RTD art: Brian Swanson's chess pieces at the 16th and Stout streets station
Want to eat lunch with a king and queen? Brian Swanson's piece, "King and Queen," makes that possible at the light-rail station 16th and Stout streets. Swanson wanted the public to be able to dine with life-size chess pieces and he took time to talk to Westword about his piece and how it came to be.
Brian Swanson's "King and Queen" at the 16th and Stout station.
Westword: Where are you from? Where do you reside now?
Brian Swanson: I grew up in Rockford Illinois, which was at one time the machine tool capitol of the world. After five years in central Washington and eighteen more in Seattle, I moved to the remote red-rock country by Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah.
How did your collaboration with RTD come about?
I responded to a call for entry in early spring of 2000. The RTD collaborated with the downtown business association asking for artwork that would anchor the 16th and Stout street rail stop.
The pieces were very successful in their original locations. So much so the young street people took over the King as theirs throughout the day. Mall management asked that they be moved to a more neutral location. When this was done the pieces were re-coated in colors not of my choosing.
Brian Swanson's "King and Queen" at the 16th street mall.
How did you come up with the Idea for this piece?
I am a problem solver. The selection committee indicated a desire for seating for the lunch crowds. Further criteria were functionality, visibility, and durability. It was suggested that the artwork might emulate the popular chess table at 16th and Curtis. I selected materials that are transparent, hoping a later budget could be secured to light the pieces from within.
What or who inspired this piece? And how?
Working within the parameters I mentioned above, I expanded the chess idea to include other games and to provide small tables for dining. There are many models for chess pieces, so after much research I came up with designs that could be fabricated with common metal shapes. The large King and Queen are iconic images and their scale had an impact on the mall.
When people are on their daily journey and walk past your work, what do you
hope they are thinking and feeling?
The initial impact of the large pieces is attention getting. I intended the smaller components and functionality to be apparent upon a second look. Once they sit for a time they will find the pieces are private and comfortable.
How do you feel about public transportation?
Public transportation is essential to the prosperity of our cities.The sprawl created in the last half decade will be the downfall of our environment unless we make public transport accessable, attractive, and economical.
What is your favorite piece of public art?
While I have no single piece that is a favorite, Alexander Calder the object maker, and Maya Lin the place maker are two favorites.
To view more of Brian Swanson's work, visit his website.