Ansty About Antsi Part 2



This piece is an effort to sum up feelings of ambivalence about graffiti. I’m divided on whether my reporting on something many consider delinquency means I’m supporting or even glorifying the activity. I offer a disclaimer when I’ve written about it before, a statement that has found me wallowing in wishy-washy conceits. I embrace creativity and graffiti is too pervasive to ignore. It’s on buildings, street signs, poles, highway barrier walls, jersey walls and every other wall. I’ve seen it removed, usually painted over, but it sprouts back after it’s covered. Some markings linger when they aren’t cleaned up. So, we live with those.

I’ve wondered if it’s right to bring attention to street art. A past commenter questioned responses to a previous graffiti post noting that other comments, mine included, sounded like they were written by “a bunch of people who have not had your property vandalized.” It was a mild rebuke that had me searching for where I stand. I’ve been lucky not to have had personal property tagged, but I realized that graffiti in my neighborhood is something I have to look at. I responded to another commenter with a quote from film maker Andrew H. Shirley about his movie Wastedland 2 that appeared in the Willamette Week. Referring to graffiti he said, “It’s anti-everything. It’s punk. It remains outside of the system. It alludes to dysfunction and allows a public audience to see that people without a voice still have a message, and by any means necessary will get it out to you.” The quote made clear grafitti’s unstoppable nature. It’s easier to take other’s thoughts and see how they reflect my view-point and that quote put things in perspective. Some days I complain, other days I admire. This may be my opportunity to use my blog as a way to get a dig in at all the lesser, yet omnipresent expressions of amateur-Cy Twomblys or maybe, just a chance to make a Cy Twombly reference.

Graffiti has that feeling of being something it shouldn’t be. It can be called art but it’s art foisted on an unsuspecting audience on a unordinary canvas. It’s an intrusion on people’s property or businesses. For clarity, I sought input from other sources. I had heard rumblings of a Matt McCormick film about graffiti. Matt is a film maker who keeps a tight grip on his work mostly showing it on the big screen. I was surprised to see it appear in multiple versions online. When I contacted him through messenger, he directed me to his film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal. An earnest narrator talks about graffiti cover-ups that mimic art movements, something I’ve touched on, and I found this to be humorous reaction to municipalities dealing with graffiti. He commented on something I’m guilty of: “It does creativity a disservice to lump all graffiti into the same category,” he wrote. He touched on the conundrum of the varying skill levels of people who are taking spray paint to public places noting, “there is some beautiful, creative work out there being made by some talented artists, but there’s also a lot of crap that’s just uglifying the urban landscape.” This reflects my inability to appreciate squiggles as much as someone who makes an effort to create something viable and uses a relatable tag.

Later that day Matt posted on Facebook about a new form of cover up he’s noticed that he named “cross-hatch.” I’ve noticed this and wondered about this technique, as had many commenters. Who is doing this? Does it save paint? Does it make someone who creates graffiti upset to see their work only partially erased?

Other cover-up styles include blotting out the image with black spray paint, an homage to Robert Motherwell, perhaps, or painting over it with squares that usually don’t match the paint job. I’ll touch on these questions and more when I take on graffiti abatement and clean up in a future post.

Will Simmons, who writes the Pittsburgh Orbit, explained that in Pittsburgh, “there’s a whole lot of graffiti that just feels like dogs marking their territory—stupid tags and whizzle-jiggles that seem to cover every street sign, lamp-post, building backside and bridge support.” Will finds these “cool in a gritty, urban America way,” something he explained he didn’t experience growing up in a small town. Seeing old buildings defaced bums him out though. “(Graffiti) occupies a very interesting and entirely subjective netherworld between public menace and cultural institution,” he wrote. Will derives joy from what he calls, “graffiti in another state of mind, stencils and wheat paste and cool murals and weirdo installations–the artists *know* this stuff won’t last, won’t bring them any acclaim, nor any monetary gain, but they still give it to the world.”

While working on this piece, I witnessed a tagger in action. I always thought this happened in the dead of night with the world asleep. Around 10pm during a dog walk, I stumbled upon a tall tagger wearing a white hoody. Brazen! He was applying the last of his tag on the side our neighborhood motel that’s being renovated. The next day, my inner arm-chair quarterback had me searching for a response. I could have rushed him, attacked him, at least yelled at him a bit, or called the police. I realized what bothered me more, besides not knowing what to do, was the realization that I was going to have to look at the loopy script and strange combination of letters until the renovation was finished. I’m particular about my graffiti. Anyone blatant enough to tag before bedtime deserves flak. My doing nothing led to a plot line out of a comic book. Not scaring this tagger away, with a Batman-like vigilantism, led him to return and mark up the motel’s mural. I hated seeing it tagged.

