SGV Connect 117: Chris Greenspon Interviews Steve Farley
Chris Greenspon (CG): Steve Farley, welcome to SGV Connect. You are the guy building the cool, interesting Hall of gratitude artwork that's going to be at the Pomona Metro Gold Line station. I know it's not the gold line anymore, but meh. So anyway, why do you believe you were selected by Metro - or was it the Foothill Gold Line authority - to create the art for the Pomona station?
Steve Farley (SF): Well, it happened back in 2005, when I was first getting involved with this project. So I don't actually remember exactly what the process was at the time, because that's now 18 years ago. It's been an interesting adventure. And I know that I've been working with a lot of different public art panels over the time primarily of citizens from Pomona who were working on that. Ultimately, it was the I think it was the Metro Foothill Goldline authority or whatever it was back then, that was creating the whole project. But they hadn't gotten the funding yet. They did know that they wanted to choose the artists early in the process because it was another part of kind of getting the word out to people that this thing is real. So they waited till all the different funding mechanisms got through to finally get us going. But I'm just so excited that this is happening so soon now after 18 years of a lot of working and waiting.
CG: But you're from the area right? You're not just some guy from Arizona?
SF: No, I was born in the San Antonio Community Hospital in Upland. And I grew up in Ontario and I went to school in Claremont. And I spent a lot of time in Pomona, including on Santa's lap at Buffum's every December, cuz my mom saw a Life magazine story sometime in the 50s that showed a kid on Santa's lap all the way until they were 18. Iit lasted until I was about 12. And I said nope, not doing this anymore. But I do still have a fondness in my heart for Buffum's.
CG: Okay, so I built it up a little bit, what exactly is the hall of gratitude? And where will it be installed at the station.
SF: This is a group of 56 pairs of two foot by two foot tile murals, their six inch tiles, and they're built into the railings. So as you go into the the main entrance, on the walkway in front of the station, you'll see the title of the piece, it's actually called the power of Pomona is people. And it's already out there incised and cast into the concrete. And it's looking kind of cool that way. And above that, and behind it will be these of these images and railings in this tile process that I invented called tylography. All these images all came from the public. And that's what's so cool about them is that I think when people go to this mural, and go to this project to the station, they're not going to be thinking about me, they're going to be thinking about their community. And that's always what's been key for me in public art. It's not about me, it's about the best hopes that the community I'm working in.
CG: Yeah, that jumps me forward a little bit in my Google Docs questionnaire notes - pulling back the curtain. I was going to say, and I'm still going to say, that public art is infamously bland, but it seems like you've got a thought process to get around to that. What do you think is going to be maybe some people's feeling when they see these pieces? And why? Why do these pieces matter? Who are these people that you're depicting in this hall of gratitude?
SF: There are so many different people, the one thing they're not is a lot of famous people. They're not a lot of political leaders. They're basically people who are everyday folks who have made a difference in the lives of somebody. Sometimes it's just one person, sometimes its many people. They're from all throughout time in the Pomona area. But I mean, in some cases, it's... there was one of the most moving ones was there's a kid who was sent in and it's a picture of him, a wonderful picture of him to sort of screaming like a banshee. But the story is so moving because the kid was killed in a drive by shooting. And his dad sent it in and said how much his son talking about courage. There's incredible things about people who have been spending their whole lives working in other communities to help them in different ways. We've had a little open house that was in La Verne. And they did sort of a golden spike ceremony for the last spike for the, for the rail. And some of us as artists were there and a number of people came up and said that they had been chosen and they were so excited about what they were doing and so excited they were being honored because it was people honoring their mentors, those were the people who sent in these images. It wasn't people sending in themselves, but there was people they felt were important for them. And the way this is set up it's a picture of them, one of the pictures that was sent in by the person who submitted it, right next to another two foot by two foot tall mural that has what I call a power statement. And they're always in the form of "so and so taught me the power of" something. And where those came from the people who submitted it also. So there's a lot of things that are sort of powerful lessons in there. And it's an it's an incredible variety of all different types of Pomonans and how powerful they have been to be able to serve their community in big and small ways.
CG: It sounds like it was probably a pretty emotional process going through selection. Could you share one or two more people who were going to see at the station in these likenesses? And then we'll talk about how you created the tiles.
