The Sun Is Part of the Art on This Public Sculpture in Davis, California

The changing seasons have dramatic visual effects on an abstract work of public art on a 135-foot-diameter concrete water tank.

The Sun Is Part of the Art on This Public Sculpture in Davis, California

A crowd of citizens who attended the formal unveiling ceremony of Same Sun view the shadow and alignment of the letter “B” as cast on the tank wall from the metal sculpture mounted on the top. 

The abstract mural on the East Area Water Tank in the California city of Davis is much more than a painting. It is a 14,000-square-foot multimedia kinetic installation.

“It’s intended to set the tank into its natural surroundings and evoke the wild fields and agricultural colors of the landscape surrounding the tank,” says Sofia Lacin, creator of the artwork. “Part of the goal is to reward patience and give the viewer a sense of discovery.”

Three metal sculptures containing letters are mounted outward along the top and cast shadows on the side of the 4 million-gallon prestressed concrete tank. The 100-foot-long, plasma-cut Corten steel sculptures are abstract forms with letters nestled within. They cast a dappled sunlight effect on the wall.

National competition

Following the sun’s travel, the shadows move and reveal their letters on the side of the tank. During and around the summer solstice, they align perfectly with white letters painted on the side to complete the Latin phrase, “sol omnibus lucet” (“the sun shines upon us all”).

The design was selected from 12 respondents to a national call for artists. It took Lacin and Hennessy Christophel, co-owners of LC Studio Tutto, about a year to complete the project. “Half of that time was spent doing R & D, collaborating and planning,” Lacin says. “It took us about six months to paint the mural and oversee the sculpture fabrication and installation, which we call Same Sun.” 

Nearly 250 gallons of Glidden Professional paint were used in six revolutions around the 135-foot-diameter tank. Initial coats, presenting a golden-hued appearance, were applied with rollers and sprayers. They used more traditional artist’s studio tools, such as brushes, to build depth and add emphasis in the final revolutions. A paint-filled sandblaster created washes of color among the greens, reds, yellows and oranges of the abstract.

Form and function

Constructed in 2011 to help with water pressure on the south and east sides of the city, the East Area Water Tank budget included an aesthetic component from the contractor, rather than the typical 1 percent of a capital project’s cost allocated for public art in Davis.

Using scaffolding and a mobile lift on the 35-foot-tall tank, the artists used gridded prints to map the tank and ensure they applied the correct color in the right spot. Straight lines were determined by “snapping a line” on the tank’s circumference.

“Since there are no right angles, it’s very difficult to map out precise points,” Lacin says. “We had a surveyor help plot the exact north-south poles. We took a model to a local enterprise and confirmed the placement of the sculptures with a Heliodon, sort of like AutoCAD.”

The artists collaborated with Terrence Martin, owner of a Sacramento company called Jagged Edge Metal Art on the sculpture fabrication and installation. Martin put the sculptures though rigorous tests and consulted with a structural engineer to ensure a safe installation.

Well embraced

The mural project was not universally embraced in the community at first, says Rachel Hartsough, arts and culture manager for the city. Some objected to spending money for art instead of painting the tank a solid color. Once they realized the art was included in the cost, it became clear that the mural was the better option. Since then, the tank has become a city landmark; it won a Project of the Year award from the American Public Works Association.

“Even though its color palette doesn’t pop at you, I think it’s beautiful and people have come to really appreciate its beauty,” Hartsough says. “It’s fun to watch the sun interplay with the letters on the side of the tank.”

An 8-foot-high decorative metal fence separates the tank site from a tree-shaded park-and-ride lot that includes sidewalks, a covered waiting pavilion, lighting and landscaping. “It’s located next to Interstate 80, so thousands of people see it every day,” Hartsough says.

Lacin says it was a challenging project, but the best days were when people stopped and shouted encouragement. Some said they changed their commute so they could observe the process. “That’s what it was all about,” Lacin says. “Surprising people and inspiring curiosity.”


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