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Originally published Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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"Big Rig Jig" artist lands Sound Transit gig

For its future Capitol Hill light-rail station, transit officials have hired Mike Ross, a young Brooklyn, N.Y., artist whose sculpture of tanker trucks — "Big Rig Jig" — was a highlight of last year's Burning Man festival.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Mike Ross, station artist

Photos of "Big Rig Jig," his giant sculpture of tanker trucks, are at bigrigjig.com

Sound Transit is known to push the limits of engineering, by boldly drilling tunnels through wet glacial soil.

Now, the agency wants to install groundbreaking public art.

For its future Capitol Hill light-rail station, transit officials have hired Mike Ross, a young Brooklyn, N.Y., artist whose sculpture of tanker trucks — "Big Rig Jig" — was a highlight of last year's Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.

The piece was four stories high. People climbed up through its curved tubes, supported from within by steel-truss work.

His design for Capitol Hill, to be announced this spring, will probably involve something really, really big that hangs from crossbeams inside the station.

Barbara Luecke, Sound Transit's public-art administrator, said she pursued Ross after she saw "Big Rig Jig" at Burning Man. He was eventually chosen from among 120 hopefuls.

"Capitol Hill seems like they're willing to look for a strong art statement," said Luecke, based on chats with community advocates and a design committee.

Ross, 32, won't discuss details of his design, which he says is not fully formed.

But a speech here last week, an interview and his past works suggest he'll create something fun.

Ross was inspired to make the truck sculpture by the traffic in his neighborhood, where 18-wheelers make him nervous about his jaywalking habit. Also, Ross said, he and his girlfriend have hitchhiked across the country with truck drivers.

He describes "Big Rig Jig" as his perspective on an unsustainable, oil-burning economy. Yet his semis are dancing.

"It's just cool to see trucks in the air," he said. "I saw smiles on people's faces; that was great. That's a big part of what I'm trying to do. Let people walk away feeling they're seeing something pleasurable, in some way."

In five trips to Seattle, he's noticed the constant grayness and also that the city's public art tends to offset that gray with a joyous feeling, a tradition he wants to honor.

Color will likely play a starring role.

Before "Big Rig Jig," he co-designed a pair of temporary sculptures called "Color Field," in Key West, Fla., and New York. Translucent color panels were suspended overhead, and visitors could move them using ropes and pulleys. The ground served as a canvas for drifting hues under the sunlight. Viewers could combine colors — making purple by pulling a red panel over a blue one, for example.

In Seattle, colors could be installed in the glass-walled station entrances, Luecke said.

"I haven't thought about it, but it might be very nice," Ross said.

Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said no decision has been made on whether to install the sculpture at one of the three entrances or on the mezzanine.

If an expected federal grant comes through, the station is scheduled to open in late 2016 as part of a $1.8 billion, three-mile tunnel from Westlake Center to Husky Stadium. The Capitol Hill art budget is $550,000, including $110,000 for Ross.

Compared to the mostly wall-mounted art in Seattle's downtown tunnel, the Capitol Hill tunnel piece would be more three-dimensional, Ross said. One possibility is a piece that hovers above escalator riders as they glide through different elevations.

Ross is enthralled by the transition between underground travel and surface daylight. A subway ride makes a city an archipelago of busy streetscapes, separated by journeys in black.

Capitol Hill, he said, "will be a place where you emerge."

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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