Portland Street Art

A Walk Through Time Mural in Tigard OR

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Work is set to begin in July 2019 on a public mural by professional artist Jeremy Nichols in Downtown Tigard. The mural, entitled A Walk Through Time, will be an interwoven tapestry of Tigard’s history and culture along the Fanno Creek corridor.

Working with local historian, Sean Garvey, and ecology specialists in the city, Nichols’ design incorporates images from Tigard’s past. The mural depicts a member of the Kalapuya tribe (the indigenous inhabitants of the area) alongside native flora and fauna, including Red-tailed Hawk, Western Painted Turtle, Great Blue Heron and Oregon Iris and Camas flowers. Nichols hopes that the mural will raise awareness about the original inhabitants of the Tigard area, as well as the local ecosystem. “It is important to me to create a mural that will stay relevant and be enjoyed by generations to come. I wanted to create a design that steps away from the norms of ‘traditional cultural’ murals and create a design with a more contemporary approach that is equally informative and significant,” says Jeremy Nichols, the artist designing and painting the mural. 

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Located at 12553 SW Main Street, the mural will be directly adjacent to the popular Fanno Creek multi-use trail on the recently renovated building home to several new Downtown Tigard businesses including Frameabl, Versus Board Games and Senet Game Bar. Building upon previous arts initiatives led by the City of Tigard and non-profit Tigard Downtown Alliance the mural will aid in the ongoing revitalization of downtown Tigard. Dylan Dekay-Bemis, the City of Tigard’s Economic Development Coordinator, believes the project will “increase access to art in Tigard, help improve walkability in downtown and draw attention to the great local businesses housed within the building where the mural will be located.”

In recent years, art initiatives have driven commercial success and interest in Downtown Tigard, including the annual Downtown Art Walk event, gateway art sculptures by artist Brian Borrello, an Art on Loan program that places art leased from local artists in locations around downtown, and the award-winning SubUrban street art exhibition. 

Portland based non-profit Portland Street Art Alliance (PSAA) facilitated the commissioning of Jeremy Nichols for the City of Tigard and will continue to assist the City in managing this mural project. PSAA Executive Director Tiffany Conklin explains that “the quality of our shared public spaces speaks volumes about what we, as a society, believe to be important. Public art projects like A Walk Through Time not only bring more cultural vibrancy and interest to a place, but ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience art in their everyday lives.” 

A Walk Through Time is funded through the City of Tigard’s Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC) program.  LQC projects are inexpensive but impactful actions that improve walkability, connectivity and health in Tigard.

 

What: A Walk Through Time (public mural)

Who: City of Tigard, Portland Street Art Alliance and artist Jeremy Nichols

When: July 8-15, 2019

Where: 12553 SW Main Street, Tigard, OR 97223


IN THE NEWS!




Produce Row Mural

In the fall of 2018, Portland Street Art Alliance (PSAA) was approached by Harsch Investments Properties. Harsch had recently purchased the old Coast Auto Supply building at SE 2nd & Stark in Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID). In addition to repairing the windows and broken downspouts, Harsch was directed by the city to abatement the graffiti present on the outside of the building. Instead of just constantly buffing it, Harsch wanted to commission a mural by local artists that paid homage to the history of Produce Row. Located at 125 SE Stark St, this site has a long and colorful past, being in the heart of the city’s Produce Row for the past 83 years, and a popular space for graffiti art over the past decade. With Harsch’s support, PSAA hired a team of four lead artists from the MLS and 4SK crews in Portland to coordinate a massive dual-mural, wrapping around most of the warehouse along Stark, 2nd, and Oak Streets.

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The Produce Row Mural

Over the past six years, Portland Street Art Alliance has spearheaded several street art projects in the Central Eastside Industrial District such as Taylor Electric, Alexis Walls (across the street from Coast Auto), and the upcoming Viaduct Arts project. While we understand cities always change, loosing Coast Auto as a “defacto” space for graffiti sat heavy with us. With the neighborhood undergoing intense redevelopment, we took this as an opportunity to maintain this site as a space for local art, as the change in ownership also came with more security patrols and a regular maintenance schedule.

PSAA wanted to ensure that local artists would still have access to the walls, so two teams of long-time Portland-based graffiti artists were hired to produce a design that was inspired by the history of the district, but with a fresh new twist to the traditional history murals. Digging through archive records, the team landed on a simple concept - massive piles of Willamette Valley fruits and vegetables. The team wanted to experiment with showcasing both sides of their artistic abilities; a concept that is very rarely seen. The final composition blended painterly techniques with their unique text-based graffiti lettering. This experiment manifested itself in overlaid wild-style graffiti lettering, keeping to the colors of the background imagery.

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The mural painting took three months to complete, as the work had to be done incrementally due to Portland’s wet fall and winter weather. Most of the underlying base coats were done with bucket paint and rollers, and then the muralists added details with aerosol and brush paint.

PSAA is working with several Central Eastside property owners trying to ensure that art remains an integral part of the district’s identity. As the city and the district quickly changes beyond our collective control, we want to ensure that long time local graffiti culture is still part of the urban landscape. PSAA is dedicated to creating inclusive models for place and district-making by engaging diverse audiences and artists, and increasing access to public art opportunities such as this, while helping to support local and regional artists.

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Produce Row History

In 1913 Italian immigrants began establishing truck farms that supplied fruit and vegetable wholesalers in a bustling new riverside industrial district that became to be known as “Produce Row.” At the heart of this historic industrial area, are two parallel loading dock streets - 2nd & 3rd Avenues. These thoroughfares transect three viaducts - the Hawthorne Bridge, Morrison Bridge, and Burnside Bridge pass overhead creating deep cavern-like spaces cutting through the Central Eastside. In 1981 it was officially declared in as an ‘industrial sanctuary’ an effort to maintain its unique land use and character. Warehouses and storage facilities were a significant part of the district’s beginnings, and the area provided a variety of blue-collar jobs (Jones, 2014).

Today, SE 2nd and 3rd Avenues still rumble with heavy trucking activity, but the industrial uses have changed, with cleaner and lighter wholesalers, and an increasing number of exclusive commercial services, including fine dining restaurants, multi-media production, as well as high-end retail have begun moving into the CEID (Jones, 2014). This is juxtapose to Portland’s booming creative, tech, and service industry, which is closing in on this historic industrial sanctuary. The infamous DIY Burnside Skatepark lies just a few blocks north on SE 2nd Avenue, nestled underneath the Burnside Bridgehead surrounded by sparkling modern towers.

SE Alder St between 3rd and Union Avenues in 1940. The building on the left would later become Corno’s Market (City of Portland Archives)

SE Alder St between 3rd and Union Avenues in 1940. The building on the left would later become Corno’s Market (City of Portland Archives)

SE 3rd Avenue and SE Alder Street in 1950 (City of Portland Archives)

SE 3rd Avenue and SE Alder Street in 1950 (City of Portland Archives)

SE 3rd Avenue in 2018 (Portland Street Art Alliance)

SE 3rd Avenue in 2018 (Portland Street Art Alliance)

Produce Row used to be the home to dozens of produce warehouses, some of which are still in operation today. Family-owned Rinella Produce at 231 SE Alder St opened in 1914. The Rinella and Lombardo families immigrated from Sicily and Rome to the US. The business has been passed down from father to his son and is one of the oldest produce distribution buildings on the West Coast of the US.

Rinella Produce

Rinella Produce

Frank and David Rinella (Rinella Produce)

Frank and David Rinella (Rinella Produce)

Over the past three or four decades, Produce Row has nurtured newer generations of produce distributors. Pacific Coast Fruit Company at 201 NE 2nd Ave is another produce company that still exists on Produce Row. Pacific Coast was founded in 1977 by Emil Nemarnik. Today they have become one of the largest, independent produce distributors in the Northwest.

Pacific Coast Groundbreaking (Pacific Coast Fruit Company)

Pacific Coast Groundbreaking (Pacific Coast Fruit Company)

Alexis Foods at the corner of SE Stark and 2nd was established by Alexis Bakouros in 1987 after operating a successful Greek restaurant. Using his European contacts, Alexis was able to import high quality specialty foods from Greece, Spain, Italy and France. As the local market evolved and vendors emerged, Alexis Foods' product line expanded to also source crafted, locally sustainable products.

Even though Produce Row continues to thrive as a distribution hub, many of these warehouses and distributors are now gone, including the Independent Fruit and Produce Company pictured below. In the summer of 2017, Alexis Foods partnered with Portland Street Art Alliance to produce two murals by local artists, one of which depicts a series of Greek-style vases.

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Independent Fruit & Produce Co. at 705 SE MLK in 1932 (City of Portland Archives)

Independent Fruit & Produce Co. at 705 SE MLK in 1932 (City of Portland Archives)

Another lost landmark was the Corno family-owned produce market. Corno’s opened in 1951 and was a very popular and well-loved market in Portland. It closed its doors in 1995, and was torn down in 2006 to make way for a pipe project which runs under 3rd Ave now.

