The big blue experience
VAIL – According to artist Lawrence Argent, only 10 percent of his creations are a success – the rest is junk. But that 90 percent is necessary failure, he said, in order to achieve any success at all.Argent’s 40-foot-tall blue bear sculpture peering into a window on the Colorado Convention Center’s 14th street facade is one of his 10 percent. “I See What You Mean” was installed last summer, and filmmakers Daniel Junge and Davis Coombe follow the conception, commissioning, fabrication and installation of the artwork in their movie “Big Blue Bear.” Argent will be in Vail Monday to show the film, talk about the project and to voice his opinion about public art and creation in general.”All my work is a parody between the familiar and the sublime,” Argent said. “Creatively, we must always think outside of the box, letting go of all the stuff we know and allowing something to surface that we didn’t even know could surface.”
When Argent was selected for the project, the commission gave him the freedom to do what he wants, but said the art needed to have something that would make people come out of the convention center and reflect on where they were. It also needed to urge people to go and experience Denver and the greater Colorado area, since most of the people who frequent the convention center are tourists.”It was a pretty large charge,” Argent said. “It needed to do many things at the same time.”Argent knew whatever he created, it needed to say Colorado. So he chose one of Colorado kitschiest icons – the lovable, cuddly black bear. But like most of his art work, Argent put a unique spin on the familiar image. The bear is blue and stands 40 feet in the air in the middle of a city. It’s unclear – as the bear peers into the windows of the large convention center – whether you are looking at the bear or the bear is looking at you. “The sculpture talks about the inner city expanding at the rate it is, how it’s encroaching on the fauna,” Argent said. “But it’s also asking, ‘What is a convention center?’ ‘What is in this box that happens to be in the center of town?'”What makes the sculpture so successful, Argent said, is the surface of the bear. Instead of being flat, Argent used triangles to give the bear its three-dimensional character and shape. Argent said it’s about making art comfortable and non-threatening, but also adventurous and more enticing at the same time.
“It wouldn’t be the same if the surface was smooth,” Argent said. “It’s the chopped surface that makes it so much more interesting. People notice the surface, and they realize it is an effect that has made them experience this thing longer than they would have if it did not have it.”Leslie Fordham of Vail’s Art in Public Places, who is helping to bring Argent to town, agrees. She said Argent is really good at using the basic elements of art, like balance, form, line and shadow to give his art emotion.”The bear is huge, but it still has expression,” Fordham said. “It is successful due to the use of the curved line. The curves contrast with all of the straight lines of the building. Then, the bear plays with basic art elements like shadow and form.”When Argent visits Vail Mountain School, he will also address the role of public art and its place in society. Nodding to his big blue bear, Argent said public art needs to address the issues of place, site and the community. Public art needs to be more of an experience than an object, he said.”It needs to be something that will survive the present, past and future, but has a connective tissue to all of those things. That’s where the magic happens,” Argent said.
Argent will speak and show the film about his sculpture Monday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Vail Mountain School auditorium. For more information, call Leslie Fordham at 479-2344 or Kristine Oelberger, VMS art department head, at 476-3850, ext. 203.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado