Four CSU art professors, who are now calling themselves the Artists of SOCO, have redefined the norms of art galleries and transformed four levels of a plain business complex into a maze for the imagination.
Since March, an eruption has filled 1200 South College Ave. with 46 abstract images. The art, diverse in colors, textures, shapes and ideas burst the business complex to life as they wrap through a labyrinth of hallways, bend into conference rooms and draw hurried minds into a state of marvel.
The innovative thinking of the Artists of SOCO (South College Avenue) has enabled a vast community of people to engage with art everyday in their business lives. Everything from a salon and yoga studio to real estate offices and a café are included in The Offices, which now give off a new vibrancy to patrons.
The SOCO artists give Scott Christensen the credit for taking on the new vision, which he said came to him while drinking coffee at Café Vino.
“When I started looking around there were all these empty walls,” said Christensen, a CSU art professor and mastermind behind the Artists of SOCO. “I thought it was a novel take on an art gallery.”
Excited by the opportunity to incorporate art into business lives, Christensen started discussing the idea with his colleagues in the CSU art department.
“I thought it would be a really neat group to have this happen with,” he said. “From those first conversations everyone got excited about the idea.”
With support from his fellow artists, Christensen brought his idea to the business complex owners who, Christensen said, were open-minded and eager to help.
“As an artist when you come to someone who owns a space like this and you say ‘I would like to put art throughout your building and I don’t want any restrictions,’ it takes a special person to understand what you’re asking and to believe that an innovation can happen,” Christensen said.
With unanimous support of the complex owners and artists, the Artists of SOCO were born. Today their legacy can be seen stretching across the complex.
Slowing the tempo of a quick paced business day, SOCO Art allows every person who walks by or gathers in a conference room to be a part of the abstract concepts around them.
“Even in conference rooms.people are engaging with it,” Christensen said. “You have to have the audience and engagements that bring the art to life.”
A one million square-foot painting
With the success of SOCO Art, Christensen hopes his next ambitious idea, called Colorworld, will find its success story as well.
“I have an idea to create a one million square-foot painting,” he said.
In imagining what could one day be the largest abstract painting ever created, Christensen said it’s best to think of football fields and the end zone paint they use. Sherwin Williams has agreed to donate the paint, and industrial sprayers resembling garden hoses would be used to apply it.
If the project is approved and completed, it would temporarily cover 23 acres of donated land near Harmony Road and I-25.
“I want it to be an expression of peace and unity,” Christensen said. “There’s places in the world that you might not even have 23 acres you can safely work with.
“I also think that having a temporary (painting) that fades away, there is something actual about that in life, how things happen. We are all like shooting stars.”
At the SOCO Art gallery, Christensen’s Colorworld can be seen in small-scale study pieces that serve as a permanent record of the project. Christensen said Harmony Road and several other streets of Fort Collins are depicted in the paintings, which give an abstract aerial view of where the project would be painted.
As he moves forward with the project, Christensen said it’s a challenge to gain full community support due to varied perceptions of art.
“It’s always a very fragile thing as I am trying to make this happen. Some people understand it.some people don’t get it, some people don’t like art.”
Christensen said he hopes if the Colorworld proposal is one day approved that the community will become involved and create a spirit of unity and peace.
Meet the other artists
Kari Lennartson doesn’t know what will result when her paintbrush first strokes the canvas. She believes in art as a process and will manipulate her painting until an aesthetic balance has been reached and the time has come for her to lay her brush down.
“I don’t sit down in front of a canvass and have a distinct picture in my mind of what it’s going to look like,” Lennartson, an art professor, said. “I’m not thinking so much about theme when I’m painting; I’m thinking about. responding to color, and line, and balance.a balance of light and dark, a balance of cool and warm.there is any number of different contrasts.”
One theme that she includes in her art is outlines of homes, which have been relevant in her life as symbols of self and security.
Lennartson said living and studying abroad in Sweden allowed her to achieve a greater sense of self and what she believes.
“It was expansive; the world got bigger,” Lennartson said “I connected with my heritage. my belief system.”
Before Lennartson decided to enroll in the master’s program at CSU, she said she considered the concept of home before settling with her family in Fort Collins.
“We are huge back country skiers, hikers and we volunteer for the National Forest Service, so not only is it a great chillin’ way of life.it was closer to who we were,” she said.
Since moving to Fort Collins, Lennartson said CSU and the area has matched well with her personality, and she enjoys sharing with students her passion for art.
“I love teaching because it totally charges me up,” Lennartson said. “Being able to talk about what I know and what interests me and sharing that.”
As an art professor, Christine Martell also gives reverence to her students, who she said keep her fresh and enthused about art.
“I’m around students who are energetic and it just rubs off on you,” she said.
In teaching her students, Martell said the most important thing she emphasizes is the freedom in art.
“‘There aren’t any rules’.that’s what I say all the time.”
Martell said she believes there can be a number of experiences from which to find inspiration and create art. She sets no limits for herself and draws inspiration in a number of ways.
“Art is a process,” she said. “There might be something that you saw somewhere and you really liked the way it looked, like certain colors or shadows, and you want to see those again and capture that, that visual feeling you got from it.”
Martel describes the style of her work as naturalistic and realistic. She likes to explore and use different mediums of art including print-making, paint and sculpture.
Her greatest honor and achievement thus far in her career was when the Poudre School District commissioned her to sculpt several bronze pieces. Her sculptures can be seen on display at the Poudre High School River Wall and Boltz Junior High.
Peter Jacobs’ is familiar to people from nations across the world. During his 33 years with the CSU art department, Jacobs has gone on 27 educational cruises to Alaska, a one-year sabbatical to St. Lawrence Island and a Semester at Sea that took him around the world.
These travel experiences, Jacobs said, has fueled his love for wildlife and allowed him to experience new cultures and gain new inspiration for his art.
“For 20 years I spent part of each summer lecturing in Alaska with an educational cruise program,” he said. “I spent a year and a half on that ship.”
Jacobs’ 1998 Semester at Sea took him and 600 students to places like Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Israel, Turkey, Italy and Morocco. Jacobs said Vietnam exceeded his expectations and was his favorite stop because of all the friendly people he met.
“If you want an adventuresome life, be an art teacher,” he said.
Jacobs has been with CSU for 33 years serving as a department head and now as a professor, which he said is revitalizing.
“As you get older you really appreciate associating with young people.it really does keep you young,” Jacobs added.
With the development of SOCO Art, Christensen said he hopes art will continue to be influential and be a part of people’s lives every day.
“Art still has an influence,” he said.
Senior Reporter Kaeli West can be reached at email@example.com