Corno Market (City of Portland Archives)

Corno Market (City of Portland Archives)

Today, the Sheridan Fruit Company at 409 SE MLK Blvd is the last of Portland’s ‘old-school’ produce markets. In 1916, John Sheridan started an open-air produce market on Union Avenue (now MLK Blvd). In 1946, the Poleo Brothers, whose family still owns and operates The Sheridan Fruit Company today, purchased the company and began a wholesale operation in 1950. 

Sheridan Fruit Company at 333 SE Alder St (Public Works Administration Archives)

Sheridan Fruit Company at 333 SE Alder St (Public Works Administration Archives)

Sheridan Fruit Company

Sheridan Fruit Company

Sheridan Fruit Company

Sheridan Fruit Company

Another Pacific Fruit & Produce Co. Building at SE 2nd & Alder, 1935 (City of Portland Archives)

Another Pacific Fruit & Produce Co. Building at SE 2nd & Alder, 1935 (City of Portland Archives)

The History of 125 SE Stark

Built in 1936, the building at 125 SE Stark St was originally home to Pacific Fruit and Produce, built and owned by the Portland Terminal Investment Company. Sometime in the 1980s it was purchased by Coast Auto Supply, which operated an auto supply business out of it until 2017 when it was acquired by Harsch.

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Midnite Special

Event Review by Loudres Jimenez

December 15, 2018 was a night to remember as Portland saw a fresh take on an exhibition, one that bring attention to the reformation and dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Jesse Hazelip - Midnite Special was held at a new art space on Failing Street, just off North Mississippi called Tips on Failing. Curated by Gage Hamilton, a renowned artist and Co-Curator and Director of Portland’s mural festival, Forest for The Trees.

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Midnight Special brings Jesse Hazelip's new solo work alongside performances and collaboration with multidisciplinary artist Ginger Dunnill, lifelong friend and tattoo artist James Allison, visual artist and poet Demian Dine Yazhi, and indigo child rapper Rasheed Jamal. Each artist brought a unique voice to the show, luring audiences to submerge themselves in the essence and meaning of the artwork.

The moment you walked in, you are instantly greeted by hanging ropes made of bed sheets and the gripping sounds of ripping and tearing cloth.

"Ginger Dunnill for Mother Tongue creates a site-specific sound and fiber installation to the loving memory of all the young people of color across Amerikkka who continue to take their own lives because of the mental and physical trauma of being incarcerated" (Hazelip, 2018).

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As you pass through; the ropes attached to the ceiling, hang close to the floor, leading your eye down to scattered poems, two inmate jumpsuits spread out with ropes beside them, and a sign that reads, "Rest in Peace;" instantly set the tone. The poems beautifully created by Demian Dine Yazhi, work "in an action that will embody the intention of Mother Tongue and amplify the Queer and Indigenous experience in relationship to the prison industrial complex and suicide" (Hazelip, 2018).

            Walking further in, you encounter a site-specific instillation structure built to the size of solitary confinement cells in the U.S. prison system. This space creates the stage for Hazelip's live protest alongside tattoo artist, James Allison. As Hazelip sits, with his arms around his knees on the floor, sitting above him is Allison who is using a makeshift tattoo gun to tattoo a rose with a stem of rope. Intertwining with Dunill's instillation to memorialize those who have committed suicide due to incarceration. The fluorescent light shining on them, gave a sterilized glow to the room; which contrasted the white walls and grey concrete. Hazelip and Allison, collaborated together on this exhibition while Allison was still incarcerated. Both Hazelip and Allison embody true authenticity and commitment to the art and the cause.

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The walls showcased Hazelip’s new series, Trinity War. Hazelip interweaves three narratives: The Eternal War (the past, present, and possible future of the United States), the War on Drugs (aka people of color), and the War of Colonization (gentrification). These pieces highlighted the cause and effect of the prison industrial complex and the lives it takes. Hazelip's unique style of using fine-line ballpoint pen on paper include images of the Reaper, Bellum Se Ipsum Alet (Latin for, The War Will Feed Itself), and Coyotl. Some pieces from this series can also be seen on the streets of Portland, as wheatpasted installations.

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When asked about the meaning behind his usage of three animals in his work – a wolf, bull, and vulture – Hazelip stated that when wolves are in a pack they survive, when separated and in solitude, they lose their mind. We are tribal beings. The bull is a reference to people being like cattle, with each piece already planned to cut apart. Christo, 53” x 29” (mixed media on wood) is about the “sacrifice involved in our judicial system. Our punitive approach to incarceration has been proven to be ineffective and counterproductive to the ‘sinners’. I used the back of a frame and carved out spaces for things a prisoner might want to smuggle in and hide. Blades for protection, keys for release, pictures of loved ones for comfort and an ink impression from a newborn’s feet for those mothers and fathers who can’t touch their children” (Hazelip, 2016). The hooded vulture is a reference to the situation of corruption in Rikers Island in New York.

The piece Big Skull was created out of a carved bull’s skull. The piece displays names of multiple prisons in New York City and upstate New York. “The private prison industry deals and trades prisoners as if they were livestock” (Hazelip, 2017). Each piece in his series contains personal and intimate details of an incarcerated experience, helping to heal a wound that exists in society.

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Closing the show, a live performance by Rasheed Jamal gave the audience a sample of his new album entitled 22 Grams (iAMTHATiAM), which testifies to the experience of a young black male in modern day America, given from the perspective of a disembodied ‘Soul’—the main protagonist in the narrative” (Hazelip, 2018). Lyrics like, “land of the free, but I’m just another prisoner, working 9 to 5, man, it shouldn’t be so difficult” provide introspective truth and a soundtrack to the struggle of the cause (Jamal, 2018).

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This deep and well thought-out exhibit curation and artist collaboration, highlights the overlapping interests of government and industry - feeding off of stereotypes of oppressed communities (people of color, the homeless, mentally ill, etc.), categorizing them as delinquents and a danger to society. Through this process, huge profits are generated by private companies, while at the same time acting to further marginalize the communities of those who are incarcerated. Due to the continuation of "tough on crime" propaganda in American culture, the larger civilian population has been tricked into believing that imprisonment is the solution to solving our social problems. As Angela Davis wrote in her essay, Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex, "prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings" (Davis, 1998). Midnite Special shows that our correctional institutions have turned into a “slaughter house for profit,” and we are the cattle. We look forward to each artist’s endeavors and support their courage to stand for what is right.

 

Citations:

Davis, A. (1998). Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex | Colorlines. [online] Colorlines. Available at: https://www.colorlines.com/articles/masked-racism-reflections-prison-industrial-complex [Accessed 24 Dec. 2018].

Hazelip, J., Personal communications, December 15, 2018.

Hazelip, J. (2016, August 3), “Christo”, 53x29”, Mixed media on wood. https://www.instagram.com/jessehazelip/.

Hazelip, J. (2017, June 23), “North (Big Skull)” Carved Bull skull. https://www.instagram.com/p/BVsijzcFene/

Jamal, R, Live performance, December 15, 2018.

Sow Radical Seeds

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Introducing PSAA’s newest mural, Sow Radical Seeds, at the Montavilla Farmers Market (7700 SE Stark St). This mural was designed and painted by an all-female team of artists: Girl MobbSara Eileen, and Portland's own N.O. Bonzo. It depicts two strong women, sowing the seeds of radical community-driven change, nurturing a more sustainable world where communities have food security, food sovereignty, and equitable access to healthy nutritious foods. It took the artists 3 full days to complete the mural. It is the perfect backdrop to the weekly farmer’s market. PSAA has been working with Montavilla neighborhood residents and hoping to secure more walls for art in the near future.

The mural came into existence thanks to efforts by the Montavilla Neighborhood Association and PSAA. Working together in just one week they secured community-supported funding, an artist team, and a city mural permit.

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PSAA, the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, and Montavilla Farmers Market officially introduced the mural to the neighborhood by hosting a community meeting where artists, organizers, and farmers came together to talk about how they sow radical seeds in the community with the work they do.

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At the meeting, Javier Lara of Anahuac Produce spoke about his work as a farmer, community leader and activist for human rights. His philosophy on farming stems from a deep connection to nature, and his practice mimics those beliefs. Javier says farming is “more than just local or organic, it has to do with community, and human beings are part of this system.” Javier also fights for farmworkers’ rights as well by working in partnership with PCUN-Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United). PCUN is Oregon’s farmworkers union and the largest Latino organization in the state.

Lily Matlock of Lil' Starts also spoke at the meeting about her 2-acre urban farm located in the East Columbia neighborhood of NE Portland. Lil’ Starts uses permaculture and biodynamic principles to grow clean, healthy produce and robust productive plant starts for local farmers markets, restaurants, and their two CSA programs.

This mural and community meeting was an opportunity to meet people who are sowing radical seeds in Montavilla, and soak up some inspiration for your own community good works! 

