Sunday, May 31, 2015

Adorn mural

The next mural up is this crowd of space pigs in front of the Adorn tattoo place in the 2500 block of SE Belmont. I ran across this one in an early 2013 post at Kay-Kay's Bird Club, although the design's been changed out since then.

Mt. Hood mural, SE 9th & Belmont

The next stop on the mural tour is at SE 9th & Belmont, where this faded picture of Mt. Hood graces a vacant auto shop building. It's painted on panels instead of directly on the wall, and at least one of the panels has gone missing in the last year or so. I kind of suspect this whole block will be torn out in the near future, and replaced by another cookie-cutter apartment block, with an artisanal goat yoga studio on the ground floor. I suspect that because it's what always happens.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


The ongoing public art tour takes us back to the Portland State campus yet again. This time we're taking a look at Decker, the large ceramic wall sculpture at the entrance to PSU's Millar Library. It was created by Geoffrey Pagen for the library's early 1990s expansion. The Public Art Archive description (which I doubt is an artist statement, given that the author wasn't sure if it's ceramic or not):

This piece is comprised of rectangular sections of flat, perhaps ceramic material that has been painted in deep blue, red, turquoise, and black. A pattern seems to emerge from their painted surfaces. Pieces vary in height, and they are arranged in such a way that they resemble a xylophone that stretches a significant length down the curved wall upon which they are mounted.

On a semi-related note, I probably ought to stop thinking of the expansion as the "new" part of the library. It was under construction while I was in school (and the existing library was loud and kind of dusty as a result), but at this point it's older than most of the students studying there. So "new" is probably not the right word anymore.

"Retail Birthplace of U-Haul" marker

For our next adventure, we're tracking down one of Portland's more unusual historical markers. In front of the U-Haul dealership at SE 88th & Foster is a sign proclaiming the spot as the "Retail Birthplace of U-Haul". The 'Retail' qualifier is there because the company itself was founded in Ridgefield, WA (a small town north of Vancouver) in 1945. But this location was the first actual dealership, apparently. The company's history page goes on in more detail, if you're curious; there's even an official book, if you're that curious. In any case, corporate headquarters moved to Phoenix many years ago in search of a more favorable regulatory environment.

In the unlikely event you've been following this humble blog since the mid-2000s, you might remember I mentioned this marker once before, in a post from September 2006. Which in turn points to a Roadside America page that describes the marker, and I have no idea where I found that page anymore. Probably on the late, lamented ORBlogs aggregator, or in someone's RSS feed, because 2006. I never actually promised I was going to go find this marker, but it did spend close to 9 years at the bottom of various todo lists before I got around to it, which might be a record (so far). But then again, I've never once claimed to be in the breaking news business.

SE 28th Pl. & Powell mural

The next stop on our mural tour takes us to SE 28th Place at Powell, where a long retaining wall holds up the parking lot for a Wendy's fast food place. At some point, the wall was painted in bright primary colors, and it was either done by kids or designed to look that way. Since then it's been tagged extensively, so in parts it's impossible to tell what the original design might have been. Which is sort of unusual; there's a popular theory that murals deter tagging, out of professional courtesy or something. That's the entire rationale behind Weston roses, for instance. So maybe this was a popular graffiti wall before the mural went in, and it gets tagged now out of force of habit. Or maybe the cutesy aspect offended enough people, sort of the way Star Wars fans hate Jar-Jar Binks, so the usual unwritten code doesn't apply here.

Pambiche mural

The next mural on our ongoing tour is Pambiche, on the east side of the Cuban restaurant of the same name at NE 28th & Glisan. The RACC description:

“Pambiche” is a cultural depiction of Cuba, inspired by its history, people and traditions. It blends Cuba’s unique music, dance, architecture, historical figures, and natural beauty. The mural gives visibility to the historically misconstrued people and culture of Cuba, and provides an educational opportunity for the community at large.

The mural is painted on the Apambichao Building, which has unique architecture identical to that of central Havana. The area in which it is located is frequented by Cuban refugees and the mural seeks to aid the tough transition they undertake when relocating.

McDonalds mural, NW 18th & Burnside

Here are a few photos of the faded sorta-Mediterranean mural at the NW 18th & Burnside McDonalds, next to the drive-thru. A mention of it in Sybilla Avery Cook's Walking Portland indicates it's been there since at least 1998. A 1991 Oregonian article refers to a mural at a McDonalds on W. Burnside, and this is the only McDonalds I know of on W. Burnside. So assuming it's the same store, and the same mural, this was painted by Mark Bennett, who's best known for creating the gigantic blue heron mural that towers over Oaks Bottom in Sellwood. A CNN interview with Bennett mentions that he's been creating murals since 1984, so it's newer than that; the "Open 24/7" part of the mural looks like it was maybe part of the "Mac Tonight" ad campaign that ran 1986-90. It's entirely possible it hasn't been repainted since then. I suppose it could use a touch up, but I actually kind of like the faded look in this case.

