John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The freaky forests are an artistic cry against global deforestation.
Denver’s flora right now seems more suitable for Planetoid Zorp than Earth. Groves of downtown trees have incurred a shocking transformation, their branches turning as unnaturally blue as the glowing water in a reactor core.
This urban surrealism is the work of Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, who is in the process of painting 150 city trees an eye-popping cerulean shade. Though an application of primer and oil-based paint is typically best for exterior wood surfaces, Dimopoulos is using a water-based colorant that’s safe for trees.
“It’s a vibrant, electric blue. The most striking element is how it contrasts against the green leaves,” says David Ehrlich of the nonprofit Denver Theatre District, one of the groups that helped bring the project to town. “I think that people are clearly intrigued because it is striking but also slightly unexpected.”
Dimopoulos’ “Blue Trees” installations—over the years he’s done others in Seattle, Vancouver, London, Melbourne, and elsewhere—are meant to draw attention to the death of the world’s forests. Each year loggers rip up a forested area half the size of England, causing habitat and species destruction, accelerated climate change, and perhaps the total loss of all rain forests in the next hundred years.
“I created ‘The Blue Trees’ in response to seeing images of the devastation wrought by removing rainforests in Asia to make way for plantings of palm oil trees. It looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off,” says Dimopoulos. “Not only had the trees gone, but also the entire ecosystems that lived in and around them. The scientist who showed me these photos asked how to bring this issue of global deforestation from a postscript at the back of a newspaper to headline news.”
“And that’s what led to The Blue Trees—an environmental art installation about global deforestation and the importance of trees to people and their environment,” he continues. “For a short time I transform urban trees into a surreal environment. People stop and notice these trees. They take photos and share them on social media. I am making the invisible visible by having these trees speak for the 50-football-fields-per-minute of old growth and rainforests that are being removed.”
“We align closely with Konstantin Dimopoulos’ concern over global deforestation and his desire to raise awareness about the importance of forests to the health and sustainability of our communities and our planet,” says Kim Yuan-Farrell, executive director of The Park People, a tree-planting organization involved in the Denver project. “We hope that Denverites will come away with a new or renewed appreciation for the important role that our trees play.” One way to do that, she suggests, is by volunteering or donating to give free trees to those who can’t afford them.
The artist and his paintbrush, aided by volunteers, will continue blue-washing branches until the beginning of May. The trees will remain that way for the next several months until the paint, aided by whatever rain comes, gradually wears off, and by that time Dimopoulos likely will be painting elsewhere.
“Denver is the 20th city where I have created The Blue Trees and now I’m looking to the next 20 cities,” he says, adding that he wants to “reach as many people as possible because we don’t have another 300 years to come up with answers to deforestation.”