As passersby crossed the intersection at State and Fourth streets in downtown Los Altos last week, they found it difficult to overlook a new addition – “Cross Hatch,” the vibrant street painting by artist Jessica Stockholder that metaphorically pops off the pavement.
Some pedestrians stood pensively along the edge of the enlarged canvas on first encounter, trying to determine whether they should step on the colorful compilation of lines and shapes. Others jogged or drove by without missing a beat.
“I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Jim Wilson of the unique artwork he stumbled on during his visit to Los Altos from Fairfax, Va.
Wilson noted that the creation was different from anything he had encountered during years of international travel. His friend, Pam Yavorsky, chimed in that the artwork “gives a little town a lot of character.”
Los Altos resident Cyrus Heidari echoed Wilson’s and Yavorsky’s sentiments, adding that the aesthetics were pleasing and that the artwork “is not too expensive if it lasts.”
Stockholder’s project is the first of six installations for “Project Los Altos,” a collaboration between the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the city of Los Altos. The intersection transformed from asphalt to art in under 48 hours.
Although appearing random in both its emergence and physical location, Los Altos City Clerk Jon Maginot explained that the installation is quite intentional.
“SFMOMA and the artist proposed the installation and worked with city staff, including Public Works, to come up with something that would be safe as well as clearly marked for drivers and pedestrians,” he said. “The intersection was also chosen because of the relatively low amount of traffic that this location gets compared to other downtown intersections.”
In Stockholder’s “Cross Hatch,” sharp, abstract shapes extend onto the sidewalk and into the parking plaza driveway and Community Plaza, where royal-blue paint conceals swaths of grass.
The artwork bleeds across boundaries so much that some cars have veered across the sidewalk, leaving evidence via curbside tire marks. Maginot said the city is addressing safety concerns by working with the artist to incorporate additional visual cues to delineate the driveway. In the interim, orange safety cones dot the entry to the parking plaza.
Although safety hazards may not be part of Stockholder’s artistic vision, she uses the technique of extending her canvas in unexpected ways in many of her site-specific creations.
According to SFMOMA officials, how people and other elements interact with the artwork is part of Stockholder’s vision. Bleachers on the perimeter of the artwork reinforce the notion that the elements of intersection – people, cars, layers of leaves and even weathering – are an intentional addition to the two-dimensional base paint, providing an opportunity for observation and engagement.
With additional “Project Los Altos” installations scheduled November through March, residents can expect to see more modern-art surprises downtown.
For more information on “Project Los Altos,” visit sfmoma.org/exhib_events/exhibitions/572. For a full guide to "Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in the Silicon Valley," click here.
SFMOMA Project Los Altos - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier