New Sky Train Station at Sky Harbor Features Art From Tucson’s Daniel Martin Diaz

January 18, 2013

by Teya Vitu

Daniel Martin Diaz is certainly a self-taught artist who’s really done well, especially given that he wasn’t even an “artist” for the first two-thirds of his life.

Tucson artist Daniel Martin Diaz designed the floor art for a pedestrian bridge at Sky Harbor.

Tucson artist Daniel Martin Diaz designed the floor art for a pedestrian bridge at Sky Harbor.

Now, in the most recent third of his 45 years, Diaz and his wife, Paula Catherine Valencia, have made a cottage industry out of his provocative surreal religious themes and more tactful, but no less colorful, public art.

It’s Diaz’s public art, Desert Splendor, you see at corner of the Centro Garage where Congress Street, Toole Avenue and 4th Avenue converge.

But soon Diaz’s art hits the big time in the biggest way yet in his 15-year art career – literally the biggest way.

Diaz designed the terrazzo floor for the enclosed pedestrian bridge linking Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s brand new 44th Street PHX Sky Train station to the Valley Metro light rail 44th Street/Washington station.

The Sky Train will transport people from the Valley Metro station to Terminal 3, Terminal 4 and the East Economy parking lot when service starts early this year.

The dimensions of the Diaz creation for the 500-by-40-foot pedestrian bridge dwarf all of the 200-plus pieces of art Diaz has ever created.

“If you lay everything out end to end, my art would probably fill a quarter of the length of the project,” Diaz ventured.

Diaz and Valencia are the forces behind the Sacred Machine Museum and Curiosity Shop, 245 E. Congress St. The gallery hours are just as curious: 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday. These hours are designed for the dinner and pre-theater crowd and the limited hours enable Diaz to have plenty of studio time and Valencia to push his art career. They also run their online shop, Mysticus Publishing, and headline the band Blind Divine, along with their son, Damion Demetrius, and Amy Muñoz Mendoza and Ernie Mendoza.

Since 2008, the Sky Train station has been the big gorilla in Diaz’s career. Diaz was one of five artists selected by the City of Phoenix Arts and Culture Department to integrate art into the station platforms and pedestrian bridge for Sky Harbor’s new Sky Train.

Daniel Martin Diaz and his wife, Paula Catherine Valencia, at their Sacred Machine gallery.

Daniel Martin Diaz and his wife, Paula Catherine Valencia, at their Sacred Machine gallery.

Rebecca Blume Rothman, public art manager for the City of Phoenix, contacted Diaz to encourage him to respond to the request for proposals from artists of two-dimensional art.

“Daniel is one of several artist whose work we’ve seen, and we wondered how come he’s never applied for one of our projects,” Rothman said.

Valencia insisted they had to go to the pre-submittal meeting that Rothman had invited them to. Diaz chanted “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go.”

“You’re up against teams of people. I just felt I had no business designing big projects without any experience,” Diaz said. “I was reluctant to the whole idea of public art. I was completely happy doing my personal stuff.”

Valencia, however, writes the job proposals for Diaz and hunts out public art projects. This was a job she wanted for her husband.

“There was no reason not to. His art needs to be seen on a large scale,” Valencia said.

Diaz and Valencia traveled to Phoenix and discovered individual artists were sought for the Sky Train art.

“I’ve got to say the people in Phoenix are so great,” Diaz said. “They really explained the whole process to us.”

Diaz proposed “Journey Through Nature” for the floor around the bridge’s moving walkway.

A panel of artists, arts professionals, community members and city aviation staff selected Diaz’s submission in 2008.

Diaz created Desert Splendor for the Centro Garage.

Diaz created Desert Splendor for the Centro Garage.

“The panel reacted very well to his work. They felt he could do something quite unique for this space,” Rothman said. “What Daniel did was a rich and telling processing of views of the Valley, the mountains and the sky all around you. You want it to be vibrant and colorful and still have an earthy quality. When the sunlight comes in you can really see it sparkle to life.”

Diaz was drawn to the all-glass walls on both sides of the bridge.