Please consider donating to this project, to show your support for the artists time and creativity! So far we have raised just enough to cover supplies and the city mural permit, but we also want to try to compensate the artists for some of their donated time:  https://www.gofundme.com/sow-radical-seeds-mural

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GATS + N.O. Bonzo Mural

Portland Street Art Alliance’s (PSAA) new mural at SE 35th & Division is creating quite a stir. Located on the walls of the historic Oregon Theater, this mural was recently painted by world–renowned artist GATS (@gatsptv), and long-time local Portland artist and activist, N.O. Bonzo (@nobonzo).

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On May 1st 2018, Joseph McMillin, the property manager of the Oregon Theater, reached out to PSAA asking for help to beautify the building. Joseph had contacted PSAA back in 2012, but at that time, our small community advocacy group was just starting off, and not prepared to take on a project of this size. Six years later, PSAA is now a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that works to cultivate a more democratic culture of creative expression in the City of Portland. We form alliances between communities (art, business, governmental) to advocate for more equitable city policies and place-based programs, and provide diverse emerging artists access to resources, networking platforms, professional development, and paid commissioned work. We also work to engage the public in arts, by organizing multi-faceted events, interpretive tours, student internships, and panel talks. Since our founding, PSAA has spearheaded over 20 local art projects, and worked with 68 local and visiting artists. PSAA was much better equipped to help Joseph and the Oregon Theater add vibrant art to their building this time around!

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PSAA has managed the painting of similar murals around town, on Alexis Foods and Clay Creative, bringing a variety of artistic styles to transform blank walls into vibrant public spaces for the benefit of the community. Even with a large following and network, PSAA is still a burgeoning local organization, with no paid staff. We operate on small budgets and rely on a lot of volunteers to make what we do happen. Sometimes our projects are supported with community donations, or commission fees, other times, the property and business owners are able to chip in to support the costs of mural making.

A few days prior to being contacted by the Oregon Theater, PSAA was notified that our longtime friend from the Bay Area, GATS was planning a quick visit to Portland the following week. Joseph wasn’t able to provide any funding for the mural work, but PSAA did not want to miss the opportunity to have GATS paint a new mural in Portland. The Oregon Theater allowed PSAA to pick the artists, so this was the obvious choice. GATS was also willing to donate their time and some supplies for this project. PSAA covered the rest, paying approximately $400 for supplies from fees we charged for other for-profit commission work. 

We would like to share a bit of history about the two muralists, GATS and N.O. Bonzo and their work. Seeing the artwork is striking, but it is also important to know and understand the motivations and personal stories behind the imagery.

For 13 years, GATS, an artist from California, has brought their iconic mask imagery to blank walls all around the work. The mask, which is often likened to an octopus, represents a global identity that breaks down all barriers and prejudice. Inspired at a young age by the punk rock and skateboarding scenes, their iconic image has developed over time, and can be seen in cities and countries across the world from Jerusalem to the Philippines.

Pilsen Walls, Chicago IL

Pilsen Walls, Chicago IL

GATS focuses on painting artwork for struggling communities, such as the houseless and at-risk youth, many of whom don’t have access fine art and can’t visit galleries or museums. Last year, GATS recently painted a mural inside Janus Youth’s offices in downtown Portland. Since 1972, Janus Youth Programs has provided a second chance for at-risk youth with few resources, and no place to turn for help. In an interview with Street Roots, GATS explained:

When you’re houseless, you don’t own a wall, let alone art to hang on it. Most people in that situation don’t browse Instagram for entertainment or feel socially comfortable hanging out in galleries. A mural to someone in this situation will have infinitely more meaning than someone purchasing a painting to decorate their house. I paint houseless shelters to give the building soul. Oftentimes they feel institutional. Your environment has a huge effect on your psyche. If your room looks like a jail, you’re going to act like you’re in jail. If your room feels like a home, you’re going to take pride in it. Also, when you’re low, you don’t want to be bombarded with over-positivity that comes off as insincere. I just wanted to make the place look cool without it feeling preachy. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re being judged when you ask for help. Seeing something familiar when you walk into a space makes you feel like you’re in the right place.” [Street Roots, 4/20/17]

Janus Youth, Portland OR

Janus Youth, Portland OR

GATS is also well-known in the contemporary art world, as galleries are eager to show their work. GATS has had sold-out solo shows in Hashimoto Contemporary (San Francisco), Spoke Art (Spoke Art), Takashi Murakami's Hidari Zingaro Gallery (Tokyo), and many more. They have a significant fanbase and following on social media, with even legendary street art documentarians Martha Cooper and Herny Chalfant being followers and amongst their gallery show audiences. Every time a new GATS artwork goes up in a city, a flurry of art lovers and photographers scurry to go see and document the work. The character is a true symbol of universal humanity and grassroots resistance that tens of thousands of people around the world identify with.

Local Portland artist N.O. Bonzo has been painting with GATS for over a decade, here in Portland and in cities across the Pacific Northwest. N.O. Bonzo is a notable and highly respected artist and printmaker in her own right. Her work focuses on anti-fascist imagery, women's resistance, environmentalism, sex worker rights, and police/prison abolition. N.O. Bonzo’s strikingly beautiful style often focuses on powerful female imagery often adorn with local and medicinal plants. She is known for her meticulous attention to detail, mixing her own homemade vegan inks, inlaying gold leaf, and even painting with rust. In 2014, she hosted a gallery art show at Portland’s Upper Playground called “Drowntown” raising awareness of Portland’s epidemic of depression and suicide.  The red string held by the women in the Oregon Theater mural, are a nod to weaver and spinners guilds. 

N.O.Bonzo and Circleface Mural | Dekum Community Garden Portland, OR

N.O.Bonzo and Circleface Mural | Dekum Community Garden Portland, OR

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In a recent local interview, she described her personal experiences and the motivations behind her artwork:

“I think a lot of us who are drawn to doing this work, do so because we in some way have these overwhelming personal experiences and dominant cultural narratives telling us we don’t matter and no one values us. I came from a lot of trauma and domestic violence, and pretty early on saw the state’s unwillingness to intervene in that violence, and the communities’ (at that time) inability or lack of concern around disrupting it. A lot of the organizing and work I do nowadays surrounds community intervention and support around domestic and sexual violence. Most of my pieces are highly personal in ways that for me are easiest to communicate visually. I draw the people I do because you don’t often see women portrayed in anything other than highly consumable and passive objects. The only place you’re ever going to find folks who are telling their own stories in city space, is with the traditional and modern mural artists, graff writers, and street artists. I want to see folks who experience marginalization getting up and taking space in completely unapologetic and challenging ways in whatever feels best for them. For me the space that I’m drawn to challenge those dominant narratives, is on city property.” [It's Going Down, 8/16/16]

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Portland Street Art Alliance is honored to work with these two immensely talented and passionate artists, and we are thankful to the Oregon Theater for allowing this artwork to be shown on their walls and providing us a canvas to create new public art in the City of Portland.

Let Dreams Soar, but Not on Your Private Property

The “Let Dreams Soar” mural is located in St Johns neighborhood of Portland. This privately commissioned piece of art was recently given a stern warning by the City of Portland. The mural, created by longtime local artist, Adam Brock Ciresi was created over the span of 4 days, and depicts crows and children soaring through the sky with DIY wooden wings, under the iconic St. Johns Bridge.

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Shortly before the mural was completed, the homeowner who commissioned the piece received a notice from the City of Portland. A neighbor made a complaint to the City, simply stating “Adding murals to the house without permits. Children jumping off St. John Bridge.”

Even though there are plenty of grey areas in the City’s complicated mural code, and the fact that there are plenty of un-permitted murals around on residential properties, the City was forced to respond to the complaint and take action.

Per the City’s current laws, murals are prohibited on private residential buildings with fewer than five dwelling units. Therefore, the “Let Dreams Soar” mural was not able to be permitted since it is on a single-family house. The City ordered the owner to buff it immediately or face massive daily fines.

Ciresi tried everything he could to secure a permit before staring the mural. However, like many other artists and property owners in Portland, they thought they would just take their chances and paint. Right now, the City is technically forced to consider this mural as an illegal “sign.”

A petition to save the mural was started by local supporter. As of Sept 11th 2017, the petition gathered an astounding 6,619 signatures. Even City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly signed it – the person it was to be delivered to, as the head of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) and BDS, the bureau of the City that oversees and issues mural permits.

Commissioner Eudaly has thankfully now stepped in more directly, putting a pause on BDS giving any citations or fines. The City hopes to figure out a way of amending the law, and make it possible to process residential murals within the current code. Working with Commissioner Eudaly and the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), Ciresi continues to push efforts forward to find a resolution and make this change in law happen.

“It’s sort of an archaic law that we are up against,” says Ciresi. With the support of the homeowner who commissioned the mural, Ted Occhialino, and a large number of St. Johns and Portland-area residents, Ciresi is gearing up to fight this in court. “If that means we’re becoming an advocate for loosening these laws around public art and where they can and can’t be placed, then so be it. I’m ready,” said Ciresi to the news.

