has a permanent place where a lot of people see it, it’s getting its own life, rather than hanging in my studio,” she said.

The public art project was coordinated by Gail Goldman, a La Jolla-based consultant.

Goldman said the county contacted her about the idea six months before the park’s scheduled grand opening in May, meaning there wasn’t time to commission new works for the project.

Instead, she selected existing paintings from 20 San Diego County artists for consideration, and the panel narrowed the contenders to the two finalists.

She then hired Artefact Design, a Cardiff-based company, to facilitate the transfer of the paintings to lightweight aluminum panels that could be affixed to the concrete walls of the parking structure stairwells.

The process used to create the panels is the same one used by the state parks department to make outdoor signs, and resulted in images that are durable, able to withstand the elements, and also resistant to graffiti and vandalism, said Goldman.

In all, the county spent about $80,000 on the project, including buying the paintings, transferring them to the aluminum panels, and installation, she said. The budget also covered lighting and fixtures.

Not only do the outdoor paintings dress up a pair of otherwise drab stairwells, but they serve as directional aids, helping people remember where they parked, Goldman said.

“It’s memorable, it’s colorful and upbeat. At least so far, what I’ve heard is all positive,” Goldman said of the art project.

Renshaw said this is the first time her work has been included in a government-funded public art project, but she has exhibited her paintings in numerous museums and galleries. She’s also an associate faculty member at MiraCosta College, and will teach a class this fall on mixed-media painting at the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas.