Concept and craftsmanship meet in public art piece

Artist Andy Davies hopes his Coastal Cradle sculpture will find relevance with White Rock residents

Lethbridge, Alta.-based artist Andy Davies finally had a chance to breathe a sigh of relief Friday afternoon at Charlie Don’t Surf following the installation of his art work, Coastal Cradle, at White Rock’s Memorial Park.

The 17-foot high, $110,000 aluminum structure, symbolizing two blades of grass cradling a droplet of dew, was approved by White Rock council last May and now has pride of place in the park upgrade overlooking the head of the pier.

“The whole thing went up in an hour,” he told Peace Arch News, adding that a base plate that he’d already shipped to White Rock provided a perfect match for the bolts needed to install the piece.

“It’s both a peak and a catharsis,” he said of the installation, almost an anti-climax after a white-knuckle journey across the snowy Rockies and Eastern B.C., “driving through some of the worst storms of the season,” during which he followed the flat-deck truck with the crated pieces of his sculpture every mile of the way.

“We were snowed in at Golden, with Highway No. 1 closed in both east- and westbound directions. We finally made it through Golden on Jan. 2 – it rolled out on my birthday.

“That was my present – getting out of Golden,” he chuckled.

A detour through Cranbrook necessitated 16 hours of driving Thursday to make it to White Rock in time for the installation; but Davies was determined to honour his commitment.

As White Rock’s new cultural development manager, Elizabeth Keurvorst, explained to PAN, even though December’s windstorm “had a crushing effect on the beach area, Memorial Plaza is in the final stages of construction and was ready to accept the artwork during the first week of January – not installing on time would have meant further delays on the project and increased expense.”

For the artist – who describes himself as a “sculptor of public space” – completion of his part of the project represents the end of an almost two-year journey from the time he first responded to the city’s open call competition for artists in 2016, through being one of four shortlisted artists and then being selected as the winning submission, to finally delivering the finished work.

The 2009 University of Lethbridge B.F.A/B.Ed. graduate, a veteran of three major public art commissions in Alberta and Ontario, said the usual process, from submission to completion, is typically between 12 and 15 months.

He acknowledged that his involvement was lengthened this time by the delays (which included First Nations consultation and archeological assessment of the site) that put back the start date of the Memorial Park project.

It included about eight months of conceptualization and design, with “another six months of engineering on top of that,” he said.

He has visited White Rock before, he said, although he did not make a specific trip to plan the project.

“I was familiar with the area, and I knew what a special opportunity it presented,” he said. ‘Form-wise, the organic and natural feeling of the area – the wind, the waves, the undulations of the tidal pools – that all had to be in the movement of the piece.

“When people ask me what it is, I tell them it’s two blades of grass and a drop of dew, but in terms of meaning, it’s two entities cradling something cherished; whether it’s two parents cradling a child, or two lovers with a bond of love.

“It’s elegant, but quite fragile. It’s not meant to be heavy and solid – it’s meant to be precarious. If anything changes, it falls apart. One side, it might be the natural environment, on the other side it could be humanity.”

The design is also deliberately evocative of a tai chi pose, he noted, in which the ball represents the ‘chi,’ he said.

The two curving blades are “very difficult forms to make,” he added.

“That’s the challenge and also the beauty of it – having an idea is easy, but executing it is the hard part,” he said.

The location, beside the steps to the beach and what will be the rebuilt washrooms, is another esthetically rewarding part of the project for him, he added.

“Because of the split level, it’s very special – when you’re on the upper deck, you’ll be able to look at it straight on, and see yourself reflected in the sphere,” he said.

“That was by design – for me, having people see themselves reflected in the piece was huge. Anywhere else, you’re made to feel small in front of the art. Here you’re allowed into it and feel part of it.”

Because the medium chosen is aluminum – which doesn’t rust – the piece is “entirely durable,” Davies said, and also comparatively light-weight.

“The whole thing weighs around 1,000 pounds,” he said.

Davies said he is aware that public art – particularly modern works such as his – can be challenging to local viewers, who take ownership of the area in which it has been placed.

“It’s important to me that it both respects and resonates with the community in which it resides. As it’s public dollars, there’s a responsibility to the community. It’s important that it’s relevant, but it’s also allowed to be challenging.

“Great public art delivers on concept and craftsmanship. If the public struggles with the concept but can connect with the craftsmanship, they’re OK with it, and if they can connect with the concept and not the craftsmanship, they’re OK with it, too.

“If there’s no craftsmanship and the concept doesn’t make sense, it’s a flop,” he said.

“It’s going to be a challenge to be pushed, but at the very least there’s a dialogue, and the community can be a valued member of that dialogue.”

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