Very few artists get a canvas as big as a building, but Eastlake artist Julia Hensley is transforming the University Heights Center, 5031 University Way N. E., into a “living art installation.”
Hensley is using two hallways and a stairwell of the 110-year-old building to create “Heighten,” a giant collage painting for the University Heights Art Gallery program.
The pixilated-collage style Hensley uses is to “heighten” awareness to ordinary objects, she said. That includes any signs (except for emergency signage), water fountains, the wood wainscoting, light switches, vending machines and doors.
“I encroach as much as I can to make [them] blend into the project,” Hensley explained.
The collage will continue to grow until the show closes on March 16, she said.
Hensley, who also teaches art, started installing the collage with the help of nine of her students on two Saturdays before the opening reception on Feb. 17. Invitees who received a postcard about the opening had also received a piece of the college to put up in the building, as well.
Hensley said she has never collaborated with anyone before on a personal project: “It’s a huge lesson for me. I realized it’s ambitious, and I needed help. So I let go some of the control [and] gave them direction and let them go for it. It’s a scary…but wonderful thing.
“It is so much fun working on the spot and having someone further it along,” she added.
Hensley came up with the idea for “Heighten” in “a flash” at the end of one of her teaching sessions at University Heights. She explained that she saw spring flowers hanging from the hallway ceiling, and she started to envision an art installation. She further developed the concept by standing in the hallway for a half-hour at a time, drawing confused stares, she said.
“I respond as I go; I make it up as I go,” she said.
She also drew inspiration from an earlier work she did, “This Storied Heart,” for a show in Fremont’s former Form-Space-Light Gallery, which had red and black pieces of the collage splayed onto the walls.
Hensley did draw out her refined ideas for the giant “Heighten” collage on paper to help her team of students envision what she had planned, and she taped guidelines on the walls.
“I’m trying hard not to think” about the collage coming down, she said. “The whole point of this project is highlighting the building in a new way” — to leave it up permanently would make the collage become part of the ordinary.
“Heighten” will close March 16 with a reception from 6 to 8 p. m. at the University Heights Center.