I also contacted Jeff Bagato, my go-to authority on all things underground. He offered educational tidbits, perspective and slang terminology. He has an appreciation for the “rich and diverse” street culture of Portland adding “there’s a general blackout in mainstream media regarding graffiti, most likely because they fear that publicizing it will only encourage the artists; nonetheless, these same outlets have no problem publicizing the work of serial killers, mass shooters, and monomaniacal presidents, with the same result.” This had me thinking that I have only seen one local news story about graffiti since moving to Portland ten years ago It was a story about the City’s abatement office that seemed understaffed and overwhelmed.

Like the others I’ve polled quality is an issue. “You get beginners and toys slopping cutty tags around, or you might get fully developed pieces or really interesting stickers or posters,” Jeff wrote. “Good with the bad. I believe graffiti is one of the major art and counterculture movements of our time, perhaps the only one that has remained on the edge over its life cycle since the 70s. While other movements have been commodified to some degree, graff and street art remain dangerous and unacceptable to many people. Even to photograph it, or to write about it, can be seen as an accessory to the vandalism.” Jeff pointed out that taggers get respect for the work they do, not necessarily for attention from bloggers. He schooled me on the “real hierarchy between “real” graff writers and street artists, between petty tagging and full pieces, and between those who do a couple of things when they’re bored or drunk and those who bomb the hell out of a town. There is a code among writers and serious street artists about respecting the work of others and the spots where it appears.”

Jeff included in his email a plea that people see beyond the “perception that writers and street artists are thugs or vandals or just playing around” adding that no stereotype applies because “many (street artists) are serious, educated and accomplished artists of all ages and walks of life.” He directed me to the story of Ultra, a DC street artist, who theses days teaches art and creates airbrush paintings. I may still be confused and in the middle of an unrelenting battle but the fight to stop graffiti seems unwinnable. Sure there is bad graffiti. Most would consider all graffiti bad, but those who heed the call to tag have to start somewhere. We can only hope they improve. Meanwhile people can find ways to deal with it. These other viewpoints have helped me accept graffiti. Jeff advised me to write about subjects I enjoy. Compared to ugly billboards selling me things, graffiti isn’t half bad. There’s plenty of clutter out there, blaring and blasting away at our senses. We live with it.

So what’s good graffiti?


Mook writing his name on the back of this I-5 highway sign took daring, planning and a need to  figure out how to get four letters on the back of three signs. Combining the two O’s in one panel did the trick.

This rabbit motif in pink takes the sting out of the visual clutter. Sure it’s a nuisance but a pink rabbit-like thing seems harmless.

Fast food can be equated with graffiti if you’re going for a fast food vs real food, graffiti vs art kind of debate. I’ve always appreciated these fast food meal creations. This one is operating on a scale larger than usual. The numbers are a mystery but this might be a work of biting satire.

 

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Antsy About Antsi

The name, or tag rather, intrigues me. It’s part of a culture that I find fascinating when I should find it repellent. As an old curmudgeon, homeowner type, I’m expected to dislike graffiti. For me, I’m working on understanding it and living with it. It’s everywhere. Antsi graffiti has seized the zeitgeist with a spray painted, nervous penmanship. Antsi, spelled with an i, may not refer to the word antsy but it feels weirdly reassuring to be reminded of these times living in the United States of Anxiety. We’re dealing with the work of vandals creating an unstoppable visual clutter as well as the mystery of who is making it.

I didn’t realize how much of a graffiti star Antsi was until I wrote a post that mentioned the tag in passing. It began to get a slow and steady trickle of readers before becoming my most read blog entry. It’s not hard, on a typical day traveling from North to SW Portland and back for work, to see evidence of Antsi. The name is out there. Sometimes it’s small, other times it’s big and bold and it includes a black outline, my preferred method. Graffiti has to rise above the tiny nuisance scrawl.

