As Capitol Hill Station is racing toward completion, so is progress on the public art that will eventually call the structure home. Meet Ellen Forney: a local cartoonist, Capitol Hill resident, and professor at Cornish College of the Arts who has joined the effort to beautify and humanize the future station.
She says the project is a “zillion” times bigger than anything she’s ever done.
“The brush lines are going to be like these thick ropes,” Forney tells CHS. “I just can’t wait to see it. It makes me giddy.”
Forney has designed two massive murals to be displayed in the North and West entrances of the Sound Transit light rail station now under construction along Broadway. One is called “Crossed Pinkies” which is 40 feet long and 13 feet high, and will hang in the North entrance overlooking John Street. The other piece for the Broadway entrance, “Walking Fingers”, will be 20 feet by 28 feet.
Forney, originally from Philadelphia, has been a professional cartoonist illustrator since the early 1990s, and has dabbled in a variety of other artistic mediums since then. She landed the light rail station gig back in 2008 after submitting a series of paintings of hands in provocative positions to Sound Transit — paintings which had originally been featured in the 2007 Seattle Erotic Art Festival. The series was called Big Fucking Hands.
“I really like to be … suggestive, even explicit, but not necessarily graphic or representational. So even when the hands were doing very sexual things, it was just the hands,” says Forney. “Hands have so much personality.”
Given the public nature of — you guessed it — a public art project, Forney wanted to create something non-specific yet universal that passersby can relate to. The “Crossed Pinkies” piece will also introduce light rail riders to Mike Ross’s “Jet Kiss” — two disassembled fighter jets facing one another suspended from the ceiling of the belly of the station — and the common theme of large-scale interaction and meeting-in-the-middle.
Forney’s murals will be made of steel paneling and porcelain enamel, the latter of which Forney says is a misunderstood material. “Porcelain enamel sounds really fragile. But it’s not … it’s really, really strong,” she said.
Forney likens the process to that of making finished pottery. The roughly 4-foot by 4-foot steel panels will be “fabricated” by KVO Industries in California where they will undergo a silkscreen process of applying the enamel paint designs via a massive squeegee before being stuffed into a piping’ hot kiln and fired to perfection. The panels will then be shipped up to Seattle for installation.
Currently, Forney only has sketches drawn, in addition to a single prototype panel she made herself.
With several different people and entities involved in the creation and installation process of the project, Forney is still getting used to having help. “I had to rethink what ‘your art’ meant,” she said. “Like if someone else actually had their hands all over it could I still say it was ‘my art’?”
She may end up going down to California to oversee the process, and maybe even participate directly. “I’ll probably end up doing [that] because that is the kind of person I am.”
The red construction wall surrounding the Capitol Hill light rail construction site has been a community art gallery of sorts but with many if not all of the pieces designed as temporary works often with no plan for what happens when they come down. The permanence of Forney’s murals in the Sound Transit station is a new and exciting notion for a cartoonist who has typically drawn illustrations for one-time rapid reproductions.
“To have it be something that is going to sit in the landscape of the neighborhood where I’ve lived for 25 years, and that I can give that to the community… is amazing,” she said.
The murals are slated for fabrication in spring/summer of 2015 and installation in the coming fall. The station itself is scheduled to open for service connecting downtown to UW via Broadway by spring 2016.