On Easter Sunday, April 20th 2014, Portland-based artist Klutch buffed a section of his 130 foot mural in the Pearl District after WhiskeyfestNW placed a huge banner billboard directly over the in-progress artwork. Klutch has been painting this massive mural for about a month now, after raising money to support it via a Kickstarter campaign. This mural had been very well-received by the neighborhood, one that is arguably lacking street art. Everyday Klutch was out there painting, countless community members and spectators came to watch this ever-evolving process unfold.
In response, Klutch released this statement to PSAA this morning:
“I would really like to just squash this entire debacle but understand from my previous career as a street fighter that when you start a fight sometimes you have to finish it. Everyone wants this to be a story about evil developers stifling an artist’s voice but that is not the case here. Hoyt has been very generous by allowing me to use the space and are without blame in this. I would have never had this wall to paint without their support of this project. The real story is that I am every bit the crazy artist with some long standing mental health issues and I used this mural as my refuge from them. Murals are my own form of meditation and more so than my meds or years of therapy painting them is about the only thing that calms my mind. It’s so important to my state of wellbeing that I will go hungry to buy a couple more cans of paint to keep going another day. When I arrived on Sunday morning I was feeling particularly depressed and just wanted to try and finish the mural before the rain set in this week. Every time I approached the mural I was always prepared to have to cover tags or defacement and was always amazed when I didn’t. What I found was far worse. To call that thing that is now attached a banner is being far too kind. That monstrosity is a billboard and it’s overzealous Nascar-like branding is repulsive to almost everyone who sees it. In all fairness WhiskeyfestNW have leased the lot from Hoyt for their event, so it is essentially theirs right now. They are rent-payers and I am just some artist mooching the space. However there are so many superior ways in we could have existed in harmony had they simply made the effort. They state that they spoke with me last week – which is completely untrue. But this seems to be the way in which WhiskeyfestNW is marketing itself as a whole. It seems jock-like and better suited for a large Midwestern redneck town, instead of Portland. Why couldn’t the billboard be placed on top of, or in front the mural instead of screwed into it? Why is it necessary to have enormous billboards and people in vans with loudspeakers yelling at people to sell whiskey? Selling whiskey is like selling drugs, no advertising is needed. I haven’t taken complete ownership and responsibility for my role in this. A crazy artist was triggered when he found a billboard screwed to mural he self-funded via Kickstarter and worked on for well over a hundred hours, so he destroyed his own work. That doesn’t seem like something that unusual or newsworthy to me. But why they need to ram WhiskeyfestNW down our throats does seem like a question worth asking.”
Regardless of the circumstances and motives by either party, this case shows how art and advertisements impact our everyday lives. When marketing and profit trump artistic creativity and community engagement, Portland reacts. The amount of community outcry spurred by this unfortunate situation is striking. If allowed, the public spaces of our city have great potential for being shared social spaces, even desolate parking lots in the Pearl. As cultural geographer Don Mitchell noted, public space is a city‘s barometer of justice and wellbeing, and its quality, and how it is used, speaks volumes about what a community believes to be important.