Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Expressing Identity with Art: Public Art by Deedee Morrison

Deedee Morrison, A Matter of Fiction, Fairhope, Alabama
Deedee  Morrison, an artist based in Birmingham, AL, is installing a new piece of public art on the grounds of the Southwest Oklahoma City Library. Morrison will begin installation on May 10, 2012 with an official dedication ceremony to be announced.

The artwork, entitled Borrowed Light, is a kinetic light sculpture created as a metaphor for the many journey's of enlightenment a reader can take within the pages of a book. The piece is made from 12 sheets of laser cut industrial grade aluminum, which is illuminated from within to achieve a radiant green color at night.

Morrison shared with us a bit about her career and working methods as a public artist. For more information, visit her website at

When and how did you decide to make the leap to large-scale works?
I actually started my work as an artist as a public artist.  I worked as an economist in London for several years out of college, and began taking art classes while I was there.  I would travel to all of the outdoor sculpture parks that helped shaped my vision for public art and how it can inspire - given the right setting and scale for the artwork.

Deedee Morrison, Sun Catcher, Clearwater, Florida

How do you decide what public art commissions to apply for? Are there certain qualities you look for?
The majority of my work comes through the RFP (request for proposals) process.  Cities and Percent for the Arts programs around the county send out RFP's for public art projects and I submit ideas based on the scope/vision of the call.  I really enjoy projects that involve the request for innovations in technology and concepts about "looking to the future".  

I work in a very industrial setting that is an amazing work environment for an artist. My studio is in the home of the Old Republic Steel Mill and what is now Wade Sand and Gravel Quarry. When I work with rocks out of the quarry, the limestone is harvested from an area with 600 million years of geological history. I think the process of harvesting the stone brings a certain awareness and perspective to my work. The second element of influence is the backdrop of the old steel mill and buildings that brought in the industrial development of this whole region and has now been made obsolete - Republic Steel closed in the '70s. There is, of course, residue and environmental impact from this period in Birminghamʼs history but at the time, the plant made the most of the known technology at the time by producing by-products from the coke ovens that included gas, tar, light oil, etc. I think itʼs intriguing to think about how technology can continue to answer many of the compelling energy challenges we face today - smarter, cleaner and more energy efficient as we evolve in our understanding of what serves our future and the future of our children best.

Deedee Morrison, Seed Pod, Chattanooga, Tennessee
I see that you carefully consider the site for each work. How does the location of the work influence your design process?
Every site location has a unique nuance that needs to be understood and creatively explored to make sure that the sculpture is congruent and a fluid expression of the public art project.  
Public Art has the wonderful opportunity of communicating the values and cultural identity of a city.

I recently worked on a solar powered light installation, called Seed Pod for the Renaissance Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The park is a 23 acre wetland park created on what was once a manufacturing site. The park effectively demonstrates how a polluted area can be returned to a clean river habitat and natural park setting. The design of the park promoted the return of native plants, enhancing the river ecosystems and provides a wonderful balance between urban renewal and the conservation of natural resources.  

The Seed Pod sculpture works in unison with the objectives of the park. The sculpture is a visual display of the power and energy thatʼs available every day from a single solar panelʼs relationship with the sun. The color scheme of the Seed Pod sculpture mirrors the vibrant yellow hues of the sun. Near the Seed Pod sculpture is the 18ft. solar tower that, like plants, collects and stores the energy released from the sun. The Seed Pod and the solar tower are intimately connected in the phenomena of life and growth. The solar tower captures the energy of the sun during the day and the Seed Pod emits the dramatic stored light at night, giving the sculpture an added dimension.

Any other advice for artists interested in creating art in public places?
Don't give up.  I submit many proposals - even today, when another artist is selected.  You just have to continue to believe in your own work and vision for your work and push ahead.  The greatest satisfaction is to work with city planners, architects and designer on perfecting the concept of your ideas for a public art project, working on the piece for months and then seeing the sculpture installed in it's new home and feel that it was meant to be there.

See Deedee Morrison's new artwork in Oklahoma City at the Southwest Oklahoma City Library, 2201 SW 134th St.

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