Public art projects present many technical and aesthetic challenges including, first and foremost, how the artist conveys her concept to a broad swath of the general public. When considering the Multnomah County Central Courthouse in Portland, Oregon, Lynn Basa took on the challenge of translating the principles of hope for users of the new building.
She says: “The American justice system is ultimately based on hope – hope that if you do something wrong and get caught, that you’ll get a fair trial; hope that if you go to trial you won’t get convicted; hope that if you get convicted, you’ll get a light sentence. Judges hope that they will be fair and impartial. Underpinning all of this is the hope for rehabilitation, to re-enter society, to lead a productive life.”
The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) selected Basa to create a 25’ x 71’ glass artwork for the lobby of the new 17-story Multnomah County Central Courthouse. Designed by SRG Partnership / CGL Ricci Greene, the new courthouse is located at Southwest First Avenue and Madison Street. The artist chose Bullseye Studio to fabricate her 1,775-square-foot work – a series of 120 5′ tall x 3′ wide panels composed entirely of kilnformed glass. The panels required more than 200 firings and three years to complete.
Basa’s design for the two-story artwork—viewable from the lobby, the second and third stories of the building, and from the building’s exterior—was inspired by conversations with the project’s Artist Selection Panel, courthouse judges and employees, as well as formerly incarcerated community members. The focus of the artwork is a landscape that reflects the rippling passage of behavior, through redemption and rehabilitation, that is sought in the community justice process.
Basa says: “The composition reads from left to right. It starts out hot and in turmoil then becomes cooler and calmer. The crime and the criminal run hot. The job of the justice system is to treat that heat with cool rationality, to calm the waters. On another level, the artwork is a landscape. Living in the Pacific Northwest means living with the constant awareness that you’re on top of a volcanic chain, contrasted by being surrounded by water. The Wilmette River runs next to the courthouse and, of course, Portland’s famously rainy climate.”
Throughout the country, Basa has completed numerous public art commissions in mosaic, glass, steel, terrazzo, and light. In her studio, she paints with an ancient medium called encaustic that is a mix of beeswax and oil pigment. She is the founder of the Milwaukee Avenue Alliance, a community organization dedicated to the equitable cultural and economic reawakening of three blocks of the vintage, working-class main street where her storefront studio is located. With an undergraduate degree in ceramics from Indiana University, the artist earned her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and an MPA in public art policy from the University of Washington. Basa’s book called The Artist’s Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions, is based on a class she developed and taught at SAIC.
In order to create effects similar to those of encaustic painting, her primary medium, Basa elected to use glass for the Multnomah County Courthouse project. Bullseye Studio developed a process for translating between the mediums, then executed the work in colored crushed glass on canvases of opalescent white glass. She chose to work with Bullseye Studio to translate her imagery from encaustic to glass based on the success of her prior work with Bullseye’s team creating mosaic columns for TriMet’s Orange Line stations.
Funded by Multnomah County Percent for Art and managed by the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), Bullseye Studio worked closely with SRG, RACC, Multnomah County, Hoffman Construction, and the engineering firm KPFF to realize this massive project. Installation of the artwork was performed by Artech.