The City of Portland is long overdue to re-evaluate its mural laws which were created back during the early 2000s after a long legal battle following a law suit by Clear Channel. Many things have changed since then, and the phenomenon of urban street art has since exploded across the world. Portland needs to accommodate for this new and ever-evolving landscape of creativity and intervention. Along with the residential building restriction, PSAA has also asked the City to modernize and automate its mural application process, and re-evaluate the 5-year rule to allow for curated, rotating art spaces in the city.   

On August 26, 2017, Ciresi was invited to participate remotely in the Veterans of Peace Conference in Chicago, a national non-profit organization dedicated to the abolishment of war. Within the forum, Dan Shea, Veteran and Mural Coalition participant, talked about the mural controversy and the importance of mural art and activism. In the interview with Ciresi, they discussed the mural’s legal issues and the uplifting motivations behind it. “Art is something that confronts people and has a different perspective to look at and they can imagine how it would be, the meaning of it, not just the skill, but the meaning of it all,” Shea states, referring to murals and artists like Ciresi. Shea is an artist as well, and also brings up his struggle with advertising companies when it comes to painting murals in public space. Veterans of Peace identifies strongly with the situation because they see the value of landmarks. Murals show a glimpse of history that belongs to the city and support the fact that murals, just like “Let Dreams Soar,” serve the community and become landmarks for younger generations.

This situation is unfortunately not unique - censorship of street art has happened in other cities around the U.S. It sometimes only takes one complaint to put a piece of public art at risk of being buffed. 

A now famous case surrounding two murals created for Living Walls in Atlanta Georgia were removed due to a few residents finding the works disturbing, offensive, and pornographic. Living Walls is an annual gathering of international street artists aimed at uplifting the community in a city with the nation’s highest number of foreclosures. One of the murals was painted by Argentine artist, Hyuro, and depicted a nude woman with a timid non-sexual demeanor.

Three months later, Pierre Roti, a French artist painted a self-funded mural of an alligator only to have it buffed a few days later. The image of an alligator-head man with a serpentine tail that was suppose to be an allegory about the brutality of capitalism, not a statement on religion or demons, as it was perceived by some residents. “The best thing you could say about the alligator painting was that people didn’t understand it… It absolutely did not represent what people want to see on a busy street every day,” Douglas Dean, former state representative expressed.

The Department of Transportation then stated that it wasn’t an issue of artistic value, but instead it was a matter of proper permits. Living Walls works in accordance with the property owners and permits from three city departments. The City Council members say otherwise—public art ordinance requires approval of the full Council, which Living Walls did not receive, hence its removal. It was also added that the state’s public art policy prohibited works that “include any content that could possibly divide a community”—welcoming Living Walls to put up new installations as long as they meet requirements.

Monica Campana, founder of Living Walls, worried that the decision of the removal of both pieces would stir fear in artists who come each August from all over the world—“no one wants to paint a wall that is going to get painted over. We don’t think we have to paint a rainbow and butterflies to make art that represents a community.”

Another similar case unraveled in 2016, when a mural in Toronto Canada came under siege. Homeowners commissioned a local artist, Kestin Cornwall, to create a mural of Drake; the well-known rapper. Fay and Small had purchased the Croft Street house with the knowledge of it being on artistic strip, and supported community artistic expression. A few days after the piece was completed, they received a letter stating that the City had been made aware of their property being vandalized and is in violation of Toronto Municipal Code.

This story made it to local CBC Toronto News, who then contacted the City of Toronto and had them send out a spokesperson to inspect the mural. His final verdict; “It’s fine.” The City responded that when they receive a complaint, the letter automatically sends to the homeowner rather than sending out an officer each time. Fay had a different opinion on the matter; “The City shouldn’t be sending out blanket letters, sight unseen… For a city to just blindly shut down a piece of art on a street that’s deemed kind of an art-alleyway, that’s just bizarre.”

The StreetARToronto (StArt) Program Manager, Lilie Zendel, has strived to push the street art scene and to add substance and strengthen communities, as well as to help disprove negative effects of graffiti vandalism. “I think at one point [street art] was looked as being marginal and not a really legitimate art form, and now I think it’s legitimacy has been established, and in a city with a lot of cement and grey buildings—we need colour,” Zendel stated.

In 2012, in Dublin, Ireland the mural “Repeal 8th” done by Maser was commissioned by The HunReal Issues. This political mural supported an amendment to Ireland’s constitution allowing women to have abortions legally in Ireland. The mural was removed after a complaint was made to City Council, saying it was in violation of the Planning & Development Acts (2000-2015).  A petition with over 4,000 signatures that were collected in one week with the hope of receiving full planning permission from Dublin’s City Council to restore the mural. “For me, it’s important that this is seen as an artwork and we’re supporting an artist’s idea to challenge the status quo…art can be political, art isn’t just entertainment.”

These types of cases bring up questions about who decides where and what can be put into our shared public spaces? Where does the line between private property rights start and end? How can the opinion of one person outweigh the opinions of thousands? When should the City step back and leave things to a community to decide when it comes to privately-funded street art on private property?

The question of whether negative artistic stimulation to an individual automatically ends up in a city complain and then therefore ending in the result of a removal of what is a piece of priceless art, can sound baffling to some.

Consider the visual stimulation of advertisement and marketing billboards; the public has little say over their quantity and quality, however the public is bombarded with capitalist-based market stimulation and visual pollution that litters our city streets and minds. Unlike art, advertisements push us to consume, pretend, and obey, but for some reason the permits for ads often go overlooked by cities when huge amounts of money is likely being lost due to not enforcing signage laws with these companies. Why come down on private property owners and artists who are trying to uplift our community and provide it a gift? Which one is worse?

Read more about the mural controversy:

KOIN News: City wants ‘controversial’ mural in N. Portland removed

Article by Lourdes Jimenez | Contributing Writer | Portland State University.

The Black Hat Project

The Last Bus Club & InvoicePDX have recently launched The Black Hat project, with the goal of opening an innovative artistic hub in Portland. Together they strive to raise awareness and to build a foundation of artists and makers of all kind while documenting the artistic progression that’s happening in Portland. The Black Hat will serve as a local innovative artistic space; providing contemporary gallery space, artist studio space, resources, and art supplies. The project founders say that they will be offering the lowest gallery commissions in town (galleries often take a 50% cut of the selling price to pay for operations).

Chase Muromoto of Invoice Pdx & and Forest Kell of the Last Bus Club began collaborating in 2015 when they did the One Stop Shop, a pop-up parking lot art event using a painted van and pallets to create a temporary art space. They have also hosted other gallery art shows including Writer's Anonymous (2015), Inside Out at Compound Gallery (2016), and the PBR Art Design Contest Show (2016).

InvoicePDX has also published two volumes of Invoice Magazine, which features original and submitted photos of Pacific Northwest graffiti art, along with exclusive interviews with artists like GATS, GIVER, and EKOSE along with long-time graffiti photographers, like Oddio. InvoicePDX says that the magazine “provides a discrete outlet for the graffiti/art community.”

In April 2017, Invoice PDX & Last Bus Club launched The Black Hat project, and hosted a benefit show that welcomed the community by providing a free art show for all ages. Food was served by Braddah Bowls, and drink sponsors included Pabst Blue Ribbon PDX and Guayaki Yerba Mate. The event also offered live screen-printing by Tour Print, local company created by a team of designers, brand experts, merchandisers, and artists. The Black Hat project launch party also featured a special appearance from local street dance group Soul Trigger and Supreme Beings.

To promote this project, Invoice PDX & Last Bus Club collaborated with local cinematographer and creative director Jon Christoperson (@JCCinematography), who has also recently made wonderful promotional commercials for local sticker artist RxSkulls and Portland-based female street artists like @wokeface @eillegal_rose @hellokitska and @placeboeffectpdx.

#theblackhat #pdx #streetart @invoicepdx @lastbusclubclothing

A post shared by Jon Christopherson (@jccinematography) on

Josh McQuary, also known as McMonster (#tinymike), was also involved in hosting the launch party.  McMonster’s art shows a perspective of a surreal world taking images from nature, science fiction, and female anatomy. McQuary recently won the #PBRart Art Can contest and will have his art appear on a millions of PBR beer cans nationwide staring in July 2017.

New Mexico artist VELA provided event attendees with live art painting, showing his process while creating a Hawaiian-inspired piece. VELA has also been featured in Invoice Magazine, displaying his surreal take on Mexican and Native American graffiti culture. His intricate usage of color, imagery, and geometric symbols creates a unity of nature and spirit through aerosol. Many other local artists displayed work and came out to support the project, including Galenism, Voxx Romana, NABRU, TheEarwig22, and many more.

All funds collected from the The Black Hat project event go towards a space where artist and supporters can call home and continue to support artistic progression in Portland. If you missed the event, you can still contribute by donating to the project’s crowdsourcing fundraising campaign.

Special thanks to Lourdes Jimenez for covering the show and contributing to this article. 

