Art in the shadows

Playful stencils pop up on Redwood City sidewalks

Visitors to Redwood City in recent months may have noticed something unusual about the shadows cast by some of the bike racks, lamp posts and benches scattered around the downtown area.

At first they may appear natural, but take a second look and it soon becomes apparent that the charming, imaginative shapes -- smiling daisies, a robot orchestra, mailbox monsters, cheeky monkeys, silly robots and more -- are not, in fact, tricks of the sun. They're new works of public art, part of a Redwood City renaissance of sorts.

Created by San Carlos artist Damon Belanger, the flat, playful shadows (20 in total) were made with stencils and gray paint specially meant for concrete. Belanger's been quietly installing them since February and completed the project in May.

Supported by the nonprofit Redwood City Improvement Association (in partnership with Redwood City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department; Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation; and the Partnership Redwood City Program), the stencil shadows are one of a number of recent public-art projects in downtown Redwood City, including the seasonal Magic Lantern Light Show, an ongoing mural project, and colorfully painted utility boxes. An interactive wall mural is set to be created later this year.

Some of the shadow stencils are pure whimsy and some relate to the landmarks they're close to. The lamp posts outside of the Dragon Theatre on Broadway, for instance ("Double Dribble"), boast fire-breathing dragon heads, while near Sequoia Station lurks a miniature train shadow bearing strange creatures as passengers ("Loco Motion").

Belanger said he found out about the open call for artists via a University Art mailing list. He named the "mailbox monster" on Jefferson Street and the "Mr. RWC" figure at the corner of Middlefield Road and Bradford Street as two of his favorites from the project.

"The response has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "Many people approached us while we were painting and had a lot of encouraging words about the project, even when we were almost entirely blocking the ramp to the Caltrain!"

A full guide to the sidewalk shadow art can be found here.

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