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Blue Trees Heading to Seattle

An Australian artist hopes to get people thinking about deforestation by using the "powerful stimulant" of the color blue.

Konstantin Dimopoulos

Something is wrong with that tree.

The casual passerby might say it was its color. It's blue – a striking, unnatural tint so concentrated it's as if the paint was made by boiling down a village of Smurfs.

But to a logger, it's wrong because it's still standing. Somebody make a futon frame out of that thing, quick!

Each year, loggers remove a hunk of forest at least the size of Panama (square mileage: 29,157) from the globe's rapidly balding scalp. The chopping and sawing opens up crop-and-grazing land for farmers and helps homes and furniture get built. But it also leaves gaping abscesses in endangered environments like the world's rainforests, which could be completely gone in 100 years if the rate of deforestation remains steady. Fewer trees mean fewer animal species, the spread of life-sucking deserts and faster climate change.

Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos isn't cool with that. So he paints trees blue, to get people to notice and maybe even care about them. (He's also erected a sculpture on a Melbourne pedestrian island that looks like flaming grass.) Dimopoulos has blue-washed boughs in New Zealand, Richmond, Virginia, and at the 2011 Vancouver Biennale, using a specially formulated colorant that doesn't harm the environment or the trees. Now he's taking his act to Seattle, where he and several volunteers will give the ultramarine treatment to dozens of Honey Locusts and Jacquemontii Birches in Westlake Park and along the heavily trodden Burke-Gilman Trail.

Project "Blue Trees," beginning on April 2, is intended to "provide a visual platform to effect change." Explains Seattle's 4Culture organization, a backer of the artistic intervention:

Color is a powerful stimulant, a means of altering perception and defining space and time. Blue is a color that is not naturally identified with trees and suggests that something unusual, something out of the ordinary is happening. In nature, color is used both as a means of protection and as a mechanism to attract. The Blue Trees is an attempt to elicit a similar response from viewers and inspire conversation and action around deforestation issues.

To judge from the results in Vancouver, Seattle's trees could remain blue for six to nine months depending on the weather. Sounds neat enough. For more blue, enjoy this film about Dimopoulos made by environmentalist Miranda Andersen:

Image of a blue tree courtesy of the artist.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.