May 2006

There’s been shrill talk about gentrification of NE Alberta Street running from about 7th to 33rd. This strip was a harvest of derelict buildings, hopped up by arts + food entrepreneurs over the past five years to an active and reactive community.

Real estate values have doubled – some tripled – since the city started buying vacant houses. PDC gave gobs of money to new businesses to tidy up. Stalwart colonialists like Hi ih Gallery (fantastic stuff! Drop what you’re doing and buy him out!) drew audiences from all over, even flipping the staid “first Thursdays” crowd with chaotic and devilish weirdness of “last Thursdays” where it’s likely you’ll be harassed by a drunken clown, steered toward dull drawings by art school drop outs, smell patchouli and pot and perhaps find an excellent taco. Fun.

The combination of low cost housing, low cost rehabitable storefronts, disorganized community opposition, mild climate, passive media + passive local government, and stale or stupid Mainstream Arts Practioners (MAPs) is a perfect stew for rapid growth lead by arts + food entrepreneurs.

What’s lost in the turmoil is low cost housing, always an inner city premium, and what was a fragile and calm neighborhood of working class African American families – many of which have lived along Alberta for decades. Malcolm X to these newcomers is a heavy conversation in college, a Spike Lee film, something which happened a generation ago. To those on their way out, Malcolm X is a signal call, a single human being who stood up and refused to back down.

His mural, pictured above, is attached to the House of Umoja, a “troubled youth” program which has been upgraded at SEI. Unclear whether House of Umoja is still operating. Regardless – this mural should get a loving touch up asap.

For interested artists, I think Sean Hartfield holds the keys to Umoja now.


Wandering through the city on First Thursday. Somehow I missed all the galleries.

In the window at Cameron’s Books, pencilwork product of a hundred hours of pondering – an original handmade advertising artwork.

Cameron’s really must be on your Portland tour. Pick up some Hardy Boys mysteries – in the South-facing window, or find your high school yearbook. Wayne Morse smiles benevolently down upon us all.

Also off SW Third Avenue, off a street-level parking lot. Someone has spray painted a Chinese dragon and then someone else has carefully sprayed it out with gray paint to match the cement, a shadow of a fiction, an inadvertent artwork. How rare! And to find it tucked behind a dumpster as well! Delightful.

I loath all reggae but I love Bob Marley. I don’t know why.

Is this club closed? Do Bob Marley fans stay up late enough to find out? He’s ageless so they must be ageless also.

Puzzles I will never undo.

More advertising – this one of the Lotus Cafe, circa 1930 by former Portlander Karl Abramovic.

Starting to fade into the twilight.

Two beautiful portraits, 5′ by 8′, in the Pink Martini window on Second Avenue – was this a frame shop? Next to what once was Cal’s Books and Wares. Now that place was a mystery!

Who is the artist? I don’t know. Who is the subject? Leo Castelli in a pleasant mood circa 1972?

This one is great too. Who who who?

So many great bookstores were wiped out by the heavy paper thunder of Powell’s. Hmmm. Remember Apache Books? Serendipity Books? I miss Cal’s. Even the moldy smelling basement. The angle of these photos is off – taken through a storefront window and the paintings were resting on a rakish angle.

Handsome devils. Coffee salesmen? Italian parliamentarians? Definitely from out of town.

This elegant spray paint butterfly is the remnant of a large tropical advertisement facing Second Avenue, again at the back of a street-level parking lot, at the Morrison Bridge off ramp. The crew came and stripped off the old plastic sheeting with the ad, and carefully left this remainder – along with a couple of other misc. parts.

Keep your eyes open and the art starts to walk out into your view. Nooks and crannies, hmm?

There are several courthouses in our littletown legal ghetto – Gus Solomon & Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouses, Pioneer Courthouse, and the sturdy Multnomah County Courthouse.

The admins here think it’ll fall over with just a 4 point earthquake. Well, if it happens during off hours that’d be okay. It’s a place of distinct misery. Can you think of two more hopeless career paths? Being a crook or being a criminal defense lawyer? I actually understand the crook part – they’re driven by genetics or heroin or some sort of bad brains. For the lawyers I am agog.

