murals

Painting the town: Murals meet the moment

Businesses covered their windows with plywood. Artists took it from there.

By ANDREW D. JANKOWSKI

Paint got politicized this summer. President Trump’s FOX News surrogates, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), cited the outlaw artform of graffiti as evidence of American collapse, comparing graffiti artists to 19th century insurrectionists back in July. Meanwhile, Trump claimed not to have seen footage of his followers shooting paintballs and other projectiles at unarmed Black Lives Matter demonstrators in downtown Portland back in late August and early September. As the Trump Administration failed to prevent both a recession and thousands of deaths in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, artists have used whatever means they’ve had to reflect the moment, brighten their communities, earn income, and gain exposure.

Street art, graffiti, and resistance-based aesthetics will dominate 2021 visuals. Large-scale street art, such as murals and window paintings, expose viewers to reflections of the moment from a socially safe distance that traditional galleries can’t guarantee. Graffiti and street art represent true freedom, especially with the latter’s outright rejection of formal authority. Graffiti is an outlaw art by nature, which is why it doesn’t figure into traditional academic avenues. The most common distinctions between murals and graffiti are: who authorized the art and for how long the art is authorized. When a borderless pandemic brings global society to a halt, of course, some rules fly out the window as those brakes hit.

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Shoring up Toledo’s Centennial Celebration Mural

Nature has taken its toll on the 13-year-old public artwork commemorating 100 years of the city's history

This seems to be the season for kids and art — a topic that naturally came up earlier this month when the Newport Performing Arts Center celebrated its 30th anniversary. Talk of old times (and new) called to mind for many all the students of dance, music and theater who benefited from the PAC. I’m no expert, but it seems obvious that art opens doors, expands horizons and stretches imaginations. Art, like kids themselves, is about possibility — for everyone.

Thirteen years ago, then Toledo Mayor Sharon Brandstiter saw the possibility for honoring Toledo’s 100 years of history by creating a public work of art. Lawrence Adrian, the artistic director and founder of the Oregon Coast Children’s Theatre and Oregon Coast Children’s Center for the Arts, designed the project and lead the charge to build it. Local residents and companies pitched in, raising something over $10,000 for the project, Adrian said. Students from every school in Toledo had the opportunity to share their creative spirit in what would become the largest mosaic mural in the state.

The Centennial Celebration Mural stretches 96 feet long and stands more than 15 feet high on a stepped retaining wall at the Toledo City Hall parking lot. The design was inspired by more than 100 photos from a century-plus of Toledo history.

The mosaics of the Toledo Centennial Celebration Mural record memorable events of the city’s past 100 years, such as the 1970 filming of scenes for “Sometimes a Great Notion,” based on Ken Kesey’s novel. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Children’s Theater and Oregon Coast Children’s Center for the Arts

“One great aspect of the project was meeting many of the people pictured on the mural, or the children or grandchildren of those same individuals,” Adrian said. The mural and the community support it garnered were among reasons Adrian moved the OCCT/OCCCA from Lincoln City to Toledo, he said.

But the years have taken their toll on the mosaic mural. Mud, rocks and debris fall from above, chipping and otherwise damaging tiles. There’s been some vandalism, too, Adrian said. But mostly the problems come from nature — albeit exacerbated by folks climbing on the structure.

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Painting the town in Newberg

George Fox students lend their hands and paintbrushes to increasing Yamhill County's mural inventory

Those of you in Portland lucky enough to live within a few blocks of an awesome mural have to understand: We don’t have as many artists in Yamhill County as you do. Or as many walls. But give us some credit; we have people working on it.

One of the most important is Luke Zimmerman, a classically trained painter who teaches at George Fox University in Newberg. A few years ago, he started looking around and realized that the community had a serious mural deficit. That’s true of much of Yamhill County, but more on that later. Zimmerman had both students who had mural experience and others who wanted to give it a try, so they all put their heads together, and art happened.

The first of what organizers hope will be several murals by the Yamhill County
Mural Project is visible driving into Newberg on Oregon 99W. Photo by: David Bates

You can see the result as you head into downtown from the north. After you come down the hill on Oregon 99W and hit the curve, you can see the mural on the left side of the road: three pairs of colorful hands in various poses splashed on the east-facing wall of Steve’s Auto Service. It faces a parking lot, so parked vehicles sometimes block the lower section, but most of it is impossible to miss.

Benjamin Cahoon, a 19-year-old second-year George Fox student from Florence, lives across the street and has a 24/7 view from his window. That’s fine with him — he helped paint it, after all.

“It is incredibly fulfilling,” said Cahoon, who also worked on a mural in Albany for BJ’s Ice Cream. “It was an amazing experience.”

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