Here’s where I feel the need to offer my typical disclaimer. I come to bury graffiti not to praise it. While a third-rate Shakespeare reference will do nothing to stop this expression, I once again run the risk of glorifying graffiti. Antsi can’t be ignored. The sheer amount of tags, the word it implies and the audacity of some of the locations, especially around I-5, makes me realize that this is, in some way, a special tag that’s due consideration. It will continue in the cycle of spray painting, clean up and more graffiti. Antsi survives by staying ahead of the clean up crew. Meanwhile, additional thoughts on  graffiti will be explored in a second post. My appreciation for graffiti involves unique looking efforts, examples created under death-defying circumstances and tags that makes sense and might carry a message, a challenge when we’re dealing with a lone word.

In a sea of “rafts,” “qwilts,” and “napkn” tags Antsi stands out. The real message may have more to do with my imagination applying meaning. I know the city and highway department have better things to do than cover up graffiti. It is a waste tax dollars. That money could find better ways to be wasted.  For me, it’s become the strange entertainment of obsessing over new tags and spray paint designs on my commute to work. There doesn’t seem much else to experience trodding back and forth with other disillusioned souls. Here’s a few tales about the good times I’ve experienced through the work of Ansti.

Antsi on a Truck

It’s hard to tell if the owner of this truck gave permission to have his vehicle painted. It seems like there was an opportunity to make the paint job spiffy. It’s apparent that no effort was made to paint over the side panel which allows Antsi an opportunity to have a moving billboard promoting his brand. Not wanting to miss a chance to get this photo, I had to drive down a side street to wait for this truck to pass by.

Antsi and the Donut King

I do have to admit to playing with my phone while driving. This was one of these moments where I was hoping to catch an image of the Donut King’s house for a future story. A decent image would save me a trip for more photos. Looking at the image later, I noticed the Antsi tag on a jersey wall in the lower left corner. The red color adds a splash of vibrancy, something different from the usual black and white color scheme.

Antsi Tags Portland City Market

It’s not everyday that you get a sense of the personal experiences that come from someone having their property tagged. I’m writing about this from a memory of a while back based on what I read on Nextdoor. The feeling I recall was pure rage. The business owner had a legitimate complaint about an Antsi tag that appeared when his Lombard Avenue business was in the midst of a renovation. Antsi managed to keep the paint mostly on the temporary plywood.

Stuck on Antsi


In the Albina neighborhood, I may have found the answer to what the Antsi promotion is about: Boasting sticker sales. Going from graffiti to stickering seems like a natural progression with opportunities for cross marketing, double branding or other phenomenons of our current times that mystify me. I’m getting more antsy trying to figure it out.

Doldrum Shake Ups: Sign Additions

Municipal signs lack something. The design aims to present information and educate the public so it needs to be eye catching but not fancy. These signs have no fear of boring anyone. I’ve mentioned in this blog that I read everything, except the fine print and the manual. I’ve been rewarded with discovering signs sporting interjections of added art by unknown artists and unsung heroes giving a bit of personality to these morbidly mundane municipal messages.

Fat Cat Walking

Some signs not only spell out their message but illustrate it as well. That’s where the fun of this downtown Portland sign begins. This is not a stretch of sidewalk for loitering. Don’t stand around or you’re liable to get trampled by a diverse horde. You might be strolled, rolled, tripped over, poked by a cane or suffer a giant cigar poke to the eye. Wait a minute, that cigar wasn’t part of the original design. How fantastic is it that someone decided this sign needed improvement? Not only did the culprit risk getting walked over when decorating the sign, they actually nailed it. If you can imagine the figure minus the cigar and top hat, the man is joining this procession in full Fat Cat stride. Admire the coolness, the back lean, hand in pocket bravado adjusting his pace as not to crowd the cane bearing slow walker in front of him. What Fat Cat should be without a giant cigar and top hat? Keep puffing along Fat Cat, if you weren’t so relaxed and cool, I’d expect to see you in the front of the line.

Walking the Dog

While the Stick Figure Guy has been the butt of many jokes in his time I’ve never had a problem with him. This floating head, handless, footless, jumper wearing dude has always represented a person doing what the sign communicates his figurative needs to be. In this case the man is trying to cross the street. The sign includes a shout out to dog walkers on SW Capitol Hwy. As a dog walker myself, I welcomed the acknowledgement of the dog walking chore. Of course dogs need to cross streets too. Why were they forgotten in the first place? Our unknown artist missed an opportunity to draw the dog in stick style although why would anyone, there’s no stick breed. Dog walking in this case is challenging when you consider that Stick Guy has nary a hand and not much of a wrist to hang a leash on.