Saving Banksy Film Screening

PSAA recently co-hosted a free screening with do503 of the Saving Banksy documentary, directed by Colin M. Day (2017). do503 is an event website and app, part of an international network of sites that list and ranks daily events happening in cities. Do503 periodically hosts their own events which support local non-profits, like Portland Street Art Alliance, helping to raise money to support the causes.

At the Saving Banksy event, proceeds from a special cocktail menu and an original art raffle were donated to PSAA. We also tabled at the event, with art for sale by local street artists, informational brochures, and free stickers.

Finally, PSAA arranged for two local street artists to speak about their involvement in the documentary. Mad One, who helped distribute the film across the United States, and Jesse Hazelip who was featured in the film putting some fresh new art in the streets of California. The event was well attended, with Century Bar reaching capacity. The following is a film review, written by PSAA contributor Lourdes Jimenez (@lou_jim).

Saving Banksy follows the life of a specific piece of street art made in San Francisco by famous nom de guerre street artist, Banksy. The film focuses on the profiteering and co-option that is occurring within the street art world.

Banksy is of course famous for his elusiveness, clever stencil imagery, social commentary, cabalistic messages, and extremely site-specific work.  His fame has reached such fervor that there is now a new phrase associated with this sweeping phenomenon, “The Banksy Effect.”

The immense power of this anonymous figure has arguably created one of largest markets for contemporary art in generations. As Wooster Collective explains, “Like Andy Warhol before him, Banksy has almost single handedly redefined what art is to a lot of people who probably never felt they appreciated art before.  By being an iconoclast, and in the process becoming a mythic hero for a lot of people, Banksy has become an incredible icon in our society.” With worldwide distributions, sold-out events, and extremely high auction prices, anything that is associated with Banksy goes viral.

Cash for your Banksy Installation in Portland, OR by Mad One.

Cash for your Banksy Installation in Portland, OR by Mad One.

Banksy’s art seems to transcend the typically argument of graffiti being “art” or “vandalism,” with admirers cutting across the spectrum of society. People who would usually classify anything done without permission as graffiti vandalism, seem to view Banksy pieces as something else, as art, with value. As legendary street artist Blek le Rat says in the film, “It’s not Art unless you can sell it for lots of money.” For these reasons Banksy’s art both paradoxically stays in the streets and is removed quickly. Many Banksy pieces are preserved behind protective glass, and cut out of walls to sell in auction houses.  

When Banky’s film, Exit Through the Gift Shop premiered in San Francisco in 2010, they skipped the interview and press events, and instead gifted the city with a handful of illegal graffiti in the Mission, Chinatown, North Beach, and South of Market. As the days went by, many of these pieces were written over and added to by others, however, at least one piece in the Haight-Ashbury District managed to remain untouched. Placed at the top corner of an old Victorian bed & breakfast, a rat styling a Che Guevara beret and clinging to a Magic marker. The mischievous rat drew a long line from one side of the building to the next, ending with text, “This Is Where I Draw the Line.”  

Brian Greif, an art collector and former general manager of KRON-TV, was able to strike a deal with the bed & breakfast owner to buy the top corner of their building’s siding and remove 10 redwood siding planks on which the rat was painted. Grief raised $10,000 to help cover some of the costs in its removal and preservation through a Kickstarter campaign. All in all, it cost Greif about $40,000 to remove the Bansky piece safety from the building and preserve it.  

Greif promised to never the sell artwork, even though other Banksy creations have sold for millions and he has been offered thousands to sell it. Unlike most art collectors and gallery salesmen, Greif’s mission with the Haight Street Rat, was to preserve the art and maintain its rightful place in the public’s eye, where it can be safely displayed for the public to view and appreciate. He wanted to donate the piece to a museum, but no museum will accept his offer due to the lack of authentication of the piece, and permission from the living artist, Banksy.

Most of the time when Banksy’s art is removed from the streets, it is sold to elite clientele. For example, Stephen Keszler a private art dealer with a gallery in South Hampton, NY, is known for removing Banksy artwork from public spaces and selling them for immense personal gain, all without the artist’s consent.

Saving Banksy raises important questions about artistic intent, the value and impact of street art, the commodification of it, and public ownership of graffiti art. Is graffiti art worth saving for future generations to learn from and enjoy? Does removing it from its original context (the street), completely diminishing its importance and changing its meaning?

Winter Light Festival 2017

As winter continues to keep the city in hibernation mode, Portland’s 2nd annual Winter Light Festival commences—presented by Portland General Electric and hosted by Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).This public art festival provides a unique experience that lures the community from winter’s dim to an innovating aura of coming Spring. Showcasing contemporary light based art installations and performances of over 60 artists; they combine light and technology to create educational and interactive artwork.

The wet weather didn’t stop families and friends from gathering together to experience a public display of inspirational community-based projects. The purpose of this event was to bring the community “out of the dark” that comes after the holidays and create and glowing stepping stone to what is to come.

Being held a the East end of the Tilikum Bridge and along the Eastbank Espalanade, you are instantly being greeted by the PXL Matrix done by Josh Kottler on the Hampton Opera Center. It seems as if one light connects and leads you to another, taking you further down a path full of light and wonder to the Radiance Dome held at the bridge lot. This installation done by Light At Play is based on a “5 frequency geodesic dome that contains 190 illuminated panels and 120 vertex lights which together form a highly customizable, light-driven 3-D surface”. Glowing hula hop performers captivate the audience and fill the dome with radiance from the inside out.

For those that wanted to leave a mark, Graffiti Lanterns invited the audience to interact by scratching off the layered black opaque paint, exposing a hidden light source beneath. From people’s names, to designs and illustrations, these lanterns bare markings of those who have come and gone, sharing and making the experience together.

The illumination of light doesn’t only come from the installations but it is seen the faces of the people. Children look up and marvel with curiosity as they tug on their parent’s hand to look onward and move from one creation to another. The Light Chimes installation, an artistic collaboration between Andrew Haddock and design studio, Sticky CO., “reacts to movement giving off various sounds and beams of colored light, providing a melodic and visual synesthetic experience”, give each individual stepping under it a sense of self-awareness.

Moving on forward towards the Esplanade, over 50 Glow Bunnies cover the grassland—made from once piece of corrugated plastic, Olivier Bouwman uses wireless controlled LED light bulbs that are programed to shift colors and patterns all throughout the event. If we weren’t excited for the pastel season already this definitely captured everyone’s attention. Flamboyant Productions offer up space performers on stilts and curious bugs on wheels—adding more substance to the idea of innovation.

As you continue to follow the path that his been lit by the ideas of others, the installations not only encouraged interaction with the exhibit but other festival attendees. From the Pixel Throw-up, Glowing Buckets, to the Parallax, the 2017 Winter Light Festival brought some warmth to what has been a very cold season.

The community showed their support to the artists, as well as the event itself, by lighting themselves up in Christmas lights, glowing umbrellas, and creative light themed outfits that showed true Portland Spirit. The concept of this event is as innovating as the art in it—lighting the way from dark to light, cold to warm, and leaving each individual with a touch of glow they can carry back to their homes and on to the new season ahead. 

ARTICLE BY LOURDES JIMENEZ

Photos © Anton Legoo

THE HISTORY OF TAYLOR ELECTRIC

Since 2006, the remains of the Taylor Electric building have been a unique Portland landmark. A sanctuary for artists, rebels, and outcasts. Over these nine years, this burnt out industrial skeleton at SE 2nd and Clay had been continuously and illegally reinvented by the public into a gallery for urban art and exploring. Taylor Electric was full of possibilities, a homemade refuge, and a cultural space of our own making.

The aesthetics of Taylor Electric were addictive for many, not only artists and tourists, but academics, journalistsphotographers, and videographers. As geographer Bradley Garrett wrote “these spaces are appreciated for their aesthetic qualities, for their possibilities for temporarily escaping the rush of the surrounding urban environment and their ability to hint at what the future might look like, when all people have disappeared, a visceral reminder of our own mortality.”

In the months leading up to its demise, the art in Taylor Electric flourished as the fences went down and security was reduced. More so than ever people of all types, young and old, high heels and rubber boots, descended on this public place to experience an post-apocalyptic scene bursting with color.

Rumors of demolition and development plans had been circulating for years. With Portland’s economy and population is booming this change was inevitable. As power and urban space collide, developers moved their attention to this centrally located urban property. It was a profitable time to rebuild. This time instead of an electrical supply company, this site would be occupied by an office building and café. Part of the existing south-facing retaining wall of the 1936 building will be preserved and incorporated into the new structure.

In early May 2015, a large fence was erected, surrounding the entire building and closing an adjacent street. On Monday May 10th the demolition of Taylor Electric began. Spreading quickly through social media, artists shared images of the first walls to fall. Some onlookers talked with workers, gathering details of the plans. Local media outlets, like the Willamette Week covered the story, focusing on the cultural importance and impact of this space.

While a sense of loss pervaded, there was also a sense of unity and reflection that arose, as many people began to introspectively think about what was being lost, but also what had been built over the years in this space.

A local group of artists created this video:

Taylor Electric was showcase of local, regional, national and international graffiti art. When people visited Portland and wanted to see graffiti, Taylor Electric was the obvious and easiest destination.

