Stonington's Painted Pink Rock: Eyesore or Art?

The painted rock on the Stonington shoreline has been around since last fall.
The painted rock on the Stonington shoreline has been around since last fall.

I first heard about the painted pink rock in Stonington a couple of months ago, from someone who lives near it.

It's a big boulder along the shoreline near Lord's Point, next to the railroad tracks. It's the size of a minivan, maybe even larger, and it's painted a color that might be best described as Mary Kay pink.

It appeared one day last fall. Amtrak arrested someone for painting it, but the state Department of Environmental Protection has no answer when you ask who's going to clean it up.

That's about all the neighbor knew. He suggested I look into it and find out who plans to do something about it.

I did, and at first I hit a wall.

Sure enough, the DEP press office responded that they didn't know anything about it. They said to call Amtrak.

An Amtrak spokesman also had nothing much to say about it, but he did suggest that a survey indicated, in the end, that the rock isn't on railroad property. He said to call the DEP.

Prosecutors in New London said they had a recollection of the pink rock case, but couldn't look it up without the defendant's name.

A formal Freedom of Information request to the DEP finally shook out a little more of the story, including the name of the young man arrested by Amtrak police on charges of trespass of railroad property, an infraction, and third-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor.

I tracked down the creator of the pink rock, Clarence Philbrick, a 2008 graduate of Vassar College, in Colorado, where he is now pursuing a career in art. He was living with his family in Stonington last year, when the rock painting caper took place.

Philbrick was glad to talk about the rock, which he says is a work of art, and I'm happy to report what he had to say, but first a word about the DEP's stonewalling.

The FOI request also turned up e-mails to and from a captain with the DEP's environmental conservation police in which he was reminded that the rock is the state's responsibility, not Amtrak's, but told an officer to refer callers to the railroad anyway.

"Also, remember the painted rock off Mystic that Amtrak took action on but turned out to belong to us," a DEP officer wrote to the captain in November. "Do you know if anyone in our agency is moving forward to have it cleaned off? I have been getting calls from the homeowners association in the area."

The DEP captain wrote back:

"Suggestion to the prosecutor was to nolle (not prosecute) and have the kid clean it. I would have all calls sent to Amtrak PD for the solution."

Philbrick told me that the case indeed was not prosecuted. He said he paid no fine and was not punished in any way. He said he offered to try to clean it up, but he had the impression the DEP told prosecutors that removing the paint would be an environmental hazard.

And why did he paint it?

The rock, it should be said, is not just pink. It is also divided up by painted squiggly black lines.

It's actually meant to look like a brain, Philbrick said, a simple diagram of evolution, from amoeba, for instance, to lizard to the pinnacle of evolution, a brain, coming out of the water.

The work is actually part of an association of artists, the BYUS Art Collective, in which members exhibit works under the name of the group, taking ego out of the artistic process.

As for making the rock a work of art, Philbrick said he liked the idea of using the real world as a canvas, implanting something in our everyday lives that looks completely surreal.

And what of those who prefer their New England shoreline views without a pink rock?

"It's strictly opinion," he said. "That shore is beautiful as is. And it is just as beautiful with the brain rock."

Philbrick said he started the work in the cover of early morning darkness but ended up finishing it in daylight. He got caught pink handed, he said.

"As an artist and creator you have these ideas and sometimes you make them happen," he said. "You have an impulse, and if you don't make it, the world will never see it."

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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