The courthouse itself has four pieces of RACC-kinda art.

White Venus by Harry Widman who is a member at Blackfish and has been around forever.

Harry’s pal Paul Missel, shows a still life from 1968.

A mixed media piece by Sidonie Caron – not interesting. Bad place for it – at the top of a stair.

Some of the judges decorate their courtrooms. Mrs. Judge Michael Marcus makes tapestries.

Upstairs is these large and peculiar piece. Who is she?! RACC label says its Portland by Jon Kasal for whom I draw a blank. Robert Kasal was a prof in the PSU art dept a generation ago. Jon? Are you Prof. Kasal’s son? Who are you? This is a great picture.

Nobody sees it up here but the courthouse ghosts. What a waste.

Finally, if you want to be very very alone, like far side of the moon alone, visit the courthouse law library. There might be a staff person there, but she’s just another ghost.

This might be a Dr. Who deal. You can make all the phone calls you want.

Please ignore all the rules.

Artist makes use of horse rings in downtown Portland is the blurb from the local TV filler about Scott Wayne Indiana’s horse project.

Read from the KATU site. If you have broadband access you can watch the full story from this page. But due credit – I think this blog was first.

Corporate tax prof Jack Bogadanski wrote about them too.

It’s very rare TV or radio in Portland has anything on local arts or local artists. Typically the minimal space is absorbed by traveling musicals or museum shows, or discouraging controversies. Portland has a vibrant and supportive art scene going now – especially with younger artists who need media nurturing to connect with collectors and patrons. So thanks to Julie Murray at KATU.

Artists generate business. They gentrify neighborhoods. They light up nightlife for restaurants & clubs and all the vendor businesses attached to them. Active public artists – like Indiana – inspire young people to learn about the arts as a real here and now activity, a way to engage with your community, and not a stuffy history lesson. Artists pay rent, buy groceries, raise kids, tame wild animals. Very useful citizens.

Read more about Scott Wayne Indiana at his web site – 39 Forks.

Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver has certainly had a turnaround in the past decade. Formerly a hideout for tranisient on their way to or from Share House, with the advent and great success of the Vancouver Farmer’s Market, has morphed into a California Uber Alles paradise.

Surrounded now by cute condos and flyovers from Pearson Airport, the four-block square holds a set of wonderful old trees, flower gardens, and five vastly different pieces of public art.

Who was Esther Short? Her story makes this Pioneer Mother so much more meaningful.

The best first – Avard Fairbanks’ bronze of a pioneer mother with three children and a musket is first rate. Fairbanks has other pieces in Portland which appeared earlier in Portland Public Art, at Jefferson High School and on the Standard Insurance Building.

Fairbanks, best known for his commercial work you still see on the hood of every Dodge truck, loved the west & pioneer images. This is a powerful piece, a true image of the west. She’s calm – looking out into the distance. The children are aware something is out there, a wolf, a stranger, a ghost. They turn inward, gathered in by Mother’s nightdress. Father is gone – absent, or lost in the great journey. She is tired, beginning to be worn. Her gaze is steady, but at her hand is a sturdy musket ready for use.

At the south side of the park – at opposite corners – are two water features: faux trout stream designed, I think, by Robert Murase, and a out of proportion clock tower clearly designed by committee.

The Murase stream is a total success for the 2 to 10 set, crowded with children and their attendants every sunny day. Nothing could be more fun for the kiddos.

The Salmon Run Bell Tower is a weird amalgam of developer goofyiness and political correctness. Each day at noon a doorway about forty feet up the tower opens and strange puppets emerge to tell a story of the original people of the Columbia. The puppets are too high, and at noon 10 months out of the year watchers are blinded by the sun. Further the speakers playing the bland soundtrack for the puppets have blown out or are overmodulated to being incomprehensible. Even stalwart tourists wander off after a couple of moments.

Local artist Jim Demetro created the salmon playing at the foot of the tower.

Demetro also is responsible for the two truely creepy sculptures at Esther Short, a seated figure of businessman George Propsta being handed a flower by a tiny child, and a giant Captain George Vancouver.

