Rhapsody In Blue

Austin’s beloved Pease Park gives trees the blues with new eco-friendly art installation

Austin park gives trees the blues with eco-friendly art installation

Trees with yellow foliage and blue trunks.
The Blue Trees (like these in Houston) will stand in Pease Park as reminders of the importance of protecting nature. Photo by Jaana Eleftheriou

Aside from water and the sky (i.e., most of the planet, but trust us), blue is an exceedingly rare color to see in nature. Less than 10 percent of plants have blue flowers or leaves, so if you want to draw attention, it’s a great color to douse thousands of trees in.

International installation artist Konstantin Dimopoulos chose a fluorescent ultramarine for this project — aptly named The Blue Trees — which has transformed over 30 sites from London to Tennessee, and to our neighbors in Houston and Galveston. Now the colorful installation is coming to Austin’s beloved Pease Park.

“He chose a really bright blue because trees are not blue,” explains Allison Johnson, director of community engagement for the Pease Park Conservancy

Pease Park is where the next group of trees will undergo the brilliant color shift. This statement is so frank, it’s a little funny, but this is the simplicity of the project, and the only thought some viewers will take away. They will notice the trees. Mission accomplished.

Dimopoulos’ deeper intention, beyond catching the eyes of park visitors, is to start conversations about deforestation, climate change, and our involvement in perpetuating or fighting both. He explains in a video detailing the project that “the color and the tree come together to transform and affect each other, the color changing the tree into something surreal, while the tree, rooted in this earth, reflects what we may lose.”

A proprietary colorant, which Dimopoulos verbally simplifies to “water and chalk,” wraps the trees in a matte coating that smoothes over the bark and makes their vertical forms look 3D-rendered and velvety.

He thought the color would look “almost absurd,” he says in a video explaining the project, and it does. But the uniformity of the color and even the texture produce an elegant wash of twiggy décor that is more tranquil than silly. (This project combines two of Dimopoulos’ apparent aesthetic obsessions: sculptures that look like big bundles of sticks and neon art.)

The colorant will wash off over several months, giving the installation an evolving presence and essentially cleaning itself up without hurting the environment around it, according to the park and Dimopoulos. Volunteers help to pull off such a large-scale project in the coloring phases, often with their skin flecked with the harmless product.

The Pease Park volunteers plan to finish coloring and installing QR codes visitors can use for more information by April 2, in time for the park’s Squirrel Fest on April 9.

They plan to color about 100 trees just north of the newly renovated 7-acre section that is Kingsbury Commons. The $10 million renovations turned the Tudor cottage from a storage unit to a community gathering space and added a new splash pad and globe-shaped treehouse.

“At this point, it just looks like a forested area of trees within the park,” Johnson says. “As soon as we apply the color to the trees, it’ll be a breathtaking image as you walk up the trail from Kingsbury Commons to Live Oak Meadow.”

Visitors at Squirrel Fest will have plenty of other activities to partake in besides reveling in the company of the otherworldly foliage; a brass band will play, various nature organizations will teach families about their surroundings, a yoga teacher will lead a class, and the park will screen the animated movie Zootopia.

The Blue Trees will watch over the goings-on of Squirrel Fest and the park’s gala coming up in November. They will be coated not just in blue color but in stories traded by the volunteers coloring them. Even when they are not blue anymore, the trees will stand at Pease Park as long as people support their right to remain there. And hopefully, by then, more will be blue somewhere else.