While it has been difficult to see Portland’s only truly public and easily accessible graffiti space crumble before our eyes, graffiti is about temporarily occupying and re-imagining the spaces of the city. This spark that creates culturally rich places like Taylor Electric, lives within us. We use these urban voids as conduits and staging grounds for our creative energies. Taylor Electric was a particularly conductive environment for such electricity, but there are always new frontiers. That’s part of the beauty of graffiti; it’s always searching out the unexplored and raw. Strangely, it’s ephemeral and nomadic nature contributes to its resiliency and allure. Because it won’t be there forever.

All images © 2015 Anton Legoo

LAST DANCE WITH TAYLOR ELECTRIC

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution – Emma Goldman 1931

Last night, from a ruined crack of the urban landscape, culture erupted with fiery explosions of color, light, and movement. Crowds gathered inside and outside the space to watch this mysterious event. Playing amongst these ruins, using rubble as the raw material for innovation, the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre Northwest’stook over Taylor Electric, using it as a stage for Ragnarok, a Norse mythological tale of destruction and rebirth. The dance performance featured artists from Portland State University, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

This event is the first and perhaps the last opportunity for the public to officially experience this space, before it is lost forever. Demolition plans have been set.

Since the ruins of Taylor Electric were left to stand outside the political economy of urban development for years, it has functioned as richly occupied public space.While it was not legally public, it also was not subjected to the exclusionary controls of commercialization that increasingly afflict our cities. Taylor Electric offered a ‘shelter from the storm’ for a diverse community of outcasts, illustrating why debates over urban economic and cultural gentrification often evolve into debates over social well-being, social order, and social justice.

Many officials and developers envision streets purged of marginalized populations, cleared of human trash. These uncomfortable reminders of decay and neglect counter a narrative of a city made safe for endless effortless consumption and full of programmed urban activities. Officials often present redevelopment as economic salvation, or as social and cultural stimulation – restoring their version of a ‘quality of life.’

However, for many people in the city, spaces like this are essential for quality of life. We choose to live in the city for the unexpected and the grit. In this way, we view the demolition of Taylor Electric as the destruction of our public and cultural sphere. In many modern sanitized cities, space for unanticipated interaction and chaotic urban pleasures are rapidly diminishing. 

Over the past few weeks, as the fences have been slowly removed, the amount and variety of urban explorers descending upon the space has dramatically increased. People of all types come to take photos, reminisce, and talk with each other about what the place is and its future. Experiencing the dance performance shed light on how easy it would have been to use a space like this for community events. Imagine if grass were planted in the factory floor, turning the space into a unique pocket park surrounded by the burnt-out skeleton walls. Live bands could play music, people could have picnics, street artists could paint murals, and mobile food carts could provide food and beverages. As many from the street art community have argued for years, if permitted, this would have provided a perfect free wall space, something the city does not have and desperately needs. Portland has a ‘zero-tolerance’ graffiti policy requiring that all un-permitted public expression be promptly removed or the property owner will be fined. Countless northwest cities (Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, San Francisco, etc.) have free walls that are open to public expression. Free walls are a community asset because they provide a designated safe place for people to practice and refine their artistic skills and a place where urban flâneurs and tourists can go to see this style of art.

Our vision of the City of Portland is a place where gutter punks, graffiti writers, and the houseless community will no longer be driven from public space. They’ll be embraced as members of the community. In such a city, residents would no longer be taught to fear marginal spaces like Taylor Electric, they would be embraced for creativity and cultural innovation, where the inherent uncertainty of the unpredictable provides raw material and conditions that incubate new ways of being and thinking. The allure of this vision is undoubtedly fleeting. We must not forget this spark lives within us, not necessarily in the spaces we create and occupy. We use these urban voids as conduits and staging grounds for creative energy. From the ruins of the past, time and time again, we rebuild.

Special thanks to Hart Noecker and Anton Legoo for contributing to this article.

Some material adapted from Jeff Ferrell’s 2001 book, “Tearing down the Streets: Adventures in Urban Anarchy” 

All images © 2014 Anton Legoo

TAYLOR ELECTRIC FREE SPACE

Seven years ago, a massive fire engulfed the wooden frame Taylor Electric Supply Warehouse on SE 2nd & Clay in the Central Eastside Industrial District of Portland. The building housed electrical equipment, flammable materials and chemicals. It was one of Portland‘s largest industrial fires ever. It burnt into the night, causing power outages and oil spills in the Willamette River. The next day, the smoldering building collapsed. All that remained was a charred skeleton and an ash-covered floor.

Today, the building‘s shell stands mostly unchanged, but with one important difference. It serves as a public art gallery, a mecca for Portland’s street art and photography community. Here, emerging and veteran artists showcase their art to the public; free, direct, and uncensored. On most days, visitors discover a range of graffiti here including, tags, stencils, installations, and huge masterpieces. As with many official and unofficial ‘free walls,’ the graffiti in Taylor Electric is generally found to be more aesthetic pleasing. The artists have time to create more detailed work.

During the day, the building comes alive in other ways. On the edge of Produce Row, a flurry of manufacturing and shipping activity surrounds it. Professional photographers, film crews, wedding parties, and urban explorers descend upon the building to photograph its walls. It is even used to market locally-made mustard.

Even though graffiti is often stereotyped negatively as promoting blight and urban decay, a thriving street art scene is also a sign of a vibrant, innovative, and creative city. Under-use and decay of built environments is not caused by the presence of graffiti; it is instead a by-product of an area that’s already in disrepair. Artists are drawn to these spaces because of their gritty aesthetics and the anonymity they provide.

Cities like Berlin, London, Melbourne, Basel, and Miami have realized that fostering creative activities in public (both planned and unplanned) can be beneficial to the city, financially and culturally. In many cities around the world, graffiti removal is mostly targeted to the central downtown core. The extent of graffiti abatement outside the city is left to individual neighborhoods to decide and manage. Some neighborhoods are mostly free of graffiti, and other areas the walls burst with color. This is not the case in the City Portland, where a blanket zero-tolerance policy covers the entire city. It is illegal to paint graffiti (or a mural) on an outside wall, even if you have permission from a property owner. If graffiti is not covered up in 10 days, property owners run the risk of being issued substantial fines from the city. Additionally, Portland does not host any official free walls, like other northwest cities, like Tacoma and Olympia do. What often results in Portland is an abundance of quick tags (which most people dislike) all over the city, instead of more elaborate pieces painted on designated walls or districts.

Portland’s zero-tolerance policy has been playing out on the walls of Taylor Electric for years now. The entire building has been ‘buffed’ (painted-out) every few months to remove the graffiti even though it was an un-salvageable building with no residential neighbors. The premise behind this continued effort was that it would “reduce social deterioration within the City and promote public safety and health.” The assumption is that consistently covered up graffiti will deter more from occurring. Research done by Portland State University graduate students in 2004 and 2012 (Gorsek & Conklin, respectively), suggests that, in fact, buffing does not to deter graffiti from reoccurring. If anything, the solid paint provides a fresh canvas to work on and incentive to get bigger and better.

The potential for re-development of the Taylor Electric site, and the surrounding area, cannot be denied. It sits just minutes from downtown Portland, offers panoramic city views of the city, and easy access to the Willamette River, East Bank Esplanade, and Hawthorne Bridge. Down the road, you find Distillery Row, the heart of Portland’s craft distilling movement, several of Portland’s famous food cart pods, the Museum of Science and Industry, and most recently, the new Eastside Streetcar line.

A different type of gentrification is occurring in the Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID). It is zoned industrial, not residential. Some of the businesses in this district have operated here for decades. There is even a non-profit, volunteerorganization, responsible for representing businesses and property owners in the Central Eastside Industrial District. This group fights to protect the rights of property owners and businesses in the district and keep CEID as an ‘industrial sanctuary,’ and major employment zone for the city.

Just recently it was announced that the Taylor Electric Building had been sold. It is now slated to be re-developed into office space. New building plans can be found here. This re-development was inevitable. Portland’s and urban growth boundary makes it a very dense city. Most vacant land in and around the urban core is developed. This land-use planning protects our cherished natural surroundings, fosters walkable, bikeable, cohesive, and vibrant neighborhoods.

However, this density also makes finding hidden under-used spaces that allow for alternative uses very hard to find. Undeveloped landscapes serve as a reminder that there is value in not having all urban space in continuous official use. These spaces in-between are voids that allow for unscripted activities. In Portland, out of under-used parking lots, culinary meeting grounds arise. In a trash covered ditch under a bridge, one of the most famous skateboarding spots in the world, Burnside Skatepark, was built by hand and without permission.

Although many people might at first think these spaces as uninviting, boring and even dangerous, other people see great potential in these derelict wastelands. These spaces offer respite from the city‘s watchful eyes. They are places in a state of uncertainty, caught between uses, and open to endless possibilities.

