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Originally published April 2, 2012 at 8:58 PM | Page modified April 5, 2012 at 10:19 AM

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Artist colors trees blue to draw attention to deforestation problem

Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos will color some of Seattle's trees a vibrant, ultramarine blue in the next week as part of his international art installation The Blue Trees.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Oh man, the silliness (or is it idiocy) in Seattle/King County never ceases to amaze me... MORE
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From the cherry blossoms to the evergreens, trees are part of the aesthetic in Seattle; we take their presence for granted.

However, one man plans on helping several trees turn heads.

Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos will color some of the Seattle area's trees a vibrant, ultramarine blue in the next week as part of his international art installation The Blue Trees.

The project, at Westlake Park and the Burke-Gilman Trail in Kenmore, is meant to draw attention to deforestation.

About 32 million acres of forests were converted to other uses or lost to natural causes each year between 2000 and 2010, according to a 2010 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

"I realized that forests are the lungs of the world," Dimopoulos said, emphasizing that society could not survive without trees.

Dimopoulos isn't using paint, as he doesn't intend to turn the trees permanently blue. Instead, the colorant is made from azurite — a vibrant blue rock — and water.

"Blue is not a color we normally associate with trees, so he is transforming the trees," said the artist's wife and manager, Adele Dimopoulos. "This creates a pause for people to stop and actually notice the trees."

Over time, the vibrant blue will fade and be washed away by rain.

With the help of local volunteers, Konstantin Dimopoulos will color 16 honey locust trees at Westlake Park; 40 Jacquemontii birch trees will be colored in a hangar at Magnuson Park and then planted along the Burke-Gilman Trail.

Norman Gunderson, who lives in Lower Queen Anne, spent Monday, his first day of retirement, helping color the trees at Westlake. He read about the art project on a Seattle bike blog and decided to get involved.

"They say you got to go out and be active," Gunderson said. "I like the idea of this odd color bringing attention to the trees in the urban environment."

The Burke-Gilman project is funded by private donations and King County's "1 percent for the arts" program. The $24,000 cost covered the artist fees, supplies and equipment, outreach and the 40 Jacquemontii trees.

The $2,500 Westlake Park project is funded by the city of Seattle, said a Seattle Parks and Recreation spokeswoman.

The Blue Trees project started in British Columbia in 2010. Dimopoulos colored trees in Port Moody, West Vancouver and Richmond for the Vancouver Biennale, a 2009-2011 art exhibition.

After Vancouver, he colored trees in New Zealand, along the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail.

After completing his installation there, he came back to the Northwest and pitched his project to Seattle and King County.

Dimopoulos believes that deforestation, for many, is out of sight, so people don't often think about it.

His hope is that by creating a striking contrast between what trees look like normally and the blue that he will color them, he can get people to stop and educate themselves on what the project is and what it represents.

The art at Westlake Park and on the Burke-Gilman Trail will be accompanied by signs that explain the project.

The Dimopouloses will head to Florida after completing the installations in Seattle. From there they will travel to Boston and London.

"I don't have the answers but I can raise the issue," Dimopoulos said.

"To get people to be aware of this issue, I don't think it is going to change anything immediately, but in terms of environmental ethics, it will become a lot more visual."

Mary Jean Spadafora: 206-464-2168 or mjspadafora@seattletimes.com

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