I-87/Santa Clara Street, San Jose, CA. Paint, acrylic, LEDs, steel, sensors, control, cell phone interface

The project “Senses YOU” via overhead motion sensors to trigger localized sequences. The artwork brings much-needed illumination and activation to an area where pedestrian activity was previously eschewed, serving to reconnect two important parts of the downtown – a long-desired improvement by the community.

Underpasses tend to feel a bit sketchy as dark and forgotten spaces where garbage coming from above seems to congregate with unhoused folk seeking refuge. Many people feel, at best, unsettled and, at worst, truly rattled as they pass through. Maybe it’s the ‘Troll under the Bridge’ imagery from folktales or a touch of nyctophobia (fear of the dark). Nevertheless, these artists and city planners have worked to transform these spaces into welcoming and even magical spaces.

Photo by Sam Kittner

‘Rain’ is part of DC’s first Underpass Art Park. It comprises approximately 4,000 LED-illuminated polycarbonate rods and pulses in response to vehicular traffic. (Washingtonian)

We walkers have all been spooked by a creepy underpass. What (or who?) lurks in the shadows? Art has banished that ominous feeling of dread on the San Antonio Riverwalk. The undercrofts of our bridges are beautiful and safe. Let’s start with the FISH, Philadelphia artist Donald Lipski’s school of giant fish swimming through the sky beneath the I-35 interstate overpass at Camden Street. Twenty-five seven-foot-long creatures of hand-painted fiberglass resin are anatomically correct models of long-eared sunfish native to the river. Lit from within at night, the glowing fish are a beacon from blocks away, adding color and humor to a once-neglected downtown area. (texastrailroundup)

Photo by Kevin Lavery
1 of 4 murals on embankments beneath US 127 at Michigan Avenue where Lansing and East Lansing meet (WKAR)

Whitfield is working to capture the history and culture of Lansing and East Lansing through his work. While working on this project, he received many positive affirmations from drivers honking and giving him the thumbs up! (WKAR interview)

The shaggy troll, 18 feet tall, glares southward with his shiny metal eye — a Volkswagen Beetle hubcap. In his left hand, he crushes the rest of the old-style Beetle, which originally contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia; it was removed after the car was vandalized and the California license plate was stolen (The crushed car and out-of-state plate were meant as protests against “outsider” development). There are plenty of places to pose, and interaction with the troll is encouraged as long as you’re respectful. (Roadside America)

Last week, I drove past this textured underpass at E 31st Street and 35W in Minneapolis. It made me wonder why it was textured like this. It is intentionally designed with smooth undulations but is more design than art, like the works above.

Is the textured wall a deterrent for graffiti, a subliminal ‘keep moving’ sign, or just an attempt at beautification?

What is your opinion of using underpasses and bridges as canvases for artists?

Do you think that art has the power to connect people?

Leave a comment

As you move through your world over the next week, take note of the underpasses and bridges you encounter. Please pay attention to the way they make you feel. Can you find any that have art on them? Send a pic!

If you were going to design art for an underpass, what would it be and why?

Read about how one of Portland’s deadliest streets gets murals to promote safety!!

Dan Corson’s Artwork straddles the disciplines of Art, Theatrical Design, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and sometimes even Magic. His projects have ranged from complex rail stations and busy public intersections to quiet interpretive buildings, meditation chambers, and galleries. With a Master’s Degree in Art from the University of Washington and a BA in Theatrical Design from San Diego State University, Corson’s work is infused with drama, passion, and layered meanings and often engages the public as co-creators within his environments. He is particularly interested in green design and new technologies and how these tools can help frame and amplify the natural world and our shifting relationship with it. Among his various awards, Corson has been honored with eight coveted Public Art Network Year-in-Review National Awards, received the NW Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (NIAUSI prize) fellowship in Italy, and was tapped by Seattle Homes and Lifestyle as one of the top people that define Seattle Design. He has partnered with architects and landscape architects for 4 AIA Awards and 3 ASLA awards. (http://www.dancorson.com)

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Shannon Steven