There’s another piece of art I didn’t mention in my story last week about the proposed art for the new central library. I find the artist’s work really intriguing so I thought I’d include some details in a follow-up post.

Ingrid Calame proposed creating some colorful paintings for the new library. The photo above shows two tiles she made as samples for what the piece could look like.

For her proposal, Calame used the blueprints of the current central library’s circulation desks and bookshelves and overlaid them with other shapes. If her proposal got funded, she’d incorporate stains and marks from the current downtown library. If Calame were hired, she might search for water marks on ceilings or stains on carpets to trace and incorporate into her piece.

The committee of arts leaders that approved the other sculptures and painted pieces approved Calame’s plans, but they’d already maxed out their $700,000 budget for making and installing the other pieces. If a donor comes forward who really wants to see the library include this piece, her most recent estimate, from 2004, is $115,000 to make the image and adhere it to the drywall ceiling of the library.

Calame is known for painstakingly transferring marks, stains and cracks from one place to another to make colorful painted pieces that look abstract but have very precise shapes recorded in them. She’s traced stains all over the country, including the Indianapolis Speedway and the Los Angeles River. Calame sees stories in the marks left by human interaction with a place, the ones that might go unnoticed.

She unrolls huge sheets of paper on top of a graffiti tag or a tire skid mark, for example, then traces the nooks and crannies of the shape on the paper, then overlays tracings over each other to create a final, layered piece.

“I find that I’m building places in color,” she says. See for yourself in this fascinating video about her process:

Calame’s initial proposal in 2003 involved a lot more hand-tracing and painting on the tiles that would be part of the ceiling. That initial proposal she estimated would cost more than $1 million. That was far out of the committee’s price range, but the members liked the idea. Calame came back to the committee in 2004, having come up with a way to make a less expensive version of the images, and that proposal was approved — but funding has still not been designated for the piece. The $115,000 version of her idea would take archival inkjet prints and adhere them to the drywall ceiling instead of involving as much hand-painting.

“Should the funds become available, the Commission for Arts and Culture has already said it’s OK to realize this piece and include it in the library collection,” said Dana Springs, the city’s public art program manager.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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