“What’s neat to me is it’s all glass. When I started incorporating the blues, I was definitely inspired by being in the sky,” Diaz said.

The terrazzo floor is made of 38,398 pounds of aggregate of native stone, abalone shell and recycled glass placed within aluminum dividers that serve as the art work’s pencil drawings.

“It’s sacred geometry, the whole idea of metamorphosis. It’s the idea of the design, shapes and colors changing throughout the design,” Diaz said. “You’re in this blue area and next thing it morphs into this red area.”

Some recognizable shapes appear such as vines and flowers and a Tree of Life at the entrance hall, but mostly Diaz drifted more into geometric shapes.

“You can see the metamorphosis. See these vines here? You can see it morph into these geometric patterns,” Diaz said. “Every little square inch we picked out a color and put a number on it. We were up there every week when they started it.”

Desert Splendor as seen from inside the Centro Garage.

Desert Splendor as seen from inside the Centro Garage.

Diaz gives us a tour of the bridge walk:

“As one traverses Journey Through Nature, we are met with the Tree of Life, which is in full bloom with richly colored blossoms. This leads the way to winding ivory vines, which are placed upon a sea of blue hues that glisten and morph into crimson geometric diamonds.

“The crescendo is the centerpiece. It is an intricate, circular voyage through spirals that meander and crisscross one another, which creates a beautifully uniform geometric pattern with rich colors and a sense of continuous movement.

“The journey continues through a mirror image of itself and returns where it began with the Tree of Life.”

The 44th Street Sky Train station has an early bag check counter just beyond the Diaz floor for Southwest Airlines and US Airways – those two account for nearly 80 percent of Sky Harbor’s flights – and a boarding pass kiosk for several airlines. The Sky Train will deliver passengers to Terminal 3 and Terminal 4. The airport’s ambition is to get people to drop off and pick up travelers at the Sky Train stations rather than the terminals.

Sky Harbor spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez could offer no specific opening date for the Sky Train and its stations other than early 2013.

Diaz is also designing the platform art for the Valley Metro light rails first extension to Main Street and Alma School Road in Mesa.

Until 1998 (they had met in 1990), Diaz and Valencia were merchandising representatives as independent contractors, primarily for AT&T, Procter & Gamble and Philip Morris. They helped stores determine how much product they needed on the shelves.

“You need 10 more cases of Tide,” Diaz recited. “I loved that work.”

Diaz is also creating public art for The Cadence student housing complex.

Diaz is also creating public art for The Cadence student housing complex.

The 90s was a decade of transformation for Diaz. First, he met Valencia. Then they married. And then came Damion Demetrius (notice, everyone in this family goes by first and middle name).

“One of the big things that changed my life was having our son,” Diaz said.

Not that the art career immediately followed. He started dabbling without ever taking an art class. Valencia took immediate note.

“Really, he’s been an artist since I met him,” Valencia said. “He was always a fantastic composer. When he stumbled on – I call it surreal iconography – I think he hit his mark.”

So did the Etherton Gallery and the Tucson Museum of Art, which were the first to stage Diaz exhibitions in the very early days of his art career.

“I loved his work then and I love it even more now,” Terry Etherton said. “I’m in awe of him, not just for his art but for all the things he does. I grew up Catholic, too. I understand a lot of the references. I had never seen the imagery presented in this way. When you see something he did, there’s no question who did it. He’s one of the better artists in this part of the country.”

Valencia said, “Because he’s self-taught, he just came from a desire to create. What I see is a realist. It’s just real work. It comes from the soul and the heart. People are attracted to that.”


Fun Facts: Journey Through Nature is 500 feet long and 40 feet wide. The total square footage is 9828. It contains aggregates of abalone and native desert stones and recycled glass from the area.

48 60”x144” Aluminum sheets

360 Coreplex sheets

300 hours of Water-Jet cutting

350 hours of CAD time

36,740 linear feet of cut Aluminum and Coreplex sheets

34,398 pounds of Aggregate

13,620 pounds of Recycled Glass