SF: Oh, there's amazing things. There was Doctor Huu Vo, he was a Vietnamese immigrant during the Vietnam War era and came in here with nothing and ultimately ended up becoming a doctor and serving his community in so many different ways. There was Willie White, who was a pioneering African American councilman from Pomona, who had a huge fan who submitted submitted him as somebody had made such a big difference in her life. And she has been calling me every couple of months during the whole process, because she's so enthusiastic about the whole thing. There's even Alejandro Aranda who some of you may know, as the runner up for American Idol, who was a dishwasher from Pomona went to American Idol.
CG: Yeah, I remember driving down Garey, after he got eliminated, and seeing all the welcome home banners and everything.
SF: Yeah. And I didn't know who he was until after I'd made the selection. That was what's so interesting about I was just compelled by the photograph and the story of him as somebody who made a difference in somebody's life as inspirational as a creator. But I'm hoping that actually, that's one of the cool things about this is I think we're gonna have an incredible dedication ceremony sometime next year, or possibly in early 2025. They don't have a date yet, when all the people who are either have submitted these images, or who are up there in the murals will be able to come and celebrate themselves and celebrate the city. And I think we're gonna have a great concert too. So the, the mayor of Pomona has invited Alejandro to potentially play at that concert, at the dedication to so I think it's gonna be a lot all day long, very emotional event of people celebrating just each other and what they do for each other.
CG: And so it sounds like the final date for the installation is still wiggly.
SF: Yeah, yeah. I mean, after having been through this for 18 years, I'm not gonna count on any date until they finally have it in print.
CG: Yeah. So what exactly is your medium. When I was in touch with Albert, who's the PIO - that's the press guy for the Foothill Gold Line Authority - He said you had a very specific and hard to describe medium and process for these tiles. And only you could describe it.
SF: Well, that's flattering. But that's probably because I've been spending so many years doing it. It's called tylography. And I did it originally for a project in Tucson, where I had these photographs I really wanted to make huge and I wanted to make them permanent. And I didn't want them to look like any sort of more commercial photographic process like a halftone or a vinyl transfer something. I wanted them to look like people actually did it. So I wrote some software steps which analyzed the black and white photograph and determined eight shades of gray within that photograph and then the lines between those shades of gray. Then those lines were drawn out. And then those lines are silk screened in wax on to glazed ceramic tiles. They're not glazed, they're actually the Italian quarry tile, six inch by six inch, and then it's almost paint by number style. The glazes go in certain places that I've determined in advance, eight shades of grey would go. And then once they're fired and put them together, it almost up close looks like a topographic map. And you can feel it the difference the where the glazes go up and there's the lines that are down on the tile from the wax that melts away. But when you look further away and you walk further away from it, you see it start to come together and it becomes this thing that looks more realer than real. It has this dimensionality. Some people have said that the piece I have in Tucson has people who are 18 feet high, full bodied, and it looks like they're about ready to walk out of the wall and crush all the cars in the intersection. This won't quite be the same because is it just the portrait of the faces of these people.
CG: Yeah, I'm gonna try to paint a little picture here. My interpretation of how it looks is, you know those like novelty posters you see at like Venice Beach where it's 10,000 little photographs and then you walk away from it further, you see the big thing, it's like that but the photographs are of nothing. You know, like up close, it looks almost like eight bit-ish, video game-ish, kind of... weird. It looks really weird up close. But the further away from it you get from it does look like you said, it just looks like an average person made it not somebody with a PhD in computer software, you know?
SF: But yeah, that's the cool thing about it is it looks different depending on where you're looking at it from and what light you're seeing it in, and like what time of day you're seeing it in. So you have more of a connection with the artwork, and isn't just sitting there flat on the wall.
CG: So my question is, do they take on a different feeling like the golden hour?
SF: Well, absolutely. Because then the most of the ones I do are black and white. And that's the case this one. So those neutral grays that these are in obviously changes depending on what the time of day is. What's cool about this one in particular is that the cast title of it also, the Power of Pomona is People, is also incised into the wall in a way that the different time of day causes those shadows to change as well. So you'll have different and it's a south facing wall. So you'll be able to see the golden hour in the morning in the afternoon change sort of the warmth of the image, as well as the cast shadow on the title of it. And here's a pro tip is when you go to this station, there's a bunch of o's and things like Pomona, and the way they're cast into it. And the fact that they're facing south, they act like a natural sundial. So you can just see what time of day it is, depending on where the tilt of the shadows is, within that "o." It's probably easier to see than it is to explain, but it's kind of another cool little unintended feature that I noticed when I was out there looking at the cast concrete.