Wheel Series I

The next installment in our ongoing public art tour takes us back to Vancouver WA's little municipal sculpture garden, at E. 9th & Broadway. This collection focuses heavily on Portland-area artists circa 1960-1980, and we've already looked at their Manuel Izquierdo and James Lee Hansen sculptures. Today's installment is about Don Wilson's Wheel Series I. Wilson was/is an art professor at Portland State, and he also created Holon on the South Park Blocks, and the massive Interlocking Forms along Portland's downtown transit mall. Both of those date to the late 1970s (although the date situation with Holon is complicated, for reasons I don't understand). I'm pretty sure the "1998" on the sign here is when Wheel Series I was donated, not when it was created. If I had to guess, I'd say this dates to the late 70s as well. Family resemblance and all that.

Monday, May 25, 2015

bird sculpture, 1st ave.

Here's another item to file under the "gone" tag. Until recently, the big office complex at SW 1st & Market was home to the Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance firm, and the building's main lobby featured this sculpture of a flock of birds over the front desk. I noticed it while walking past the building, and immediately figured it was a Tom Hardy sculpture, since it looks very much like a smaller version of his large flock of birds at Lloyd Center. I don't have actual confirmation of this, but his style is pretty distinctive. You could see the resemblance comparing the photos, if my photos of this one were better. Unfortunately I won't be able to get better photos; the lobby's been renovated since I took these and the sculpture's no longer there.

Old Wives Tales mural

The next stop on the mural tour is the former Old Wives Tales restaurant at SE. 13th & Burnside, which had a nice painting of Mt. Hood over the front door. The restaurant closed about a year ago when the building was sold to rapacious apartment developers. I haven't checked back recently but I'm told the old building has already been demolished, so I'm applying the "gone" tag to this post. Given the current state of the Portland real estate market, I'm going to be using the "gone" tag a lot going forward.

Death Industry mural

The next mural up is this somewhat gory design on the back of a building at N. Flint & Tillamook, overlooking Interstate 5. Wiredforsound23 on Flickr calls it "Death Industry mural"; I don't know whether that's "official" or not, but I'm going with it for lack of a better name. In any case, it's by Spencer Keeton Cunningham, who also did the cool snake mural that wraps around a building at SE 11th & Stark.

Andy & Bax mural

Our next stop on the ongoing, ever-growing Portland mural tour is the the Andy & Bax surplus store at SE Grand & Oak, where these painted outdoor scenes wrap around the outside of the building. The store's been around since the end of WWII or thereabouts, but this mural is pretty recent, created in November 2014 by Jose Solis. I gather the store gets repainted in a different design every so often, as a little Google-fu turns up photos of several previous designs.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

NE Morris & 37th

One of the many ongoing projects at this humble blog involves tracking down Portland's handful of traffic circles. I started this because there aren't a lot of them here, and the ones we have often have something interesting in the center, like public art or rose gardens or a fountain. I had an old note on my giant omnibus TODO list/map that there was one more circle to track down, located at NE 37th & Morris in the middle of the Alameda neighborhood. So when I finally got around to tracking it down, I realized it was just one of the little traffic calming circles the city likes to add instead of speed bumps. I normally don't bother with those because they're not very interesting, and there's a lot of them, so I'm not sure why I put this particular one on the list. I mean, I'm sure I would have looked at it in Street View ahead of time and noticed that. There must have been some other reason why a.) I knew this was here to begin with, and b.) then thought it was worth a visit. But for the life of me I can't recall what that might have been. The only thing Google turns up is a 2008 neighborhood effort to add more traffic calming widgets along 37th south of Morris, which the city politely declined to do. And I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be enough to generate a TODO item. I really need to start including a "why" when I put things on a list, or maybe even not put them on the list if there isn't a good "why". Although a significant chunk of this blog wouldn't exist if I'd had a rule like that before now...

Vending machine mural, SE 7th & Main

The next mural up is a picture of a generously-stocked vending machine, located outside the big vending machine dealership at SE 7th & Main. The building it's on is also home to a medical marijuana dispensary, so customers there are likely to run across these pictures of sandwiches, fruit, slices of pie, etc. on exiting. I'm pretty sure this would be a great place to put a real vending machine instead of just a picture of one.

William "Bill" Potts Rose

The next Weston rose mural on our occasional tour is the William "Bill" Potts Rose, next to a gas station at NE 33rd & Broadway. Like a lot of the other roses this also includes a big US flag, plus ads for the self-storage and property management arms of the Weston real estate empire. There's also a little "Under God" beneath the flag, which most of them don't have. A 2008 Stumptown Stumper in the Tribune mentions that this rose honors one of Joe Weston's close friends. To be honest I'm kind of surprised more people in commercial real estate don't do stuff like this, I mean, not rose murals per se, but little nods to close friends and family. Maybe the sort of people who prosper in commercial real estate don't often have close friends and family. I dunno.

