Christo says he holds no animosity towards those that are fighting against his planned Arkansas River installation called Over The River in an interview Thursday afternoon, October 17, 2013. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)

The lawsuits, 21 years of study and the contentious opposition to Christo’s plan to drape 6 miles of the Arkansas River in translucent fabric are “invigorating,” said the artist.

“We are enjoying that. We are not masochists, but we are enjoying the communication with so many variety of people. Usually the art world is a small club of professionals. Here we are exposed to an enormous relation of meeting so many variety of people,” said the Bulgarian-born artist who still speaks in the collective after the 2009 death of his wife of 51-years, Jeanne Claude.

The 78-year-old artist — who spoke with The Denver Post on Thursday — is no stranger to opposition, rejection and court battles. He and Jeanne Claude spent 26 years fighting to erect 7,503 fabric gates in New York City’s Central Park in 2005. They negotiated for 32 years before wrapping 178 trees in a Swiss park in 1998. His 1991 “The Umbrellas” project that unfurled 3,100 umbrellas in Japan and California waded through several state and federal lawsuits.

Those years of review, hundreds of meetings, countless voices of support and opposition, and thousands of pages of documents become the art, he said. He has completed 22 of his sweeping projects – including wrapping Berlin’s Reichstag, draping Australian coastline and surrounding 11 Biscayne Bay islands in pink, shimmering fabric, all at his own cost. He has weathered 37 rejections for his projects over 50 years, sometimes persisting through three rejections before reaching fruition.

Those tribulations are as much reward as the flowering of his grandiose projects, he said.

“For many years, all the people are thinking how the work will be beautiful, how the work will be awful. Basically the work is working in the mind of the people before it physically exists. This is probably the biggest satisfaction we have — Jeanne Claude and myself — because this is the only thing artists like to have, whether it’s painting or sculptures, to have the people comment and discuss their works. Can you imagine our works are discussed before it even physically exists?”

“Over the River” has drawn particularly heated opposition from the group Rags Over the Arkansas River. Yet the group has seen two of its appeals rejected. A federal lawsuit remains, challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s 2011 1,700-page approval of the project.

The group — which argues the plan to temporarily drape fabric over 6 miles of the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City endangers the canyon’s wildlife, as well as public safety — celebrates its ability to delay the still unscheduled project.

Meanwhile Christo is working on an equally large installation — called The Mastaba — which would erect a permanent sculpture larger than the Egyptian pyramids in the desert south of Abu Dhabi. He’s never worked two projects at the same time, but, at 78, he said: “I do not have the luxury to work on only one project.”

“The stakes: They are higher. The expense: They are higher. The risk: They are higher. But there are no other options. This life it is not forever,” said Christo, who funds his work by selling pieces of past exhibitions, as well as his sketches and sculptures.

Christo said, “Over the River” — which could cost the artist $50 million — can be finished if he is not around.

“But I hope I will be there” he said, noting his daily exercise regimen and diet — an entire head of garlic every morning with his bowl of plain yogurt — is keeping him sharp.

While opponents are loud, support for Over The River is wide, with a vast array of local, regional and national support. Still, the project is divisive in communities along the Arkansas River, often pitting neighbors against each other.

“I think that Over The River has shown us over the years is what we here in the Arkansas River Valley have different visions about what the canyon and the river mean to us. I respect those different visions,” said Susan Tweit, a Salida author and plant biologist who hopes someday to raft the river beneath Christo’s project. “He has forced us to look hard at what we too often take for granted in that beautiful canyon.”

Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, or