Canyon graffiti’s message elusive
June 13, 2007
Stephen Cornelius is unsure what the strange graffiti means.
The person certainly wants the figures to portray something haunting, says Cornelius, an Old Town artist who works in mixed media, once challenged City Hall rules with a grisly effigy of a person on a crucifix and says he did not paint the graffiti.
"As an emotional reaction, there’s something ghostly, sad, abysmal about it," Cornelius says, noting that none of the four figures are smiling and the rest of the piece is "very crude."
The work, an ambitious piece for graffiti artists in Park City, appeared on a building at the top of Daly Avenue housing a water pump. The pump pushes water from the Judge Tunnel to Empire Pass, the ritzy slopeside development in Deer Valley. Crews built the pump station last winter.
There is graffiti on several parts of the building, including pieces with religious underpinnings and bizarre, alien-looking art. The most striking, though, shows the four figures, without limbs, emerging from a forest. The artist made the piece a nighttime scene, with stars and the moon shown above the forest. The words ‘Real Art’ and ‘Viva America’ are painted underneath but it is unknown if they are part of the piece or done by someone else.
What the figures are supposed to be is unclear. They appear sullen. They could be interpreted as owls or, possibly, tree stubs with faces.
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The building sits near the mouth of Empire Canyon and downhill from the site of Empire Pass, which remains under construction. The development was polarizing in the 1990s, as scores of Parkites were dismayed with the prospects of building in Empire Canyon, a popular spot for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The angst subsided and there has been little heard about Empire Pass from Parkites in years.
Mayor Dana Williams, who visited the building on Monday, says he is unsure of the meaning. He wonders whether it pays homage to Empire Canyon’s pre-development days. Williams does not theorize what the figures are meant to represent.
"I’m having a hard time figuring out what the message is," says Williams, who came to political prominence in the 1990s as the leader of development watchdog Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth, which mobilized against the Empire Pass project. "What I’m thinking is it’s maybe mourning the loss of another canyon being turned over to development."
Williams remembers some people from the development watchdog burned small bits of sage to commemorate and "say farewell" to Empire Canyon once the project was approved. He refuses to speculate who created the piece.
"The impression is it’s unhappy with something going on in the canyon," the mayor says, noting "angst" remains in Park City about Empire Pass.
A wing of Toronto-based Talisker Corp., the Empire Pass developer, put up the building and Kathy Lundborg, City Hall’s water manager, says the local government plans to take over the building later.
Rick Ryan, a Police Department lieutenant, says the authorities have monitored the graffiti on the building as it became more prevalent. He is unsure when the piece appeared and says, on Monday, the Public Works Department requested Talisker clean the building.
Lots of graffiti in Park City is linked to gangs but the piece does not appear to be so, Ryan says. The Police Department has not found similarly styled graffiti elsewhere, he says.
"I honestly don’t know as far as what kind of message — whether it’s (an) environmentalist message," Ryan says.