Burnside Arts Trust mural, SE 9th & Madison

The next mural on our tour is just across the alley from the FAB PDX mural in the previous post. This one was created in 2013 by the Burnside Arts Trust. They're apparently defunct now and their website is offline, but one of the artists has a nice photo of the mural on their personal website. My photos aren't as nice, but (as I'm not exactly famous for chutzpah) they're the best I could do without scaling the fence or talking my way in to the building or something.

FAB PDX mural

The next mural is in a gated alley at FAB PDX on SE 9th, between Madison & Main. The company does custom wood and metal fabrication, for retail displays, exhibits, etc. The mural was painted in 2011, and apparently modified/added to since then, since the photos in that Facebook post don't quite match mine.

Aquatic Maintenance mural

Here's a small mural outside an aquarium shop on NE 42nd, in the Hollywood District. If you look closely, it's signed "Jade" and dated "9-00".

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Levitated Light

The next stop in the ongoing public art project takes us back to Portland State University campus, this time to the 1980s-era business school building, where Levitated Light hangs in the large atrium facing SW 6th Ave. It's visible from outside, and I just sort of assumed it was a fancy chandelier. Although as you can see here, the lights are actually mounted in the atrium ceiling, and it's not a chandelier at all. It turns out this is a large sculpture by Dale Eldred, who I gather was quite a well-known artist. This is the part where I explain once again that I'm not really an art critic or much of an expert, and my unfamiliarity with his work is not an interesting data point.

I haven't figured out how PSU ended up with a large (but very obscure) sculpture by an apparently famous artist. The Oregonian apparently never reported on in when it went in, nor have any of the paper's art critics mentioned it in the decades since then. So... I dunno. It did show up in someone's interesting list of Portland-area glass art. (I say "interesting" because I may want to track down a few of the other entries on the list at some point.)

After All

The ongoing art tour takes us back to Gateway Transit Center again; this time we're looking at After All, the trio of rounded stones outside the Oregon Clinic building. This was created in 2010 (when the clinic building went in) by artist Jonathan Bonner, who also has what might be the world's silliest Twitter account. Here's the RACC description of the sculpture:

Working with the confines of the triangular landscaped area, the artist created three identical granite ellipsoids that emanate from a single point underground. The forms suggest several things: flowers, seeds, or a sitting figure. It is not intended to be conclusive, but rather leaves the viewer to draw his or her own meaning from the piece.

As you can see here, at least one viewer saw it and drew the meaning "park bench". It's about bench height, in an area where people expect benches, so I bet this isn't rare. And no, I didn't try to shoo the guy away so I could get a better photo. That would be a fun conversation: "Hi, I run a weird little blog you probably haven't heard of, and I'm going to need you to move so I can take some photos of the art you're sitting on. Ow! Ow! Stop punching me!"

bongo dog mural, se pine

And then there's this mural of a cartoon dog playing bongo drums, on the back of a building on SE Pine between 9th & Sandy. I don't know anything about this one; it's not signed, and searching the interwebs about it comes up with precisely nothing. It's on the back wall of a commercial printing company, not a veterinarian or dog day care or anything, so the business isn't an obvious clue either. There's bound to be a weird and funny story behind this, but I have no idea what it is. If you know, or you have a theory about it, feel free to leave a note down in the comments. Thx. Mgmt.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Geometric Windmill

This is going to be a somewhat unusual art post. Geometric Windmill is a sculpture that sat in Lake Oswego's Millennium Plaza Park back in 2007. I was relatively new at blogging back then and neglected to get a photo showing the name of the thing, so the photos sat around unused in iPhoto for aeons. Well, internet aeons, but you get the idea. So I dug the photos out some time last year and started digging around looking for a name. Mostly, I admit, because it seemed like an interesting and non-trivial internet search problem to work on. I actually ended up doing some Google image search, looking for anything similar to my photos here, and/or any art from Lake Oswego taken during the right time period. This eventually led me to an old city arts page with a little info on it, crucially giving the name and artist. It's by Minnesota sculptor Tom Brewitz, who specializes in kinetic art like this. A page on his website includes a video of Geometric Windmill doing its thing (though note that it's a 14mb QuickTime download, not just something you can watch on YouTube). The sculpture has long since left Lake Oswego. At one point it was included in the Port of San Diego's Urban Trees 3, a rotating exhibition along the San Diego waterfront. More recently, the city of Mount Dora, Florida purchased it around 2013 or so and installed it to spruce up the city's downtown. So that's the story. I suppose it's not really much of a story, and I realize probably nobody besides me cares at all, but The Case of the Geometric Windmill was a longstanding (albeit minor) mystery here at this humble blog, and I'm a little pleased to have finally sorted it out.