ALL PHOTOS © PSAA

SUNNYSIDE PIAZZA

Since 2000, neighbors of Portland’s historic Sunnyside neighborhood have come together every Spring to re-paint a huge sunflower at the intersection of SE 33rd and Yamhill, one block off Belmont. Originally, without City permission, neighborhood residents came together to claim ownership of their public space and create a vibrant community gathering place.

This was one of Portland‘s City Repair’s first projects that aimed to repair and reclaim underutilized space. City Repair facilitates artistic and ecologically-oriented placemaking through projects that honor the interconnection of human communities and the natural world. City Repair have been accomplished all around Portland, by a mostly volunteer staff and thousands of volunteer citizen activists. They provide support, resources, and opportunities to help diverse communities reclaim the culture, power, and joy that we all deserve. 

In an effort to create community-oriented spaces, local residents painted a huge orange sunflower, inspired by Fibonacci spiral geometry, in the middle of the intersection and installed multiple art pieces at each corner. Ever since then, engaged residents have turned this intersection into a space for art, expression and community building. Over 700 interviews with residents, in an academic study on the project in 2003, suggest that the community experiences more happiness, health and safety because of the repair. The Piazza has also become a a central point of the Sunnyside Neighborhood and Historic Belmont Main Street, in the heart of Southeast Portland. It has blossomed into a community cooperative movement that has cultivated social connectedness and a sense of community that gains momentum every year.

A lot of planning and effort goes into making this happen every year. Starting months before the event, organizers start planning. They canvas the neighborhood getting the required signatures for the block party permit, so they can close the intersection off to traffic and provide their community with a safe space to spend the weekend together, re-painting, talking, picnicking, and playing. They take inventory and order paint materials, repair benches, cob structures, clean-up poles, plant new flowers, coordinate a team of volunteers, and gather monetary and material donations from local businesses and the community. For the past few years, Portland Street Art Alliance has managed the project, along with fellow dedicated neighbors.

Several local businesses donate funds and supplies to help support this community event as well. Escape from New York Pizza on Belmont hosts an annual Piazza Pizza Party fundraiser in mid-May where 30% of all proceeds between 5pm-10pm go towards the project. Other local businesses, like The Sweet Hereafter and Dick's Kitchen, make significant monetary donations that help the communtiy purchase the paint and supplies needed to repaint the sunflower every year. 

What also makes Sunnyside unique is that in addition to the commissioned and organized art at the Piazza (like the painted sunflower, cob structures, mosaics, sidewalk trellises, and planter barrels), there are several un-commissioned street art interventions in the area. These unofficial pieces of art vary, but often include birdhouses, chalk boxes, metal sculptors, wooden plaques, yarn installations, and various forms of art adhered to the backs of signs and poles. Passersby tend to notice and be drawn to this community art, it is a real tourist destination. Visitors often ask questions, touch, and take pictures of these quirky interventions.

Brooklyn NY-based Portlandia star, Fred Armisen even commented on Sunnyside neighborhood’s distinct character:

At the corner of Southeast Yamhill and Southeast 33rd Avenue is the most Portland-y spot in the city. There is an artwork painted on the actual road. It’s like a sun or something. It’s too big for me to remember exactly what it is. It just looks cool and feels cool. I feel the most like I am in Portland when I stand in this spot. You’ll see what I mean. It’s residential, but there’s something about it that makes me feel very much at peace. Not like nature-guy peace. I hate that. I mean like “Hey, I am going to stand here for a few minutes and not think.” It’s quiet but you can still hear some cars go by a street over on Belmont. It feels European but still American. I stand by that description.

Along Belmont, there is a high-concentration of businesses between 33rd and 35th Avenues. Most of these mixed-use properties have high real-estate values due to their visibility and foot-traffic along this historic arterial roadway emanating from downtown. Through the 1980s and 90s, Sunnyside struggled with problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, crime, and vandalism. Younger creative were drawn into the neighborhood by its cheap rents, historic bungalows and Victorians, and its proximity to public transit. Just a few years ago in 2010, many of the businesses along Belmont were closed and boarded up. Now, all storefronts are occupied and business is booming. Sunnyside often teems with activity. On sunny days, people fill the sidewalks, eating, drinking, taking pictures, sitting on benches, and visiting local shops. When the sun sets, the night crowd descends, frequenting the bars and pool halls on the strip.

Whether it is authorized or un-authorized by the City does not seem to concern many Sunnyside residents. They see this as their community space and their responsibility to maintain. This is an active community that feels strongly about the power of community art and access to the public spaces around them.

Follow Sunnyside Piazza on Facebook and Instagram for updates! 

All Photos: © PSAA | © Anton Legoo

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK: THE HISTORY OF PIRATE TOWN

Everything is ephemeral. Sometimes it takes loosing cherished pieces of our city to realize what is important and how change is the only constant, especially in a city. As Portland’s wild-west development bonanza booms, many of us are hard at work documenting and fighting to save these important pieces of the urban landscape.

Our urban growth boundary helps preserve our hinterlands and create a dense city, but it also ensures that vacant space is temporary and abandonment is short-lived. As in other cities, Portland is growing at an unprecedented rate due to the millennial desire for a more sustainable urban life. With this influx, comes change and with this change there are important considerations and sacrifices. What impact does the loss of free, hidden, and accessible spaces have on the city and its arts culture?

Indeterminate “spaces in-between” are voids in the city, undesirable to most people and sought after by some. These abandoned, contaminated, and sometimes dangerous spaces are where DIY activities flourish. Whether it be for graffiti art, skate/BMX parks, urbex, or guerilla gardens, these “cracks” in the urban fabric provide respite from norms and regulations of modern urban space. These spaces are open to possibilities for intervention and ripe for activation; places where the seeds of innovation and authenticity can be sown.

As we contest and cope with our changing city, it is important to document and remember an important piece of Portland’s DIY and graffiti history that is quickly fading into distant memory.

It was known by many names: Popsicle Land, Creosote Factory, SuperFun Site, officially named Triangle Park, and most infamously Pirate Town. This 35-acre superfund site is situated on the Portland Harbor at the base of Waud Bluff and in the University Park area of North Portland. With an industrial history dating back to at least 1900, this site has been home to nearly 50 different industrial operations.

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Most recently, this was the site of the former Riedel North Portland Yard, which dredged rivers, constructed boats, and cleaned-up hazardous railroad spills. Riedel closed in 1986, but the effects of its operations (and the site’s prior operations) will be present for centuries to come; as soil and groundwater tests show high levels of toxic contaminates, mainly arsenic.

This abandoned complex consisted of a dock and three cement buildings. The site provided both a canvas for the most prolific graffiti in Portland at the time and space for creation of DIY skateboarding and BMX structures. Skaters and BMX riders revamped Pirate Town, turning the spaces into parks reminiscent of the early Burnside Bridge days. For years, Pirate Town was a cherished space for all sorts of adventure; a place to end midnight bicycle rides, hold massive parties, host an epic chariot wars, army training ground, and a horror movie theater.

Photo: The Skateboard Archives, skateandannoy.com

Photo: The Skateboard Archives, skateandannoy.com

A 2009 Portland Mercury article by Sarah Mirk documented the public sentiment when demolition plans were announced: “It’s one of those places where there’s no rules. I’m perpetually frustrated by how society stomps out the places where people can create new things,” Zander Speaks told reporters. Similarly, Zachary van Buuren said that it was “one of the few places that graffiti artists could go to do their art and it’s completely alright. It’s a giant industrial canvas, sad to see it go.” Gabe Tiller who rode around town on a coffin bike, explained that “these urban decay areas are gorgeous and every city needs them, it was inevitable I guess. Fun while it lasted, and there are other great spots out there waiting to be found!”

Photo:   Jeremy Running

American Institute of Architects even hosting a photography show displaying the work of Bruce Forster, commemorating the graffiti that covered almost every inch of the structure.

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Reminiscing about the Pirate Town 10 years later, native Portlander and professional BMX rider Caleb Ruecker explained to PSAA that for many years it was a favorite spot for him and his friends, for not only biking but fishing off the decaying old docks. For a long time it was a chill spot, mainly just used by the bikers, skaters, and graffiti artists, and sometimes visited by photographers and explorers. Then around 2003 nearby University of Portland students started going down there more, even driving their cars down the access road (unlike most who took the back way in along the tracks). This brought a lot of attention to the site and then there were fences and guards.

Photo: Sam Policar

Photo: Bruce Foster

Photo: Bruce Foster

In December of 2008, the University bought the site for $6 million and swiftly demolished it; releasing a statement saying that it was a liability. Back then, UofP representatives explained that the site would allow them to “expand without going into the neighborhood.” They saw this as an “opportunity to take blighted and contaminated industrial land and restore it under the stewardship of the University of Portland as a public asset.” Rumors circulated that it was going to be developed it into a baseball, sports field, or storage area. Today, over 7 years after its demolition, some environmental restoration has happened, but the site still sits completely vacant, being almost completely reclaimed by nature.