Propstra, a local philanthropist and owner of Holland’s Restaurant, gave quite a bit of money away in Vancouver and lead a good civic example. The Propstar Aquatic Center is particularly fun. But small children give this accessable bronze sculpture a wide berth.

It’s a challenging design issue. Make it realistic, accessable, human and complete, while at the same time invunerable to vandals, thieves, sun and ice, and time. This one doesn’t work somehow.

In the Southwest corner of the park is another Jim Demetro, of George Vancouver, namesake of the city and Captain of the HMS Discovery. Its a godawful mess of wacked proportions and tacky features more often found in bank lobbys or high school art faires.
Attached to the bronze sculpture is a long list of Vancouverites who contributed to this disaster. Another dilemma of bad public art – burning prospective collectors! Damn.

But I seem to remember from a decade ago – or longer – another very simular sculpture set in a bank plaza about ten blocks north of the Demetro Vancouver which was also of a ship’s captain, also with a globe, also with a parchment? Can anyone tell me where this other Vancouver bank captain has gone to?

Check our Vancouver’s official public art page. It would be nice to acknowledge the artist by including their names here.

Tucson seems a mix of small towns with a generic university plopped in the center, dangerously tilting the status quo toward young and white and affluent. Downtown there is the fantastic Congress Hotel and city-owned but NPO managed Rialto Theatre (Cat Power played the other night!). Too many storefronts are dim – and most of the town is quite and dark after sundown.

A Borglum bronze sculpture of a local pioneer John Campbell Greenway stands guard outside the Arizona State Historical Society. Nearby on campus is the Arizona State Art Museum. They might be worth visiting – I don’t know.

For artsy fartsy, visit 4th Avenue – the Epic Café, the Salt Crystal Palace, and several large murals of rockstars of a generation ago. Overheard a small pack of hippies exclaiming this town is no fun because the cops + jails are tough on itinerant potsellers. Oh well.

This one, without title or attribution, shows local characters dreaming & pondering while they play out their mortal roles. Tourist treasure.

Art challenges travelers. Some art can be grasped in a glance. Just a glance and you’ve captured as much as there is, all on the surface waiting for your instant attention and gratification. Some you have to take home with you , hang on an empty wall and wait for it’s somethingness to start happening. Could take a week or a month or a year beofre your discover you love it and need it or find it a place in your closet. Towns are the same. Some creep up on you slow.

Another mural dresses a military surplus gives the old red white + blue. Quaint.

But for beauty – skip the town and head out into the ancient Saguaro National Forest and find the Hohokam petroglyphs. The infinite heat has roasted these rocks for a million years, and nobody knows what these ancient drawings signify.

Just another human climbed this mound and sat on these rocks perhaps a thousand years ago and stared out over the deathly desert. What can you see out there, in the sky in the stars in the future?

This fantastic 1958 Louis Bunce (1907 – 1983) painting has blithly hung in the Portland International Airport mall for decades – which is actually not a bad place to kill time.

About 25 x 35, it’s not currently well lit and is set, as you can see, above the entrance to a Coffee People. (Is that part of the lease agreement? The decoration is worth more than the annual revenue!)

Cool! This site reviews airports and mentions the Bunce, as well as artworks by Jack Portland, Larry Kirkland and Pete Beeman.

Bunce gave a long interview to Rachel Rosenfield Lafo in 1982. Very interesting.

Bunce showed at the Heller and Meltzer galleries in NYC during the 1950s. His catalogue keeps going and is repped by Laura Russo Gallery. His work is in dozens of collections all over the world. He traveled the world too – meeting the great poets and artists of the day.

And then he came back to Portland.

When you look at this painting its important to remember Portland in the late fifties was a rough, blue collar town with no galleries, no night life, where the museum was run by the Arlington Club fellows, where the news was manufactured by lumber lobbyists and where the cops + politicans were if not crooked, certainly looking the other way.

It takes both a certain kind of courage and a certain kinds of dedication to remain in the provinces. A small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? Who shall I be? But for Portland this wasn’t the right question. There were no fish and this wasn’t even a pond at all. What did his neighbors think? My his mother must have worried!

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