Sr. Ilene Clark Rose

The next Weston rose on our mini-tour is the Sister Ilene Clark Rose, on the Weston Plaza building (i.e. company headquarters) at NE 22nd & Broadway. It's dated 2013, and like a lot of recent Weston roses it's mounted on the building and isn't really a mural, per se. I think they do this so they can take a rose down and relocate it when they sell a building; I've already seen one instance where they did exactly that. Anyway, I'm not really sure who this is named for or why; a quick search comes up with a teacher in Seattle by that name, but it may or may not be the same person. So no links, in part due to a residual Catholic school fear of angering nuns.

Walgreens mural, SE Chavez & Belmont

The next mural up is a very large nature scene on one side of the Walgreens store at SE Chavez (39th) & Belmont. I haven't been able to find out a lot about this one. I ran across it on a Kay's Bird Club post and went to check it out. A post about it at the short-lived, erstwhile PDX Murals blog (which was only active for 2 months in 2007) tells us it's been there since at least 2007, but I don't know exactly when it was created or by whom. The store itself dates to some time in the 1990s (at least according to a Vintage Portland comment thread about the 39th & Belmont intersection), so that gives us a rough time window, at least.

A Tumblr called "Art Wall of Shame" ranted about this mural a couple of years ago, invoking both Thomas Kinkade and Bob Ross. Which, I dunno... I mean, nobody goes to a Tumblr called "Art Wall of Shame" looking for nuanced art criticism, but that's just plain cruel, that is.

Persistent Parabola

The next mural on our tour is Persistent Parabola by DALeast, a prominent Chinese mural artist. It's located on the north side of the East Side Central Garage building at SE 6th & Yamhill, and was created for Portland's 2014 Forest for the Trees mural-palooza. An article about it at Street Art News includes a quote from the artist:

The new mural titled “Persistent Parabola”, this is the moment of the wave playing with a cargo ship and the falling crates. There is a old Chinese saying: Water can carry a boat, it can also turn it upside down.I imaging my life journey is like the cargo ship carrying all the crates on the ocean, as well as the plans, wishes, relationships and the things that I've attached with as the importance. By thinking of the capacity and impermanence face to the ocean, I feel I am the most insignificant one in the entire world. It brings me more appreciations towards what I have right now. I guess that’s where the idea come from behind this work.

A Hypebeast article about the mural includes a short making-of video, because Portland murals always seem to have making-of videos, or at least all the cool ones do.

Keep Our Rivers Clean

The next mural on our ongoing tour is Keep Our Rivers Clean, on the Pacific Motorsports garage at SE 10th & Powell, across the street from the famous Original Hotcake House. This one isn't on most of the lists or maps of Portland murals for some reason, but I ran across it on a page at PDX Street Art and tracked it down from there. The mural was created in 2011 by a group of artists known as SubM2. The garage's Twitpic account has a bunch of photos of the mural being painted, which may or may not be available now based on how the ongoing Twitpic soap opera turns out: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] and more here.

Glyph Singer No. 3

The next stop in our mini-tour of VanWa public art is Glyph Singer No. 3, in the city's Broadway St. sculpture garden. It's a 1976 piece by James Lee Hansen, a prominent Vancouver sculptor who was a key part of Portland's mid-20th Century art scene. Hansen's work has appeared here a few times before, including a couple of sculptures on downtown Portland's transit mall. If you visit the tag and look at the other examples, you'll quickly notice that he has a consistent and very distinctive style. It's always struck me as a sort of 1950s pulp Sci-Fi book cover look. I have no idea whether this resemblance is intentional or not, though.


The next stop on our mini-tour of VanWa public art is Phrogy, the goofy carved redwood frog at E. 11th & Broadway. As the story goes, back in 1981 a local businessman and his wife were on an anniversary trip to Carmel, California, a coastal town on Monterey Bay that's been an artist colony and tourist trap since time immemorial. Carmel elected Clint Eastwood as mayor for a few years back in the 1980s, if that gives you any idea. Anyway, the couple ran across this frog somewhere in Carmel, fell in love with it, bought it, and then donated it to the city, as one does. And the city took it, because the Pacific Northwest of 1981 didn't have today's annoying hangups about being tasteful and highbrow. They don't even seem to have kept track of who carved it originally, since I can't find that tidbit of information anywhere.

In any case, it's graced the streets of downtown Vancouver ever since, originally at a prominent spot at 11th & Main. By the early 2000s, time and the elements had taken their toll on the frog, and concerned citizens wrote letters to the local newspaper calling it an eyesore. It was restored a few years later (and no, I don't know how you restore a carved redwood frog), and was unveiled at its current location in March 2014. It even has a Facebook fan page with a few dozen likes, which is a few dozen more than most public art can muster.