Danger Boy

This sign on Interstate Ave. reveals another dramatic development in the life of a Stick Figure Guy. A bolt of electricity strikes deep into his inky insides from a broken wire as Danger Boy looks on. The additional drawing offers an example to Stick Man on how it’s really done. To avoid danger simple choose to sit far away from wires. With his big eyes, Danger Boy remains wide eyed, mouthlessly silent and alert in the face of all treacherous situations. He’s doing double duty filling up a serious hole of white space in a sign that suffers from a poor design.

Where the Streets Have No Name

Outside a bus stop on Barbur Blvd in SW you’ll find a street sign addition that seems to call out mournfully the absence of something, well, absence. It’s true, as the sign feels the need to say, after those gaudy iron pipes there’s no more sidewalk. How would that not be obvious to anyone who might encounter it? After a few steps and a look around someone might try consider where the sidewalk went but the sign has additional information that’s let them know the exact point where the sidewalk ends. Equally important as questions go, who felt the need to add letters as if the original message on the sign wasn’t interesting enough? Someone out there was inspired to add the necessary flare supplement the sign’s plain design. It now takes on a kind of existential quality. Thankfully the effort was made so a few bored commuters, some daring pedestrians and an urban explorer or two might have an opportunity to be shaken out of their doldrums.

6/7/17 Weeks later I was embarrassed to find out via the Hidden Portland for the Curious Facebook group that this is a reference to a Shel Silverstein book. I work in an elementary school so I know I’ve seen those books around but I was more of a Tom Lehrer fan.

I got a synchronous tip from Cupcake Macfarlane about the work of the Billboard Liberation Front.  Check it out!

Exotic Defacement

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When an official looking green sign caught my eye, I decided to walk the dog over and have a look. It was a public notice taped to a side wall of a of a dormant building, home to a small and former, nondescript auto repair shop. I thought notices were usually orange but this one, regarding a Marijuana Regulatory License, made its green color all the more appropriate. Finding out about another pot shop moving into the neighborhood is not the story here. The more the merrier, I guess. Even a marijuana dispensary taking over a potentially contaminated auto shop is not reason enough to call the EPA. What would be the point?

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On my way over to read the public notice I took a picture of a poster on a utility pole. There were messages scrawled on it and a splash of red ink that looked like an anarchy symbol. It was getting dark when I photographed the poster so I didn’t look at the image until the next morning. That’s when I made the discovery: Someone had it out for the Exotic Ball.

Poster torn!

Poster torn!

I remembered that I had seen similar posters torn down. My theory was someone was defaming while someone else didn’t like the defamation or was offended by the poster. These assumptions flooded my mind as I traveled by Max train and bus to work on a rainy morning. My questions were: Why take anything out on a poster? What has it done to anyone besides try to look foxy and do a bit of advertising? If you need a platform for your political message why use someone else’s sign? You don’t jack someone else’s poster. In the name of free speech people should be able to display ads without reprisal by those who might be offended. The best theory I’d considered revolved around a loner who couldn’t get a date to take to the Exotic Ball. It’s like an R rated Stalker/Cinderella plot. Someone type up that screenplay right away!

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Let’s consider this defamation. First there’s an awful lot of gobbledy gook obscuring the image of two ladies, with fantastic taste in foot wear, perhaps in a bathroom, an image of how wild things get even in the restrooms of the Exotic Ball. Then we see 666, I mean really if the devil doesn’t go to the Exotic Ball who the hell does? Or who admits to it, anyway? Also, I’m wondering about Hot Shot and Lord Pound.

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While riding home that day after work, I realized the poster had nothing to do with the Exotic Ball because it doesn’t exist. I had confused exotic with erotic, easy to do when the words are one letter different. This post is becoming one of those elderly hard of hearing jokes. It’s the Erotic Ball that’s held at varying times each year at the Crystal Ballroom. My assumption was that it’s held in February but there probably is already enough romance that month. I remember being at a Crystal Ballroom event and getting an unsolicited earful and an over informative report about the experiences of one participant. There was one specific clue from the poster that had me taking a long, slow fall from my jump to conclusions and embarrassing myself while dealing with the realization that I had just written my first piece of fake news.

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It hit me, the medium is the message. The interpretation is anyone’s guess. I can see Marshall McLuhan from that scene in the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall but now he’s talking directly to me. “You know nothing of my work,” he says.

