Photos by Ralph Lauer
Sure, he had a couple of pop-up tents and a whirring fan or two, but there was no dodging the 100-degree temperatures in July for Austin artist Shawn Smith. When it comes to public art, install time means deadline time, and the 820-plus squares of powder-coated stainless steel making up the 72-foot-long panther weren’t going to hang themselves on the cinder-block wall. Working with drilled-out plywood panels as a template, Smith first hung metal brackets for the squares, then installed what he calls the “pixels” that make up the body of the big cat, which wraps around the corner of the wall at Fire Station 42 in Burleson. The colors are inspired from aerial images, the firefighters’ shield and trucks, historical photos and more. Smith’s work explores the meshing of nature and technology — how he experiences nature through computers —and translates that to a three-dimensional image. Unlike computer art, tackling materials hands-on is laborious, especially outside during a Texas summer. The piece is called “Burning Bright,” a nod to William Blake’s poem about a tiger but equally fitting to its location — and the conditions under which this cat sprang to life.