Carson Fox, professor of art and art history at Adelphi, uses public art installations to celebrate joy even as it honors loss.
For Carson Fox, professor of art and art history at Adelphi, much of the appeal of creating public art lies in the surprise of installing it. “I really like the idea that these projects have to be realized on site,” she said. “There’s a nice tension between planning and making the piece and then getting to a space where I have to shift gears.”
Fox’s latest public installation, Blue Ombré, at the Charles Library at Temple University in Philadelphia, required a similar improvisational approach. “The curator approached me in March of 2020, but that was in the thick of coronavirus, and I wasn’t able to visit the site until months later.” Fox mapped out the piece as best she could for the space, which she calls “a challenge,” as the Charles Library is an architectural spectacle characterized by a series of dramatic swooping arches. In July 2020, Fox installed Blue Ombré, which fills an arched 14-by-15-foot wall with more than 8,000 handcrafted flowers in graduated shades of blue.
Flowers have been an object of fascination for Fox since 2001, when she lost her father, mother and mother-in-law within weeks of each other. In the midst of a “massive emotional upheaval,” Fox became interested in one unique expression of grief that bridged private and public: roadside memorials to car crash victims. “All of those artificial flowers were so beautiful, even weather-beaten and subjected to the harsh elements,” she said. “I started this informal project of photographing roadside memorials and charting how long they stayed up.”
For the next several years, Fox’s interest in flowers evolved alongside her state of mind. “I kept on making dark things for a long time, and at a certain point I just thought, ‘If I make happy-looking work, will I be happy again?'” She began to create flowers out of brightly hued resin, attempting to harness their potential as “vehicles for riotous color.” While a love affair with color followed, the association of flowers with loss lingers still. Fox says she couldn’t help but think of Blue Ombré as a memorial to the victims of COVID-19.
Fox’s reputation for bright, bold flower installations has invited commissions of all kinds, from universities and corporations to private clients searching for the perfect piece for their home. Though the spaces and contexts may differ, she hopes to ignite powerful reactions in viewers of her public work. “I want people to become immersed and lost in this moment of just looking at color,” she said. “They get to have an art experience that’s outside of something rarefied or planned like a museum or gallery; it’s part of where they go and what they do day-to-day. As the maker of these pieces, the idea of being part of someone’s life without them consciously knowing it is incredibly rewarding.”