Visual Arts

Impossible Winterbourne's unsanctioned public art goes steampunk

The Impossible Winterbourne, a Denver artist, doesn't consider himself a "street artist" because his art isn't limited to the streets. But like street artists, Winterbourne's installations appear quietly, waiting to be noticed. He's been in Denver "scarcely a year," and during that time has added his sculpture to ordinary urban terrain. Starting this week, he'll be decorating Denver with SteamBots, and he took some time to talk about that and why "public" and street artists give a voice to the public.

Do you consider yourself a "street artist"?

I consider myself more of a "public" artist. I created public art exhibitions for a public audience that are rarely delegated solely to the street. It is true that many of my works appear on the street, and to that end, I suppose there is a bit of street art in my veins. Certainly, many of my influences have themselves been called street artists.

However, much of my work appears in rural areas and under the streets in storm drains and water tunnels. The audience for storm tunnel art is not as wide as is the audience for street art, but that is precisely why the one who finds it should feel it a reward for going where most don't.

Do you protect your identity?

I try.

To stay out of trouble? To create intrigue?

I believe both of those things to be of the utmost importance.

What's your new SteamBots project? The Winterbourne Steambots are much like any other SteamBots -- fueled by steam and imagination, fantasy and science fiction. I do not pretend to have invented the "SteamBot" genre or the Steampunk movement from which they have spawned. I simply love the idea so much I began to create an army of my own to share with the world.

The first one went up this morning, and was well received among the public. More will pop up in places that. The point of the project is to give joy to the community. They are a way to break up the monotony of the day-to-day, and decorate the drab. Right now, they are made of cardboard and tape, but maybe one day, if things go right, they'll be made of metal and steam, stand thirty feet high and welcome people to the airport.

Do you obtain permission before installing your pieces?

I prefer a pleasant surprise. Imagine Father Christmas asking permission before giving gifts. The surprise would be ruined. Permission is sometimes necessary -- I do this to spread happiness, not undue concern and stress. Unlike spray paint or wheat paste, I use materials that are easily removed from surfaces. The SteamBots are taped in place, and the sculptures are hung with wire and nails. My work is no more destructive to its environment than a poster for a lost dog or a favorite band.

Public art and street art are ephemeral. I am always excited to see things last for an entire weekend. The ones that stay up longer, I see as a sign of acceptance from the public. I put a face in a park in San Francisco that has been there for almost a year, and is developing what I believe to be a cult following, but most things are gone within a few days. For that reason, I see no reason to violate someone's property for the installation. I just hope the ones that are removed go to good homes. Though, I'm sure most end up in the rubbish bin. Eventually, we all do.

Why is public art important?

It gives the public a voice, inspires people, makes people happy, makes rundown buildings beautiful, and does all this while asking nothing in return. I am not trying to sell you anything. If you see a piece of mine on the street that you can't live without, then take it. I'll make another.

More importantly, public art is a necessary counter to the onslaught of ads we are subject to everyday. Every minute of every day the corporate world is trying to sell the public something it does not need. Ads infiltrate our world to a nauseating extent. We need people like Banksy, Zevs, Ron English and the Billboard Liberation Front to give the rest of the public a voice.

So, public and street art is political?

Those same artists I mentioned, and many others use their work as a social commentary to make people aware of what goes on in the world. Public art and "street" art are another voice of the people. They are another way for us to communicate with each other, and we need all the means of communication we can get.

We have to remember that this is our world. The government does not control us, we control it. We make the world what it is, and if we don't like it, it is on us to change it. My work is not very political as of now. I have no delusions of changing the global economy or the turmoil in the Middle-East with some sculptures I put in the park. As of now I just want to make the world a more interesting place. I just want to fill it with giant robots.

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Tiffany Fitzgerald

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