Interestingly, the University’s comment about how they intended to restore the site into a “public asset” raises the question about who this development is for, and how the divergent values placed on spaces. These abandoned spaces are actually often being well-used, just not in traditional, scripted, or city-sanctioned ways. While technically being private property, many times these types of sites are left to rot, especially turning into semi-public spaces.

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

Photo: Chris Nukala, theskateboardarchives.com

These spaces are then reclaimed by certain subcultures and turned into unique “community asset.” However, the general ethos does recognize the value in these unique DIY spaces in cities, they just assume that they are blighted, debauchery-ridden cesspools that need to be removed. True in some cases yes, but in others they are just removed for the sake of removing them, paved or grassed over, or left to sit for another few decades until market demand rises to the point of profit.

Photo:   Brandon Seifert
Photo:   Aaron Rabideau

As urban planners strive to design authenticity in our cities with placemaking and tactical urbanism-inspired plans, we ignore and disregard the fact that original and authentic place-making is done by the communities like these, in places like Pirate Town and more recently in Taylor Electric. Toxic wastelands flourish into meccas for activity, adventure, and raw beauty. Enter at your own risk.

Special thanks for Caleb Ruecker for providing invaluable insights and inspiration for finally writing this article. Be sure to follow his demolition and abandoned documentation adventures @calebrueckersphotos.
Photo:   Aaron Rabideau
Photo: Bruce Foster

Photo: Bruce Foster

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo: Michael Endicott

Photo:   Brandon Seifert

FOREST FOR THE TREES

Forest for the Trees (FFTT) is a non-profit public mural project that promotes public visual expression; collaboration; and community engagement with contemporary art and the creative process. For a few weeks in late August, the streets of Portland and its communities, were activated by a surge of art. FFTT is organized by artist Gage Hamilton, curator Matt Wagner of Hellion Gallery, and event producer Tia Vanich. It is also made possible by community volunteers who help with various project logistics, like transportation. In 2015, this team organized an impressive group of 30 artists from all around the world to paint 20 murals in the City of Portland. Participating FFTT artists donate their time, and in return FFTT secures the walls, all required city permits, and pays for all the materials, equipment, travel costs, and logging the artists may need during the project. Funding for the project comes mostly from public crowd-sourcing campaigns & Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grants, along with discounts and donations from local businesses. 

The 2015 3rd annual FFTT once again propelled Portland’s creative energies forward, bringing together local and visiting artists from around the world to transform walls with their unique visions and diverse talents. Portland Street Art Alliance (PSAA) partnered with the FFTT team again and hosted a free public bicycle tour, visiting in-progress murals located in SE Portland.  This 3-hour tour was lead by PSAA and FFTT directors, along with a team of volunteer route experts, intersection corkers, and documenters. It was great to see such a wonderful turn out, even on a blustery morning, with about 40 people showing up for the ride. Traveling refreshments were generously provided by Guayaki Yerba Mate’s bike cart.

At each stop, tour guides provided commentary on each mural and the artists behind the work. Also discussed were topics like: the two processes for creating murals in Portland (via city permit or RACC), artistic copyright law (VARA rights), the global street art scene, and rise of street art festivals, and the constant battles over the use and control of urban public spaces.

The tour began at Pod 28 (the food carts at Ankeny & 28th) where Minneapolis-based artist Alex Petersen spoke to attendees. Alex described his piece, an x-ray shadow of a creature, as being symbolic of the primal connections among all life on Earth.

Riding down the Ankeny Bike Boulevard, the next tour stop was Josh Keyes’ mural, on the side of There Be Monsters. An well-known local gallery artist, Josh was trained as a fine artist at Yale University of Art and his subject matter often depicts wild animals set in post-apocalyptic urban landscapes – commentary on humanity’s impact on the natural world and nature’s resilience. In this mural, a rhino has literally broken through the wall, in trompe l’oeil style, stampeding down street signs in its path.

Josh explained to the crowd that this was his first mural and his largest painting to-date. He employed an old sign painter technique – using perforated tissue paper and a bag of loose chalk to outline his piece before painting.

Just down the street, the next tour stop was at ADX, where local artists-designers Blaine Fontana and David Rice were at their wall along the back of the warehouse. ADX, a creative workshop, is now a true hub for street art in Portland, being almost completely covered in murals from the past 3 years of FFTT. Their piece included several anthropomorphic beings and a cherished local icon – a totem of Belmont Goats. For years, the Belmont Goat herd grazed in a nearby field before new development pushed them out to the Lents neighborhood earlier this year.

Heading to inner industrial SE, the tour’s next stop was at Peruvian artist Jade Rivera’s massive mural at Union/Pine – a depiction of his wife, laying down with a small bird and skull. This striking piece has a translucent glowing quality. Surprisingly, it only took Jade only a few days to complete.

Just above Jade’s mural, Kazakhstani illustrator Ola Volo and local designer Zach Yarrington collaborated on their Nothing Good Comes Easy mural that involved bold typography and folk-inspired wolves, tangled up in a relationship.

Next up was Dutch painter Joram Roukes’ mural, a distorted double-exposed patchwork of images that included a man with the word “broken” on his sleeve. Masterfully stitched together and executed, this mural was among some of the favorites from this year.

Next the tour quickly swung by NoseGo and Yakima Fields’ 2014 FFTT murals on City Liquidators.

The bicycle group’s next stop was at River City Bicycles to visit Aaron Glasson(New Zealand) and Celeste Byers (San Diego, CA).

This duo travels the world together, often working on ocean activism projects, like Sea Walls Murals for Oceans and PangeaSeed. Together they create bright whimsical images, often of lively aquatic and psychedelic scenes.

For this mural, Aaron and Celeste decided to paint a family floating down a Pacific Northwest river, something they later found out was a favorite local pastime, tubing down our many waterways. The mural also had a personal connection to Celeste, who modeled the figures in the likeness of her great-great aunt and new baby nephew. This mural was a surprise birthday present for her great-great aunt, who was visiting Portland to celebrate her 95th birthday.

Finally, they wanted to represent some of their new friends they had made while painting the mural in Portland, and incorporated their tattoos into the mural’s imagery.

After quick cruise by DALeast’s “Persistent Parabola” wave mural from 2014, the group rolled out to the final mural stop – the BMD World Naked Bike Ride mural.

Painted a few months before the start of FFTT 2015, this huge mural (nearby the new Tilikum Crossing bridgehead) depicts adventure-loving animals in quirky flare participating in Portland’s famous and well-attended annual naked bike ride.

The bicycle tour finished off the afternoon enjoying cold brews and good conversation at the Apex Beer Garden on 12th and Division, just across the street from the recently revitalized “Art Fills the Void!” mural, painted originally by Gorilla Wallflare in 1984 and thus is Portland’s oldest surviving guerrilla graffiti.

PSAA was honored to be a part of the FFTT project again this year; it is a great opportunity for the community to connect, make, interact, and celebrate beautiful urban art. It is also a wonderfully democratic project because it turns the entire city into a public art gallery, accessible and free to everyone. Finally, place-based community events like these encourage people to not just passively observe, but to also engage with and become active participants in the creation of energized, distinct, and personalized public spaces.

More 2015 Tour Photos

2015 SE Portland Bike Route Map

Full List of 2015 FFTT Mural Wall Locations

All Photos © Anton Legoo

2014 Forest for the Trees Mural Project & PSAA Bicycle Tour

Portland Street Art Alliance was honored to be invited to host a guided bicycle tour of the Forest for the Trees murals painted during the 2nd annual project in 2014.

The tour began at the now iconic Rone mural and the new Faith47 masterpiece in downtown Portland. The group of 30 or so bicyclists rode through downtown and the southeast to visit 11 of the 18 new FFTT murals, ending in a classic Portland-style celebration on the patio of Gigantic Brewery. We hope the tour helped the community experience firsthand the magic of public mural making. It was a great opportunity to see the creative process unfold and to hear directly from the artists and festival directors about their vision.

We can’t thank the Portland art and cycling community more for their support in organizing this community event. It was a great success and PSAA is already working on plans to host more street art tours in the city. If you didn’t make it to the tour, and want to see all the new 2014 FFTT murals, check out this awesome bicycle route map we made (with the help of some friends).

Stop 1. 1114 SW Washington | Faith47 (CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA)

Stop 2. 720 NW Davis | Gage Hamilton, Director of Forest for the Trees (PDX)

Stop 3. 1301 SE Grand | J.Shea (PDX)

Stop 4. 2121 SE 6th | Zach Yarrington (PDX)

Stop 5. 840 SE 3rd | NoseGo (PHILADELPHIA)

Stop 6. 425 SE 11th | Spencer Keeton Cunningham (SAN FRANCISCO)

Stop 7. 2306 SE Morrison | Paige Wright (PDX) & Blakely Dadson (PDX)

Stop 8. 916 SE 34th | The Lost Cause (PDX)

Stop 9. 5224 SE 26th | Ogi (TOKYO) & Nosego (PHILADELPHIA)

Post-Tour Celebration with the Forest for the Trees & PSAA crews at Gigantic Brewing!

More photos from the 2014 Forest for the Trees Mural Project...