Q&A with Robin Riley and Jason Butler

Mar 16, 2023 | Arts Foundation News, News, Public Art

We caught up with Artist’s Robin Riley and Jason Butler who recently completed their Public Art commission at Fire Station 9 in Tucson, AZ!

About the project: Fire Station 9 located at 6275 E Eastland St, in Tucson, AZ. Artist Team, Robin Riley and Jason Butler were selected by a community panel for their experience in working with tile sculpture and large-scale steel structures. Over the course of four years the artists completed five works of art, a combination of functional art, 2D wall pieces and a 24 foot sculpture that is visible from a street. The artists not only worked with a community panel to finalize design concepts, they also worked with collaborators such as local children who provided drawings which were then transformed into mosaic art panels, and Chief Joe Gulotta who donated tools and memorabilia for a mosaic piece titled, “Artifacts.” 

What does your artistic process look like?

JB: I begin talking with folks, and then making sketches. I usually make models to communicate very clearly my intentions, and then move into fabrication, using lots of metalwork methods; bending, welding etc, and finally painting and installation. For the large firefighters, we had a crane help to site the pieces. Otherwise, I do all the work myself.

What is your artistic root?

RR: I grew up in MN. My mom was blind and my dad was color blind. We had crazy colors in our house. I like projects where I can have fun with color and create a tactile experience. Making mosaics suits me.

Nigh time view of As One.

Why is public art important for our community?

JB: Public art shows character and adds vibrancy and sophistication to our infrastructure projects. With many pieces in the county, there are lots of wonderful works to see while out and about. When friends of mine come to town, I often take them out on tours of my public work, and works of my friends.

What other projects are you currently working on?

JB: Solo, I am currently working on a large mural about the five C’s of Arizona at fire station number 188 in Goodyear, AZ.

RR: I just finished a public art project on Kolb Road near Sunrise. Eight sculptures made of metal with mosaic inlay representing wildflowers bursting from the ground.

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

JB: Joe Gulota, who is now retired was extremely helpful as a liaison between the artists and the fire community. He supplied inside knowledge as well as all of the relics that were used in the lobby sculpture. Used fire hose for the bench etc..

JB: Public art shows character and adds vibrancy and sophistication to our infrastructure projects. With many pieces in the county, there are lots of wonderful works to see while out and about. When friends of mine come to town, I often take them out on tours of my public work, and works of my friends.

RR: The public art in Tucson tells our community story- shows our diversity and celebrates who we are.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

JB: I am very thankful for public art! That the community appreciates and supports it. It gives me great opportunities to make work on large scales that is visible to so many.

RR: The budget for these projects comes from capital improvement project budgets. Some people might think art takes away from road maintenance or other budgets, but they don’t. When a large project is being built, 1% of that budget goes to art. So art isn’t a trade off; it’s an enhancement to the community.

About the Artworks: 

  1. “Station 9 Fire Hose Bench” – a functional bench made of polished steel frame created with repurposed firefighter hose. The artists painted the hose red and wove the hose to create the seat. The bench also includes a genuine nozzle and stenciled “9” and “USA”. 
  1. “Bring the Waves”- a wave design integrated into the station gates is inspired by water, referencing how the trucks leave and come back through these gates, often times utilizing water to save the day.  
  1. “Children’s Tribute to FS9”–3 art panels derived from paper drawings created by local children which were converted to metal cutouts and mounted on top of colorful mosaic tile and then framed in metal to create the permanent works of art. These pieces represent children’s connection to the fire station and celebrate the bond the children have with fire fighters and fire station. 
  1. “Artifacts”– a mosaic mural combining tile, glass, and artifacts from Fire Station 9 firefighters. Included in the mosaic is an ax, pry rod, oxygen tank, sprinkler, badges, and a lit up red “9” for the station.  
  1. “As One”- a sculpture celebrating the Fire Station 9 fire fighters. The silhouette design is based on a photo of the fire fighters taken by the artists. The sculpture is visible from the street and lights up at night. 

About the Artists: 

Robin Riley and Jason Butler are a Tucson team specializing in creating mosaic and metal works of art. Individually they have worked on dozens of public and private projects. Robin is a tile artist and works with tile and glass to create beautiful, organic, and colorful mosaics. Jason is a metal artist and fabricates metal works of art for any project big or small.  

Robin Riley has been designing and creating mosaics for public and private spaces since 1993. She is inspired by nature and has worked with Butler on 8 public art commissions showcasing her organic designs, rich use of texture and color, and extensive knowledge of materials and construction. 

Jason Butler has been designing, engineering, and creating metal art since 2004. Butler’s work can be seen in parks, schools, offices, roadways, and in both commercial and residential settings. His passion is designing, engineering, and building sculptures inspired by nature. Jason enjoys the technical aspect working with metal and he does many architectural commissions for clients in the Tucson under the business, Special Interest Metalwerks.  

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