By Emma Grillo /// Staff Writer
As Portlanders and college students, we are often oblivious to the world around us. Between caffeine runs at Case Study and searching for a cheaper version of a math textbook at Powell’s, we sometimes rush past the art all around us. This tendency to keep our heads down really is a shame, because Portland is full of wonderful street art, both authorized and unauthorized. Here’s your crash course to Portland street art, complete with a history and a list of places that you and your friends should check out.
Portland Street Art, A History
Portland’s history with street art began in 1948, when Greek immigrant Efthimiou Stefopoulos started his series of paintings on the columns supporting the old Lovejoy bridge ramp. Stefopoulos was a railroad worker who used his free time on the job to illegally create a series of paintings on these columns. The columns become a staple of Portland life, and were famously featured in Gus Van Sant’s “Drugstore Cowboy.” When the Pearl District was revamped as a shopping and dining haven, from its previous life as a railroad yard, two of the Lovejoy columns were salvaged and put on display in a small square in the Pearl District with hopes of eventual restoration. Old pictures of Stefopoulos’ elegant paintings of old-world birds and lions were blown up and mounted on the columns themselves, along with a request for donations to help restore the columns. Unfortunately, these restoration efforts have been stalled for years, and all that is left now is a defunct website and blown up pictures on the two forlorn columns.
Fast forward to the ’80s and ’90s. When Portland, like most cities in the United States, was hit with newly popular graffiti. As local artist Blakely Dadson said, “In the ’90s there was tons of cool graffiti.”
Unfortunately for artists and viewers alike, Portland decided to crack down on unauthorized street art, and now many artists no longer have time to create the intricate works that they used to.
“I think a lot of what you see in the streets now is really bad, not because the artists aren’t good but because no one has time to paint anything. ‘Cause it’s such a crime… you get really fast tagging,” Dadson said.
Portland Street Art Alliance
Lucky for Portland, there are organizations that are working to keep Portland’s streets and buildings beautiful by promoting authorized street art and murals.
The Portland Street Art Alliance works to “activate Portland’s streets by promoting creative intentions in public spaces.” They do so by advocating and educating the public about the importance of street art, and by helping to connect artists and business owners to create safe spaces for artists’ work. Check out their website, for a database of various beautiful murals throughout the city of Portland.
Forest For the Trees
Another great advocate of Portland street art is Gage Hamilton, who founded Forest For the Trees (FFTT), a not-for-profit public mural project in Portland. Based on Pow-wow Hawaii, FFTT brought together over 20 artists including Dadson and Hamilton (whose work can be found at 2306 SE Morrison and 720 NW Davis respectively) to create over 15 murals spanning the city of Portland. The project not only made the city more beautiful, but as Dadson said, it really brought the community together. Neighbors would come and look at the mural he was working on. The owner of the building said he was “so thankful” for his work.
Still itching for street art reminiscent of the gritty golden years of graffiti? Check out Taylor Electric at 240 SE Clay. This crumbling, roofless old warehouse is one of Portland’s last unauthorized graffiti-covered landmarks. No two days are the same at Taylor Electric, where artists constantly paint and repaint the dilapidated structure. The massive warehouse is home to graffiti, murals, stenciling and even a few eerie sculptures in the shape of cocooned bodies shrouded with face masks that read, “art is my ammo.”
Whether your taste is for the bright murals that can be found across our city, thanks to the work of PSAA and FFTT, or the more rudimentary and wild graffiti of Taylor Electric, be sure to check out the street art all around Portland. (I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing the work of some Lewis & Clark students around the city.)
For more information, check out: pdxstreetart.org and www.forestforthetreesnw.com. Also don’t forget to check out the gallery below!