Caught blue-handed

Not just art—good for the environment, too.

Not just art—good for the environment, too.

Photo courtesy of sacramento metropolitan arts commission

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Fall’s finally in the air, painting flora rust and gold—except at the northwest end of the Sacramento Convention Center, where the trunks and limbs of 20 young sycamores sport a coat of shocking ultramarine blue. On 13th Street, the blue trees startle. Juxtaposed against the contrasting golden leaves, the painted wood offers a surreal, otherworldly and whimsical touch to the little esplanade that separates the convention center from the K Street Mall.

A couple of Thursdays ago, the culprits were caught blue-handed. Australian environmental artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, abetted by the Sacramento Tree Foundation executive director Ray Tretheway, worked from a cherry picker as he slapped the nontoxic paint on the trees. Blue paint spattered Dimopoulous’ face—even his lower lip, as if he’d been sipping through a straw—and stained Tretheway’s crisp white Sacramento Tree Foundation shirt.

“I try to get trees that are close together, so that it’s like walking into a cathedral, the trees become like pillars in a church,” the artist explained. “Normally, I start painting in the spring. With these,” he gestured, “the leaves will disappear and then come back.” (The environmentally friendly paint lasts six months to create a temporary public-art installation.)

With an international focus to call attention to global deforestation, Dimopoulos’ hand has already marked trees in Melbourne, Australia; Auckland, New Zealand; Vancouver, Canada; and Seattle, Washington; with his future stops scheduled for Gainesville, Florida; and Houston.

“The Blue Trees is part of a wider question that I ask: ‘Can art save the world?’ Maybe not on its own, but it can generate thinking and discussion throughout the global community,” he said.

And Sacramento—the City of Trees—is a perfect venue for this message.

“The project includes 40 container trees we painted, too,” Tretheway said. “Ten heat-tolerant maple trees and 30 hybrid Dutch elm disease-resistant trees, to bring attention to the plight of our elms dying.”

The container trees are making their way around the region, some serving as conversation pieces at events, others in it for the long haul at 555 Capitol Mall.

Shelly Willis, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission interim executive director and arts-in-public-places director, praised the efforts.

“It’s amazing how this project came together,” she said. “The community came together, donating $25,000 to fly him from Australia and fund this project.”

But even without one cent of public funding for Blue Trees, some grumble the money could have been used for something else.

What? Trees make cleaner air and we need to breathe. Compared to the billions poured into promote this election, Blue Trees smells like a sweet deal.