Art and Design

Native Species Put the Art in BART

January 29, 2009

On a typical walk through a BART station, it’s hard to ignore the advertisements covering the available wall space. But a few ads are most striking in their mystery: A Steller’s jay? A black-tailed deer? Both with nothing but a subtle BART train in the background. No message. No sell. What are these all about?

They’re part of a recent BART campaign to enrich station environments with illustrations of local native species. Depicted in 60 by 46 inch landscapes are the California poppy, the black-tailed deer, and the Steller’s jay.

California Poppy
Artwork by Mick Wiggins. Image copyright BART. Used with permission.

The project started with a call to local artists to submit concepts for consideration by BART. “It was an art poster project. The LA Metro, the New York Metro, and the [Portland] TriMet have award winning art poster programs,” says Gina DeLorenzo of the BART Marketing Group. “Mick Wiggins’s concept was to feature these natives.” Riders are enjoying the posters throughout the BART system where free ad space has become available. They can currently can be seen in the East Bay at the 19th Street Oakland, MacArthur and North Berkeley stations, to name a few.

Local illustrator Wiggins found inspiration for his concept by visiting BART platforms and imagining what he would like to see. “The lighting is low,” he says, “the kind of lighting that might be in a museum that has dioramas. I thought it would be kind of fun to have a diorama of nature in a subway setting.” As for choosing which species to showcase, Wiggins was drawn to the beauty of everyday creatures. “I went with the more common, more urban animals that live around us rather than something you have to drive to see.”

The posters stand out not only for their depiction of local species, but also for their lack of an overt advertising message. Says Wiggins, “All the ads down there, they’re shouting at you for one reason or another.” Instead of trying to out-shout all the other ads, the artist took a different route. “I thought the most refreshing thing that could be seen when you’re down in the station was something quiet and nature-like, without a big selling point.” The illustrations aren’t completely message-free, though–they each depict a BART train rolling discretely in the background. Wiggins explains that a BART tie-in was required, but he says that “BART is part of a natural landscape, and it’s a good member.”

Blacktailed Deer
Artwork by Mick Wiggins. Image copyright BART. Used with permission.

Wiggins also drew on a historical precedent of train posters from Europe that focused on the local landscape rather than the trains themselves. “The train posters in turn-of-the-century Britain featured the places they were going to, the beach or a natural setting. You wouldn’t even see a train in the poster for the train,” he explains.

Though the flora and fauna Wiggins chose are not unique to theBay Area, these natives give a great deal of character to urban andrural settings alike. The Steller’s jay ranges throughout western NorthAmerica. They can often be found in woodlands and forests, especiallyconifer forests, which they prefer for nesting and foraging. TheCalifornia poppy, our state flower, actually ranges from WashingtonState to Baja. The black-tailed deer is a part of everydaylife for thousands of people in the Bay Area — these deer have adapted remarkably well to suburban environments.

Art posters are a first for the BART system, and the BART Marketing Group hopes to expand the project, possibly creating a contest to give away some posters. For now you can enjoy them as a quiet breath of nature in the depths of the city.

About the Author

Laura Hautala is a freelance reporter based in Oakland.

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