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The women in the defaced poster were Exotic pinups from a magazine that’s distributed from various area strip clubs. I went from defending the Erotic Ball to dealing with something that became weird and possibly not in the realm of upbeat, positive Portland sanctioned weirdness. This was an attack on pin up photography which included prankish and juvenile Satanism. I characterize it that way because the easiest way to shock people is to reference Satan. I understood what made people want to tear it down. There’s a Satanism bias that occurs when people see the number 666. I tend to laugh these things off but there’s a disturbing element to all of this. A perfectly good Exotic pin up poster was trashed multiple times.

Reaping wind!

Reaping wind!

Now I have to ask myself, or maybe the world, a series of different questions that may never be answered. Who designs posters by scrawling over Exotic Pinup February 2017? What is the message? Who tore the posters off the other utility poles? Did the devil make anybody do any of this? What’s the point of including an illegible (uh oh, legible on another poster) email address? Who would I be emailing and what would be said? Something like: I’m an admirer of your illegible, satanic, insanity, perhaps? I have no answers at this time but I’m only half as confused as I was when I started this blog post.

Auto Message

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It can be a nice life if you’re easily entertained as I am. If something out of the ordinary catches my eye I want to document it. This compulsion has grown since I’ve had pages of a blog to fill. I was attracted to the handwritten and homemade feel of these messages that I spotted on cars and in car windows. I appreciate people’s needs to communicate especially by way of automobiles which have the potential to be roving bulletin boards.

Honkies Stop!

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If the first part is too faint to read it says:

Do not beep your horn to make me go faster. These roads are for walkers, bikers; the old and the young.

I do believe there’s a semi-colon in the message written in marker directly on the car. Or, is it a stray random dot above that comma? The poor sad semi-colon feels like a dying breed in the punctuation world. A message could get lost due to over analysis. No matter – the message is clear. Is it possible that some of the honkers are people still mad about past elections? Since the message is fading it’s harder for people to read the driver’s anti-honking proclamation.

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Rage in the Machine

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This statement is bolder and may be easier to see in a traffic jam. Visibility is hard to gauge since I have not had the pleasure of seeing this sign bring its message to where it’s needed the most: to the people stuck in that traffic. I use the word pleasure because I know I need a good laugh and reading material, ideally a combination of the two, when I’m stuck, ass-deep in bumpers and car exhaust and I’m not going anywhere for awhile.

I’m trying desperately not to acknowledge the typo in this message just as I would hope my audience would not throw the errors in this blog back in my face. No one has ever gotten mad enough or made any signs that I have seen about the traffic engineers who designed our roads and created this stasis induced road rage leading to nightmares about a traffic system. These folks seem never to have anticipates an influx of traffic year after year. I suppose that message is too complicated to express on a sign taped to the inside of a back window.

Driving Blind

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You have to love this simple, yet effective and humorous sign. It’s a great depiction of a nervous dog. It’s hard to imagine how anyone gets a nervous dog to pose for a picture but here’s proof that it can be done. The message about a seeing eye dog insinuates that the student driver is sight impaired. Is that even safe?  To top it all off the sign is unceremoniously taped to the window with wide gaudy yellow tape. Nice touch. Who put the sign on the vehicle the dog or the blind driver?

 

 

Buddy Holly Lives On

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This graffiti has been a fixture in the Kenton neighborhood for years. It can be found on a building that looks more commercial than residential but it does not appear to be a business. The first time I saw it I considered old Buddy Holly and I agreed. He lives. Holly died young on that fateful early February night fifty-eight years ago and left a lasting legacy. This is a tale of graffiti with a few revisions. The original wasn’t something I bothered to document. Fortunately neighborhood instagrammer and raconteur, Graham Marks, had taken a picture. “Buddy Holly Lives,” it said until someone added the word “on.” Now Buddy Holly Lives on.

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In the time I spent working in a group home I had a routine with one of the clients.  We played music while I helped him get dressed for work. We wore out his slim cd collection. Then I discovered the weirdly reasonable selection of cds for sale at Rite Aid. There was a cd of Bruce Springsteen demos, some Dylan, Aerosmith, Willie Nelson and Meat Loaf.  We passed on his greatest hits as too bombastic for a group home. When I saw a Buddy Holly cd it was my client’s era and gave me a chance to get past the hiccuped hits and delve deep into his discography. Weeks after that shopping excursion a Rite Aid employee oddly enough was trying to push a Buddy Holly recording on me. I may have been standing near the cd section. I fought off any need to discuss my interactions with Buddy Holly’s back catalogue. I was avoiding “mansplaining” before I even knew that was a thing. The idea of having a cultural interaction with someone at a drugstore, however brief, was something I appreciated though.

