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Stone’s Lastest Work Downtown Has Him In The Clouds

Published: December 15, 2011

Craig Stone of Art and American Indian Studies married Earth and sky in his latest public work on display in downtown Long Beach titled “Image Emergence: Promenade of Clouds.”

The expert in the design of small urban public spaces who joined the university in 1980 may be best known for his 1995 Belmont Shore creation, “Shadows Casting on the Shore,” which stained shadows of familiar images appear on the streets of the laid-back local community. But in his new project, finished in October, Stone recasts his shadows in sunlight and takes them one step further.

Asked to create an installation with regard to the future and the heavens, Stone looked to things that have had resonance since ancient times. Stone considered clouds and bird flocks, which allow those below to discover patterns and images as they emerge from apparent disorder.

“The interconnectedness of things and the relationship of finding order in disorder became the theme for the project,” said Stone. “Each sculpture in ‘Image Emergence: Promenade of Clouds’ works almost like a film negative as each cloud-shaped sculpture casts a shadow with an image within the shadow.” In addition to the shadows cast by the art itself, some of which stand 16 feet tall and 12 feet wide, Stone and his collaborators stained cloud-shaped shadows into the surface of the Promenade walkway. “The illusionary aspect is something I’m very interested in because it makes people slow down and begin to look at how they perceive things,” Stone said. “They might look at one shadow that I’ve stained or cast. They might begin to look at another shadow. They might begin to look at these interactions and make connections and become more aware of their environment.”

This new public work of art located on a three-block-long thoroughfare is part of a larger reworking of the Promenade by landscape architect Jon David Cicchetti, with whom Stone worked on nearby Signal Hill’s Hilltop Park with its distinctive trio of cut-out frames viewing the city below.

“I’ve never had an interest in making large stand-alone sculptures,” he said. “My work has always been more about integrating the artwork within the site.” If the viewer were to drive by the installation late at night, they might see constellations about 12 feet above the ground. Another quick look from the side might reveal a cloud-like sculpture. But within these steel shapes are hidden images. At night, when they’re lit from behind, the same cloud sculptures resemble things visible in the heavens at night. Images appear and disappear.

“The sculptures have been cut with hundreds of holes to allow through sunlight,” said Stone. “They project an image onto the ground or you can see an image from below, yet it is possible to look at the same sculpture and only see the shape of a cloud and the pattern on the surface of the sculpture. If you are looking down on a sunny day, the shadow from one of these sculptures would reveal something unusual about the sculpture above.”

At the end of the Promenade’s third block, a two-and-a-half-story-tall Works Progress Administration mural portrays beach life. Stone shrinks the size of his sculptures as the viewer walks in to the block to create a visual connection with the mural. He even provides one of his sculptures with its own pigeon. “I’ve never seen a sculpture that doesn’t have a pigeon on it,” he laughed. “That is part of the sculpture’s context.”

Craig Stone art work
Photo by Walter Gajewski

Stone received his bachelor’s and his Master of Fine Arts degrees from CSULB, the latter in 1988. His MFA thesis was awarded the Western Association of Graduate Schools (United States, Canada and Mexico) and the University Microfilms International’s Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award.

Stone is pleased with the ability of his “Clouds” to change from moment to moment, and from season to season. “If you go during the day, it would be difficult to have the same experience twice,” he said. “The sculptures have been placed in such a way that they generate imagery around the times when most people go to the adjacent Starbucks for morning and afternoon coffee and during lunch. People who are on the Promenade on a daily basis will be able to notice the pattern of the changing locations of the cast shadows as they mark the seasons.” This is very different than what visitors will experience at night. It is the visitor’s opportunity to enjoy two very different experiences from the same works of art.”

Stone likes the project’s freshness. “I don’t think you will go to another municipality and find sculptures in a plaza like this,” he said. “One of the things that interest me about art in public places is how each project is different and as you amplify certain aspects of a site you end up creating something unique.”

This type of public art is concerned with place making. It is reinforcing, amplifying and creating a unique sense of place for a particular site or community. Artist Jack Mackie has said that “Public art is the art of making places public.” Stone adds, “That a place becomes more public when folks slow down to observe and contemplate, to interact, to dance, to kiss, to frolic, to saunter and to strike up conversations with people who they do not know. This is the type of art that I am interested in making and the success of the project will be seen as this plaza becomes a more public place.”

Dedication of the project took place on Nov. 22 at Ocean Boulevard and Promenade.