Sandy Litchfield is an artist; she’s a climber; she’s an Assistant Professor at UMass Amherst in the Department of Architecture, and she just finished painting a 14 foot high, 40 foot long mural on the wall at EVO Lou. Sandy is currently represented by two galleries: Garvey Simon in New York City and Carroll and Sons in Boston.
She has had over three dozen solo and group exhibitions in museums, galleries, and art centers around the United States. Her work has been reviewed in publications ranging from New American Paintings to The Boston Globe.
We had the exciting opportunity to peek into her innovative mind:
So you’ve known Hilary Harris for over 20 years; how did she present this project to you?
We’d been talking about doing something together for a while. I was interested in the design of climbing walls like Walltopia because they’re kind of in-between architecture, sculpture, and mural painting– which is exactly where I position myself as an artist. I also love rock climbing, so it was a way to bring many of my passions together.
How did you begin to conceptualize this piece?
First Hilary gave me the elevations for the wall, so I knew what kind of scale I would be working with. I’ve known Hilary since she put this whole EVO thing together, so I also knew a bit about the concept behind EVO, and the idea of time, history, and the evolution of things in general—whether that evolution is societal, personal, or climbing related.
I love the way you’ve depicted the Flat Irons. You used to live in Boulder, correct?
Yes, I lived in Boulder for 16 years, so I’m familiar with the landscape and culture here. When I began this project, I was looking at geological cross-sections of the Front Range, thinking about the topography of the land and the layers of stratified rock. I was also looking at the paintings of Stuart Davis; an early 20th-century modernist painter in America. Some of his graphic work influenced the design of this piece as well.
How does this composition “read” if you will?
The composition reads from left to right like a story. It starts out on the left with simple abstract lines moving through mountains and sky, then the lines transform– first into an architectural representation of stairs, and then into a rickety ladder with a more complicated substructure of crossing lines. As you move around the corner, the framework becomes a climbing wall, and as the climbing holds move higher up the wall the shapes morph into birds flying away. So it’s sort of evolves… onward and upward, which is what I titled it.
Epic. Now that it’s on the wall, how does it feel?
Very satisfying. There are a lot of unforeseen happy accidents that make the piece stand out in the space. I especially like the way the lines in the mural interact with the dark gray crossbars of the buildings framework. And I’m very happy with how the colors and shapes in the mural interact with the colors and shapes on the climbing walls.
(Drills start going off, and the sky sounds like it’s falling) What has it been like working in an active construction zone?
It’s actually been a really inspiring space to work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a climbing gym that had this much volume and openness. With the dynamic angles of the walls and the color palette— it’s just really inspiring. I’m lucky I had a great team of assistants, too; Michael Dorsey, who is highly skilled, knew how to set up ladders and platforms which were challenging in this area.He brought a few of his guys, Marques Martinez, Billy Clapp, and his son, Sam– who were all super helpful. There were some stressful moments, but we pulled it off in five days, which is what we were hoping for.
This has been so cool. You’re so cool. What else should I touch upon? What are you most excited about right now?
Recently I won a commission for New York City’s, Public Art for Public Schools. It’s my first public art commission, and it’s a really competitive program– I was a finalist three times before getting the commission, so I felt really proud and excited when I finally got it.
Wow, congratulations. It’s hard to stick with something after getting turned down a few times.
Thanks! I was encouraged by the fact that they kept having me back as a finalist. Each time I made a new proposal, I learned something new. I think I’m a better designer having gone through that process several times. The mural has been commissioned for a school in the Bronx. It will be 30 feet high and 20 feet wide and it will be partly made of mosaics and partly made of my own paintings.
How exciting. I can’t wait to see it. There’s a Hardhat Tour starting soon so I guess we should wrap it up. Sad face. Do you think I missed anything? (Hilary Harris chimes in: ‘did you talk about your teaching?!’)
(Laughter) Well, I’m an artist that teaches in an architecture department at UMass, which is a little unusual, but I like being in that place: in-between art and architecture. I think there’s a lot of really exciting overlaps that happen there.The other thing I’d want to say is that I’m really excited about this EVO Lou project because it brings together my love for climbing, art, and design. And it’s also playful, and fun and energetic, and I hope that we get to do more in the future.
What can you say about the vibe of EVO Lou so far?
I think this gym has room for everyone—the hardcore climbers are going to want to come here because the quality of the walls and routes and the families are going to want to come here because it’s so kid-friendly. I also have to say that this is the most beautifully designed rock gym I’ve ever seen.If you’re somebody who cares about design and the aesthetics of space—which most climbers are (because those who like climbing outdoors in a beautiful area, should also like climbing inside a beautiful space, too) then this is the place you want to be. It’s just gorgeous.