RTD art: Ries Niemi at the Colorado Station

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Not only does RTD get you where you need to go, almost every stop features an art installation. At the Colorado light-rail station, you'll find a gigantic pair of Western boots created by Ries Niemi.

In this first of a series on the art at light-rail stations, we asked Niemi a few questions about his art, public transportation and the value of public art.

See also: - After five years, it might be time for "Mustang" to mosey on - 100 Colorado Creatives: Pangloss Gravitron - 14th Street Overlay adds 23 sculptures -- and some surprises -- to 14th Street

Westword: Where are you from? Where do you reside now?

Ries Niemi:I grew up in Seattle, and later lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Los Angeles. Now I live in the country in the Skagit Valley, halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

How did your collaboration with RTD come about?

I am a professional artist -- I have been since 1978 -- and so I find out about public art projects around the USA, and I apply for these jobs. They are extremely competitive; it's not uncommon for between 200 and 400 artists to apply. Artists are selected based on their experience, their past work and how well the jury thinks they fit for a particular spot. I probably apply for 20 or 30 for every one I get to be a finalist for, and then I only get awarded the job on maybe a third of the ones I am a finalist for.

How did you come up with the Idea for this piece?

I am a long-time wearer and collector of Western wear, which was invented and made in Denver, mostly by Jewish tailors from Europe. So I felt like Western wear was a perfect fit for Denver. I love making big pop-art pieces, and boots just seemed right. What or who inspired this piece? And how?

There are patterns from Mexican Pitiado stitchery that are traditional on boots and leatherwork, as well as ideas from pueblo deco Western architecture of the '30s, Navajo rug designs and Gene Autry's stage costumes. Plus, traditional blacksmithing and ornamental iron, which go back to colonial era Spanish work, and have been a continuous part of the West ever since.

When people are on their daily journey and walk past your work, what do you hope they are thinking and feeling?

I hope they find the boots have character and personality of their own, that people find them happy and funny, and that they notice the detail and craftsmanship, the handwork that contrasts with the industrial landscape of a train station.

How do you feel about public transportation?

I love it. I have taken trains, buses, and subways on four continents, from Malta to Singapore.

What is your favorite piece of public art?

I couldn't choose just one. I love the work of Claes Oldenburg, particularly his lipstick tank at Yale. I think Anish Kapoor and his piece "Cloud Gate" in Chicago is wonderful, and I am a big fan of Luis Jimenez, who made the big blue horse at DIA.

To view more of Ries Niemi's art, visit his website.

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