CG: Cool. So I have one more nitpicky question about the artwork, and why the stencil lettering on the tiles. I see it as you know, everything is a choice, right? Like, was it just your aesthetic? Or did you think people in Pomona will like stencil?
SF: No, but there actually is a reason I felt like that because power is something that had in that means sort of utilities, industrial, more of a sense of like the what is the energy behind the engine? That it felt to me more like that that particular font would work for me? Because it seems like it's more of an industrial type of font.
CG: Wow, you have an answer for everything. Anyway -
SF: Well, after 18 years, you do a lot of thinking about these things.
CG: You got to justify it, rationalize it to yourself. So one last question, because probably the only people listening to this are rail freaks. You are the guy who got the Tucson streetcar going. Why don't you tell us about that?
SF: Yes. In fact, that's how my first introduction to Streetsblog is when Aaron Naperstek who's one of the founders came out to Tucson to interview me in 2002 when I was just a public artist/citizen activist kind of dude who had created a an organization called Tucsonians for Sensible Transportation, and then went to neighborhood associations and rotary clubs with a little, it wasn't it was before PowerPoint. Actually, I had like an overhead projector and transparencies, telling people about how rail transit could actually really help this community that primarily was cars and a rotting bus system. So we we fought a lot of political realms, we we grew dramatically and we got a lot of support from people all over the city. And we ended up putting on the ballot an initiative our own that was known as the light rail initiative that had a whole bunch of things on it including bikeways sidewalks, express buses, regular bus dramatic increase and the light rail system and the modern streetcar in downtown Tucson. Well, we got our our butts handed to us by the homebuilders in the car dealers who didn't like the fact that we were doing a construction contracting sales tax as part of the funding source. So we lost badly, but then I went over the homebuilders office and I said to the guy in charge of it "Look, what can we do to work together? For 40 years we try to get a transportation plan in place. We really want to get this in place can't we work together because there's plenty people just vote no on anything." The road people and the transit people had to work together to get something done. And then we went did this whole process that ended up being the Regional Transportation Authority in and it included the modern streetcar, and it included a better bus system than even ours had had. It had the bikeways and sidewalks and all the rest of it, and it did have some regional roads in it. So we ended up working together on this project and one and 2006. And I think part of the reason why, the truth be told, now why some of the powers that be agreed to put the streetcar in it was because they never thought we'd ever get the federal match. This was just half the money we needed as a local match. But then, when President Obama came into place, they started this TIGER grant process. And we applied for that and pushed hard for it. And we ended up being the largest single project granted that first year the TIGER grant to do the federal match. In fact, the County Administrator at the time, you can tell him the article celebrating our getting this $63 million was really upset;, he just wanted to put our streetcar money into another road. But instead we got to built and now there's plenty of home builders who are have made a lot of money over the now $3,000 a month rental apartments in the vicinity of the streetcar in downtown Tucson, which is absolutely shocking that people are paying that amount for it. But the whole downtown has restored and come back. And it's amazing to see what we've got down there. And it connects the west side to the east side for the first time since I-10 basically separated them with a giant wall of freeway. And that's really changed a lot in terms of giving people access to the entire community. So it's it ended up being a pretty great success. And eventually somebody said you should probably do this professionally, because you're pretty good at this political stuff. And I ended up serving the legislature for 12 years and then running for governor and not quite making it.
CG: Well with that perspective. How do you think that the Metro coming to Pomona is going to impact the area?
SF: I think it's gonna be huge. I mean, there's already the Metrolink and the metro rail in different parts of Pomona. But actually getting this kind of frequency of service coming into this area - I think Pomona's the place that really has needed investment for a long time. And I think this is already encouraging a lot of investment in that corridor. And that's that's really going to improve everything in terms of what Pomona can do. The people in the energy are their already there. There're amazing folks who are doing incredible things there. And now to get the investment on top of it as well. I think it's going to really plug them in to be a real power center of the San Gabriel Valley in the larger LA region.
CG: Steve Farley, thanks for coming on SGV Connect.
SF: Oh, thank you for having me. I appreciate it. It's good talking about this.