Denver gets ribbed for its fixation on blue public art — the curious blue bear that welcome visitors at the convention center and the demonic rearing horse at the airport both evoke controversy, each in its own way. But for Konstantin Dimopoulos, who arrived in Denver last week to begin painting trees blue in the Denver Theatre District, blue public art is no joke. The Blue Trees project, which he’s taken successfully to cities around the world, is an environmental call to arms, aimed at raising awareness of the harmful effects of mass deforestation on planet Earth.
Egyptian-born to Greek parents and raised in New Zealand, Dimopoulos first studied sociology before starting an art practice. He says that’s why his work is rooted in social action, using Robert Kennedy’s famous words — “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events” — to explain his aim in painting trees blue. “That’s what I'm hoping — that it creates a ripple,” he says. “It won’t save the forest, but it’s planting the idea that you can't get too complacent about what you have. If we are doing our part, people will come behind us and do theirs.”
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The Blue Trees evolved in Australia after Dimopoulos began volunteering with the global environmental organization Friends of the Earth. “At the time, these people were fighting the front line in Southeast Asia,” he recalls. “I asked them, ‘How do we get this to the front of the newspaper instead of being a postscript at the end?’ So it started originally as an act of guerrilla art and took off slowly. It was all about about how you can make something happening thousands of miles away visible to everyone.”
The “paint” Dimopoulos uses is actually a non-permanent colorant that won’t harm the trees and will eventually fade; its bright-blue message riffs on the hue while inviting communities to pitch in and save the world, one tree at a time. “I like the idea that my art will be there, and then it will disappear in the matter of a year,” he says. “But it will still stay in the minds of the people. I like the concept that even after it’s physically not here, through documentation, it remains.”
But why, outside of its role as an attention-getter (just as pink has become a money-raising symbol for breast cancer research charities), did he choose blue?
Some colors he could take off the list immediately — some were already claimed by other causes, and brown obviously wouldn’t make a visual splash; trees destined to be cut down in forestry are marked with an orange cross. “It’s not that I’m anti-forestry. I think sustainable forestry is important. What I’m not for is ecocide — cutting down trees for short-term gain, to extract palm oil or graze cattle.” Blue, on the other hand, lent an eerily beautiful and urgent quality to the cause, as well as other hidden meanings.
“Blue is also about breathlessness,” Dimopoulos notes. “You’re blue when you're born very early — you’re blue,
and then the doctor gives you a smack on bottom and the blood comes through. Breathlessness is also related to trees: Forty percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from trees. I’m not just for saving the earth; I want it to evolve into something new. If we’re not careful, we won’t be on it.”
Dimopoulos considers his work grassroots, but aimed more directly at the next generation. Our time is over, he intimates, and it’s our children who will or won’t turn things around. In that interest, he’ll be going into the schools to work with kids during his stay in Denver, and the whole Blue Trees project here will culminate with a family day on May 21. “The more kids we have interacting with trees, the better it is for them to find a way to make a measurable difference to the environment of the city,” he explains. “We’re past the point of being subtle. There’s not another 300 years to wait. Forests belong to us all, and we need them to breathe — they link us to breathing. Removing trees is comparable to genocide: It’s ecocide.
“At the Vancouver Biennale, we had finished coloring the trees, and a mother and daughter came up as all the paintbrushes were being put away, and the little girl and her mother rushed up to the trees and gave them a big hug,” he adds. “The color made the tree visible to that little girl. What she’d do afterward, I don't know, but if I can get people to slow down and turn their heads, I’ve succeeded. If it slows you down from your daily routine, that’s the important part.”
Dimopoulos and a crew of volunteers began painting trees blue in the Denver Theatre District (from Speer Boulevard to 17th Street, between Lawrence and Stout streets) on April 18. The work will continue into May, as part of the DTD's 2017 Terra Firma urban art installation project. Beginning May 1, the district will provide a number of opportunities for the public to commune with the trees, as listed below. All events are free.
Sacred Art: A Free Open Meditation with Kimberly Allyse Johnson
Colorado Convention Center
Mondays, May 1 through May 22, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Blues Music in the Galleria
(Local blues acts, curated by Swallow Hill Music)
Denver Performing Arts Complex
Wednesdays, May 3 through May 31, 5 to 7 p.m.
Block 1750 Presents: Street Cyphers
16th Street Mall in front of the Rialto Cafe
Fridays, May 5 through May 26, 6 to 8 p.m.
Songs Amid the Blue Trees, with Opera on Tap Colorado
Throughout The Blue Trees art installation in the Denver Theatre District
Friday, May 19, 6 to 8 p.m.
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Write Denver Explores the Blue Trees
(A tour guide will provide inspired writing prompts as you walk around the Denver Theatre District)
Uncle Joe's Hong Kong Bistro
Saturday, May 20, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
"Urban Jungle — Can Art Save the World?"
Digital Art Presentation by the Denver Theatre District and Denver Digerati
LED screen, 14th and Champa streets
Main Event: Blue Trees Family Day in Skyline Park
Sunday, May 21, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Learn more about the Blue Trees online. Go to the Denver Theatre District Facebook page for details about Blue Trees programming in May. E-mail DenverBlueTrees@gmail.com to learn more about volunteer opportunities as part of the Blue Trees art installation.