Rarely are the ceilings around PSU’s campus a visual point of interest, especially in student housing buildings such as the Ondine. Water stains, gum, plaster cracks or the occasional well-thrown pencil are not what one would call “decorative enhancements.” However, unlike many other items stuck to the Ondine’s ceilings over the years, the colorful array of bottle caps on the second floor have been installed with PSU’s fervent approval.
Rarely are the ceilings around PSU’s campus a visual point of interest, especially in student housing buildings such as the Ondine. Water stains, gum, plaster cracks or the occasional well-thrown pencil are not what one would call “decorative enhancements.”
However, unlike many other items stuck to the Ondine’s ceilings over the years, the colorful array of bottle caps on the second floor have been installed with PSU’s fervent approval.
Caps from Johnny Cat cat litter, Treetop apple juice, and lids from jars of Jif peanut butter now adorn what once used to be merely another putty-colored stairwell in the 15-story building.
The brand names, frozen in plastic caps and affixed to a ceiling in Ondine, stare down at the foot traffic on the stairwell, slightly mesmerizing any who venture a glance upwards.
The art piece, named “Juicy II,” was created by local artists Laurel Kurtz and Steven Beatty, and was commissioned for Ondine through the Oregon Arts Commission as part of the Oregon Percent for Public Art program.
Kurtz and Beatty say the spiraling, vortex-esque nature of “Juicy II” was inspired by the North Pacific Trash Gyre–also known as the Great Garbage Patch–a floating island about the size of Texas comprised entirely of garbage located in the Pacific Ocean.
Initially, the artists had been interested in creating a piece for the large area of wall behind the Ondine’s front desk. When they were told it had already been reserved for other art (a floor-to-ceiling series of colorful strips), Beatty and Kurtz began looking at the ceiling alcove in the second-floor stairwell.
“We spent a long time just looking at the space, thinking of design options,” Beatty says “‘Juicy I’ was looking at environmental issues in general.”
The inspiration for bottle-caps-as-art came to California-native Beatty on a rainy day in 2006, when he was preparing for his thesis show for his MFA.
“He saw a bottle cap floating by on a gray day,” Kurtz explains, “It was a red one, and it cheered him up.”
Over the past two years, through collection bins, foraging and donation efforts from friends and associates, the two have amassed thousands of bottle caps piled high in their studio apartment.
“When people see it, their first inclination is to start collecting, and they’ll bring them to us,” says Kurtz.
With so much buzz around the PSU campus surrounding sustainability, an art installment meditating on the mass-consumption of bottled beverages and an enormous island of garbage seems a fitting choice for new art on campus.
Beyond that, moreover, it fosters, a perhaps, unintentional reflection of our own local culture.
Kurtz said the logos and images on the caps have from time to time sparked an affinity in local viewers. “Immediately, people would be like, ‘Oh I drink that,’ or ‘I use that olive oil.'”
“Some people are like, ‘that’s my bottle cap!'” Beatty added.
On the other hand, Beatty said, taking the bottle cap art for showings outside of the Pacific Northwest is a completely different experience.
“On the East Coast, people don’t drink as much designer fruit juices,” Beatty says, “Instead of Odwalla, you’ll see more Coca-Cola caps.”
When “Juicy I” went on show in England, Kurtz said that to some viewers it was like walking into a foreign foods store,
“It looks familiar, yet totally different,” Kurtz said.
The two artists became very familiar with each bottle cap installed in the piece. To get the bottle caps attached to the framework for the piece, the two artists said they spent close to a year of evenings and weekends hand-drilling each cap before tying them to the frame.
Fellow artists, sculptors and friends occasionally volunteered to help drill, but in the end, Beatty and Kurtz said the two of them drilled and tied the majority of the caps themselves.
“The colors really do something to your brain,” Kurtz quipped. “Don’t do drugs, just drill caps!”
Kurtz and Beatty say they plan to continue working with post-consumer materials for future art installments.
“It’s a medium,” Beatty said, “It’s like paint. And it’s free and it’s good for the environment.”