12th St. & Washington/12th St. & Jefferson
Victor Mario Zaballa
Engaging for both passengers and passersby is Zaballo's ceramic tile art. The San Franciscan captures the complex historic flavor of the adjacent mostly black and Latino neighborhoods, with quilt-like tile murals throughout the stops. They're decorated with not just traditional story-quilt designs, long an important part of African-American culture, but also classic North African Moorish motifs, like Islamic chevron designs and Berber step-frets. The murals also incorporate photographs of neighborhood landmarks and longtime residents. All the references are tied together with exuberant Mexican colors, and railings suggest Mexican papel picada, cut-paper designs popular at fiestas.
Roosevelt & Central
La Sombra Danza
The gigantic, perforated-mushroom sculpture in this stop's triangular plaza not only beckons the weary, it offers eternally changing shadows created by a free-moving upper canopy interacting with a stationary lower canopy. Whether Richards' mushroom affords bearable shade in the dead of summer is another matter entirely.
Encanto & Central
Einar and Jamex de la Torre
Probably my favorite public-art oasis is at the stop in front of the Heard Museum, created by the de la Torres, citizens of both the U.S. and Mexico. Their bi-national background informs their highly irreverent work, which stirs together references to Native American, Mexican, Southwestern and American history, art, and pop culture — a blend that is perfectly Phoenician and endemic to most border states.
They've concocted an entire environment: Carved pink cantera stone sculptures ooze along the station walkways, into which they've embedded glass medallions with such crazy decorations as amputated doll arms and the Aztec calendar. For the terminally bored, they've created intricately decorated, movable bronze boxes mounted on rails, evoking those rotating toys affixed to a toddler's playpen. The pièce de résistance, however, is a large bronze sculpture patterned after pre-Columbian Mayan effigies at Copán, on the Honduras-Guatemala border.
Indian School & Central
Here We Are
After working with area residents and Native American groups whose members attended the old Phoenix Indian School from the 1940s to '60s, the Tucson artist memorialized their stories in red, black, and silver walkway panels, as well as framed photo tiles mounted on station columns relating specific, often poignant, accounts from children who attended the Indian School. Two giant terrazzo ground murals at either end of the station depict how Central Avenue looked going north and south before the light rail was built.
The New York artist's massive and monumental hewn-stone ring, through which stylized figures of stone and rusty iron pass, conveys appropriate solidity and strength. It's an impressive, fitting, and aesthetically safe portal to Central Avenue, the very core of Phoenix and home to the city's business and cultural worlds.
Camelback & 19th Ave.
Chicago's Josh Garber scores a hit with his snaky, sentinel-like sculpture, located near this station's park-and-ride lot and covered with reflective, coin-shaped metal slices. Lit at night by ever-changing hues of light, it can't be missed by tired riders in search of their cars.