A massive new art installation has opened on the San Antonio River’s Mission Reach section.
“There’s nothing stronger than the state plant of Texas, I believe,” says Mel Chin about the prickly pear cactus.
His huge sculpture appears to be two prickly pears in two heavy steel parts, arcing up 24 feet, and leaning in.
“There’s two of them coming together to create a shelter from the sun and a habitat for live cactus growing above,” Chin says.
He’s not kidding. Several rectangular boxes near the top contain soil and live prickly pear cactus growing in them. More are scattered at the sculpture’s base. That cactus theme originally came to him from a visit to Mission San Jose.
“I was looking at the roofs of the mission and I found that that there was a whole planting of them, a bunch of them that have been growing there since the 1930s. So that was the key in coming up with this design,” he says.
Inspired by the resilience of prickly pear growing wild at Mission San Jose, he artistically reinterpreted that for this huge sculpture overlooking the San Antonio River at Mission County Park. He also created the sculpture to provide shade.
“After visiting the site that was one of the first things I noticed: how hot I was,” Chin says. “As Townes Van Zandt says, ‘it’s not the heat, it’s the humanity.'”
And humanity dictates that if you build something big in Texas, people ought to be able to use it to take refuge from the sun. A dappled light falls through its recurring steel pattern that mimics prickly pear skeleton structure. Below, in concrete, an outlined quatrefoil completes the San Antonio elements.
“You’ve been here a long time, San Antonio. And it’s about these two personalities coming together, and joining to create this place for others,” Chin says.