Portland Street Art Alliance

Painting the town: Murals meet the moment

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


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.