Story by Elaine Zabriskie, CVI Voter Outreach Specialist
Photography by Visionkit Studios
A great work of art exists within a time and place. It’s the result of people who are humble enough to listen to their community and understand what words or brush strokes will speak most deeply to them. And in Garden City, on a white wall outside Simply LEDs, poet CL Young and artist Jay Smith have created a new, great work of art to speak to Treasure Valley residents: a poem that hopes for a better future.
“I do love to think about place, and the Idaho landscape in particular, “ shared CL Young.
Living for many years in Idaho, Young began her creative career studying dance as a child. She left the state to pursue her education and majored in philosophy. While she had initially visualized becoming a novelist, poetry became her central focus shortly before attending graduate school. Now with an MFA in poetry from Colorado State University, Young supports herself through creative ventures, including TUNING, her new endeavor to combine physical movement with creative action for participants to find their creative expression.
Jay Smith’s path has followed a parallel trajectory, shaped organically rather than by formal training. He began creating hand-painted signs for Trader Joe’s, but spent years before that marveling at the “ghost signs” we all see around town – advertisements for cars that haven’t existed for fifty years, or furniture stores that have long gone out of business. To master his craft, he has taken cues from the world and asked other artists to share their expertise. The greatest support on his artistic journey was a gift from his uncle, who spent a lifetime painting lettering and signs: his entire sign painting kit.
“Like King Arthur being gifted Excalibur, I knew this was a gift I couldn’t let sit idle,” Smith said.
So he didn’t. After years of refining his skills, Smith’s journey would eventually lead him to a collaborative mural created with Young. Fueling their latest work with thoughtful listening, Young’s words and Smith’s painting are an example of two artists combining their talents to channel a single, central feeling.
Young began by sitting down with the themes of environmental degradation, turning over the ideas in her head for several weeks before visiting the site in person. In a moment of inspiration, she wrote the whole poem in minutes right onsite. Smith then contributed his expertise, hammering out the details of typography until the aesthetic was just right.
“We chose a very sparse basic lettering style that in its handwritten look, would give it a feel of urgency and [being] rooted in its purpose,” said Smith.
In their mural, a pink circle tops an expansive white wall with single lines of poetry spaced across it. The air in the poem gives the reader a sense of floating, like catching dandelion seeds to put the whole flower back together. The lines itself speak to a mixed sense of loss and hope that many people feel when they consider our environment. It can be daunting to imagine repairing something that we care so deeply about, but is so troubled and broken.
“Ecological grief and anxiety are things I’ve been processing internally through writing for several years now,” Young said.
She feels that the growth in Idaho has been astonishing. Having lived much of her life in Boise, she sees the way she has been formed by the land here. Seeing it covered in developments that don’t always respect the land or its character – that’s a struggle. Watching “Idaho and this country place politics over the health of the whole” is most difficult, especially when so many of us agree about protecting our most cherished lands. Smith agrees that unsustainable practices are daunting, feeling that the signage industry could afford to focus less on quick fixes and more on longevity.
“Something needs to shift so that everyone can align in this effort. I hope the poem speaks to that a bit. And I hope it happens,” said Young.
In listening to the collective fears and hopes of the Treasure Valley, perhaps Young and Smith have created something that is capable of doing just that.
Want to get in touch with CL Young’s latest artistic work, TUNING? Check out her website here:
If you’d like to see more of Jay Smith’s work, he can be found on Instagram:
His work is also all over the Treasure Valley, including at Bill’s on Broadway, Salvage Sisters and Son, Treefort Music Festival, Bittercreek Alehouse, The Roosevelt Bar, Barclay & Hill, Push & Pour, and many others.