In 2018, Pittsburgh International Airport tabbed Blaine Siegel as its first artist-in-residence, giving the multidisciplinary creator full access to its facilities to create a unique work reflective of his experience there.
A year later, Siegel unveiled “Industrial Paintings,” a series of three works patterned after the airport’s paint pad and composed of runway paint, vinyl, roofing shingles and tape. During his residency, Siegel became intrigued by the swirls of color on the “paint pad,” a patch of asphalt where PIT tests the truck that paints lines and other markings on runways, ramps and other surfaces.
Nearly two years and one pandemic later, Blue Sky News caught up with Siegel to learn more about what he’s been doing since his time as PIT’s inaugural artist-in-residence.
Q: We’re about 20 months out from your unveiling of the “Industrial Paintings.” What have you been up to?
A: As you know, the paint pad at PIT inspired my final artwork. It also led me to search out paint pads at other airports with the intent of creating a book that documents these unique and beautiful spaces. I have documented the paint pad at Tampa (International Airport) and will be visiting Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale in the upcoming months. I am in discussion with a handful of other airports, as well.
I recently finished the first round of my latest endeavor, the Awaken Home Project. I pair local artists with recently arrived refugee families to create an artwork of belonging for their new homes. This project directly comes out of my residency at PIT.
During my PIT residency, I became aware of refugees arriving at PIT and discovered what a profound experience that this is for them. I was able to obtain a research grant to interview refugees about arriving in the airport and resettling in Pittsburgh. I decided to use my skill set as a social engagement artist to help the refugees feel a sense of belonging in our city.
This project has garnered interest from other organizations and has been promised future funding. Without the residency at PIT, this project definitely would not have happened.
Q: How has the PIT residency affected your work — both the process and the finished products — since your time here?
A: The residency has enabled me to think more critically about how I engage with artwork in the public realm, how to navigate multiple partnerships during the creation of a collaborative artwork and the ability to more clearly focus on the process.
Q: An airport residency isn’t something that appears on most artists’ resumes. Does the experience set you apart in some way from your peers? Do you get asked about it much?
A: I get asked about it all the time! I had a friend come across my work as he was passing through the airport last year; he took a selfie with it and posted it to social media. Things like that were happening often before COVID shut things down.
It’s a nice feather in my cap when applying to other calls asking for artists who have experience working with community partners and have work that is exhibited in public spaces. Other artists ask if I’m still at the airport and I have to sadly tell them that I am not, but I’m always available to come back for a special project!
Q: The pandemic changed everything, and the art world was no exception. What adjustments have you made, out of necessity or choice, over the last year to your work?
A: The book of paint pads and the Awaken Home Project were both put on hold due to COVID. I was scheduled to visit Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale in 2020 but those plans had to be kicked down the road. Now that I have received a vaccine and protocols are in place, we have decided to resume and I cannot wait to get back at it.
The Awaken Home Project was slated to begin March 2020, the exact same week that everything shut down. We were able to modify the structure of the project and take advantage of warmer weather so that artists could meet with their partner families outdoors during the summer and fall of 2020.
Things took longer than we had anticipated, but we were able to pull off three pairings and final artworks with two more family-artist pairings that will happen later this spring.