Artist transforms sewer pump station

On Ocean Avenue
Thu, 07/04/2019 - 6:45am

An unsightly concrete and metal sewer pump station located on Ocean Avenue has been transformed into a work of art, with the goal of camouflaging it to match Block Island’s natural landscape.

The transformation is courtesy of Sara Pizarro, a 27 year-old artist and 2018 graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, who was awarded the Presidential Scholarship for merit. Pizarro was commissioned to paint the structure by island resident Beth Simkins, whose home is located across the street from the pump station on Ocean Avenue. Pizarro’s mandate: to paint a floral scene on the “eyesore” of a structure that captured the elements of Block Island, replete with hydrangeas and a stone wall.

With a paintbrush in hand, and a furrow in her brow as she intently scrutinized the canvas, Pizarro systematically created her masterpiece. She would dip her brush into a cup of paint and then stroke and dab at the concrete, purposefully, carefully. “I am an artist,” she said, smiling, before noting that she grew up in Medellín, Columbia. “I’ve been an artist since I was little. My mother is a painter, my brother is a musician, and my parents worked in the advertising business, so I grew up with it.”

Pizarro, who resides in Whitman, Mass., visited Block Island for the first time to paint the structure.

She has started to amass an impressive portfolio, working as a muralist, and creating artwork for businesses.

She has auctioned her art at the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as the legendary Lenox Hotel in Boston, and has painted in such venues such as the House of Blues in Boston, and has murals all around North and South America.

Pizarro first brought her brush to the pump station’s façade on Saturday, June 15, when she applied a base coat of paint. The Times arrived to find Pizarro painting underneath a blue tent set up to protect her work from the elements. An assortment of paint cans and tools surrounded her while she worked, applying blue, pink, yellow and green paint with her brush and fingers to the structure’s surface.

“This is my first time painting a three-dimensional surface,” said Pizarro, noting that, “It’s usually a flat surface” that I work on. “I’ve never worked on a three-dimensional piece — but I’m a muralist.”

Pizarro said she expected to complete the project within two to three days. She was battling the rainy weather during the week while she painted, but that did not deter her from completing her work on deadline. “Once it’s completed, then I seal it,” she said. “It’s a sealer for concrete, to resist the weather.”

As for her creative approach to the project, Pizarro said it started with a photograph. “They sent me a picture of what it was. They sent me measurements. I thought it was going to be bigger,” she said. “I sent them back a sketch. They wanted it to kind of blend in with the island’s environment. It was a challenge, but also fun” to paint.

The Sewer Commission approved Simkin’s request to have the structure painted at its meeting on July 16, 2018. Simkins’ told The Times that she spent the past few years trying to get the artwork approved. She had installed landscaping on the property to mask the structure, some of which was removed over time, to allow for access to the pump station. So, her next plan was to have the structure painted.

“It was a very difficult process” in getting the artwork approved, said Simkins. “The Sewer Department contacted me last summer and said we could paint it.” She lauded the Sewer Department and its Superintendent, Dylan Chase, and noted that the cost to paint the structure is being paid by her family, and is “quite expensive, but worth it. We wanted it to be done in a quality manner.”

Simkins said a “family friend, whose daughter is a teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design, helped us find Sara.” She said she discussed designs for painting the structure with the artist during the winter months. “I think it looks great,” she said, noting that she understands that “not everyone is going to like it. But we think it looks better than it did before.”

“If Ms. Simkins is happy, I am happy,” said Chase, while standing at the site. “Our neighbors are important to us. I think the painting looks great.”