Newly Completed Public Art Project by Rebecca Carlton

May 25, 2022 | Artist Spotlight, Opportunities, Press Release, Public Art

We are thrilled to announce the completion of Rebecca Carlton’s Public Art piece, Sonoran Circumvolution!

We connected with Rebecca Carlton and asked her some questions about her art practice and her new public art piece in Tucson, AZ titled, Sonoran Circumvolution.

Artwork Location: Kinney Road at Sarasota Boulevard and Bopp Road Tucson, Arizona

Date artwork completed: May 27, 2021

Rebecca Carlton. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Arts Foundation: Congratulations on the completion of Sonoran Circumvolution! This project has been 19 years in the making. Before we learn about the works of art you created, can you share more about your “artistic root”?

RC: Environmental and social justice issues have been the focus of my visual expression for the last twenty years. I have recently completed works recognizing the dire plight of our most fragile tree populations and the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Currently, I am working on several large-scale installation works in a variety of materials. These works, in process, explore the rivers of the United States, the 6,910 spoken world languages, and the expulsion of people of color, up to the 1970s, from the beaches of the American Southeast.

Rebecca Carlton, Sonoran Circumvolution, 2021. Photo by Julius Schlosburg

Arts Foundation: Can you tell us how you came to be the selected artist for the Kinney Road to Bopp Road project?

Approximately 21 years ago, Pima County, in conjunction with Pima County Department of Transportation, were tasked with reviewing major roadway traffic throughout Pima County. They recommended improvements on a number of roadways, in which Kinney Road from Ajo to the intersection of Bopp/Sarasota was one.

The perimeters of the project were established with the inclusion of Pima County’s 1 Percent Appropriation for Public Art. Pima County’s Department of Transportation works in unison with the Director of Public Art at the Arts Foundation (formally Tucson/Pima Arts Council) to establish the guidelines for a “call to artists.” There are often over fifty applications to review. Three finalists are then selected for an interview, with the project artist being chosen from these.I was selected as the project artist for the Kinney Roadway Improvement, and the projected timeline for the completion of the roadway improvement was under three years. There were many roadblocks with moving the project forward; other projects were slated to begin at the same time, roadway priorities shifted, a recession happened, a proposed Walmart project redirected energies, and more budgeting issues surfaced. The Kinney Road improvement project also went through three design and budget changes. My original design was also affected by the project/budget changes, with me redesigning the proposed artwork three times, as well.

In early January 2018, the remaining original members of the project were notified that the Kinney project would begin! A new advisory committee was formed, which included neighborhood representatives, artists, art board members, as well as members of the county transportation department, Saguaro National Park, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, and the project manager. This committee was charged with working with me on my designs for the new public art, as well as selecting the permanent location for the artwork. Over the next three years, the committee met numerous times to review logistical, technical, and aesthetic refinements. The art process was inclusive, transparent, and welcomed comments and ideas from all committee members.

Rebecca Carlton, Sonoran Circumvolution, 2021. Photo by Julius Schlosburg

Arts Foundation: Can you tell us about the imagery of Sonoran Circumvolution? Where do your ideas come from?

RC: “Sonoran Circumvolution” consists of three separate sculptural components created from laser cut and welded corten steel. Each sculpture consists of two interlocking circles welded on their center vertical axis, placing the circles perpendicular to one another. A total of six circles are in the artwork.

The imagery selected celebrates the diversity of the Sonoran Desert fauna; from the smallest of water species, with the tadpole shrimp, to the recognizable land mammal, the grand mountain lion. The sculptural components’ images are divided by sky, land, and water and are inclusive of fauna from the animal kingdom – insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals. The species are indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, and many are endangered. There is a specific cut shape in the center of each sculpture; they represent sky, land, and water.

Each sculpture is bolted to a terracotta sained, circle concrete pedestal. There are four lighting elements in each pedestal, lighting up the sculptures at night. Night sky lighting requirements were followed with the lighting selection.

As you visit the artwork, you will see that it is forever changing. The patina surface of the steel will continue through time to evolve, the colors changing due to interactions with the environment. Depending on the time of day or time of year, the animals’ shadows will always dance in different directions on the desert floor. Watch how the peregrine falcon’s wingspan angles out onto the neighboring circle panel and how the fish swim in unison on our rotating planet. What additional changes do you see based on the angle of the sun and the shadows of clouds? My intention was to create a piece that would surprise the viewer in both subtle and dramatic ways.

Rebecca Carlton, Sonoran Circumvolution, 2021. Photo by Julius Schlosburg

Arts Foundation: Public Art can be such a collaborative process. Would you like to give any shout-outs to the communities that you worked with within your design process?

RC: The Kinney Roadway Project took 19 years to complete. It saw many project plans, adaptations and involved countless people. I am appreciative for all of your help, thank you. There are a number of people who provided incredible guidance and kindness to me, and I would like to acknowledge them:

Jane Hallett – artist advocate extraordinaire formally with TPAC,

Dave Zeleski and Bob Lutgendorf – knowledgeable and supportive Project Managers with PCDOT,

Marie Ellis – with Pima County,

Ellen Alster – Landscape Architect, Tucson, Arizona,

John Boucher, Lynne Auen, Betty Harris – committed, enduring, and insightful community members for the project,

Jonathan Crowe – for always being available to answer questions and for providing smooth transitions over 19 years with PCDOT,

David McHugh and Adrian Carrillo with Desert Metal Works, Tucson, Arizona – thank you for your incredible skills, knowledge, and countless expressions of kindness with fabrication and installation of the artwork,

David Carlton and Pete Staroska – technical construction wizards for providing invaluable advice and insights without hesitation,

Tony Staroska – for your keen aesthetic.

Congratulations to your community for your patience, dedication, and the completion of the Kinney Roadway improvements!

Rebecca Carlton, Sonoran Circumvolution, 2021. Photo by Julius Schlosburg

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