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Sometime later, an infinity sign was added to the Buddy Holly memorial wall. Someone must have felt this was necessary. Perhaps it was a certain Rite Aid employee. I would like to think that Holly’s music will be appreciated as long as recorded music exists. Infinity, I don’t know about. That’s forever. We still kind of remember Virgil the Poet although I’m not sure he had any “Top XL” hits. I’d like to imagine someone will be googling Holly two thousand years from now.

Buddy Holly was an iconoclast who won’t be forgotten soon. His death being referred to as “the day the music died” is proof of his impact on rock music history and his influence on The Beatles is also notable. Sadly he didn’t make the cut on that gold plated disc NASA sent into space. Chuck Berry somehow seemed like a better representative of early rock. He missed out on an intergalactic audience but there’s bound to be a bronze statue in Lubbock. And here in Kenton a spray painted slogan reminds the world not to forget the spirit of Buddy Holly.

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Have a gander at Graham Mark’s instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/geemarks/

Next week’s message will be an Auto Message. 

 

A Message of Mystery: Graffiti Abuse

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My goal in creating this blog is to document creative pursuits. I’m interested in any form of expression. Graffiti keeps sneaking in as subject matter because it’s everywhere and hard to ignore. I worry that in bringing attention to an art form rooted in vandalism, I’m encouraging these efforts, but really, it’s hard to imagine anything that could stop it. The more I live with graffiti and see examples of it that I appreciate, the more tolerant I become.

I’m partial to graffiti that’s clear and easy to understand whether it’s in legible lettering or words that make sense. If you’re dropping Cy Twombly-like scribbles I end up with a giant question mark in my brain. Letters from the English alphabet allow me to consider the message behind the spray painted designs. Often interpretations are based more on my imagination than anything else.

A case for the Abuse graffiti would start with that word. It’s a powerful word that could mean anything depending on the context. Abuse graffiti is usually paired with a second word that compounds the message. The lettering, big, bold and round, is hard to miss. The message seems be spotlighting the world’s wrongs.

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Words like deep, mutant and “antsi,” a play on the word antsy, maybe?, add a layer of mystery. These feel like brief poetic phrases that point to an underlying unease. I find it refreshing. Give me something to think about graffiti artists! If you want to shout, get to it. Wake me up with your message and watch me wax Walt Whitman style! These efforts are also appreciated for keeping it clean, not that there’s that much profanity in the graffiti I see.

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The abuse graffiti tends to be done in a large format. That takes space and explains why one paint job hijacked a billboard. This earned points for effort and climbing skills. Billboard advertising is often annoying so a bit of “abuse” breaks up the monotony. I noticed the billboard was advertising a health care program. This led me to wonder if our artist is making a political statement or if the billboard represented an opportunistic canvas with better visibility.

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Abuse is declared on a variety of surfaces, a fence by the railroad tracks that run along Lombard/Hwy 30, an old warehouse building, another feat of daring in what looks like a medium other than spray paint and the one that bummed me out, the Exotica Strip Club. It was reported (can the Portland Orbit use that word?) on this blog that Exotica was planning to reopen after some renovation. A giant splash of paint, no matter how decorative or even intriguing, is sure to delay those efforts.

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In the end depictions of abuse, however intended, can be found graffiti style for those observant folks drawn to street art. Sometimes it’s in more prominent places while other times you have to look for it on the other side of the tracks. Someone out there has a message. The need for people to express themselves against a dark force like abuse gives power to art in any form it takes.

 

The Smiling Tree

 

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There is little that can be said about the Smiling Tree. You could get indignant as I have in the past about how wrong it is to mix the unnatural components of spray paint with the natural elements of a living plant but the limb shorning of this tree left behind circular remnants outlining what had to be excellent potential for face portrayal. How could anyone resist the opportunity to give this tree some personality? These faces became fully realized by the addition of eyes and mouths in lines of spray paint.

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In the past, I have been driven to the brink of a Euell Gibbon’s kind of colossal, aneuryistic freak out by people’s decisions to tag trees or vandalize them in other ways. Not that old Euell, known to me for his “Did you ever eat a pine tree?” quote in a Grape Nuts commercial from the 70’s, was know for his freak outs about anything but he did seem especially passionate about nature. For me to consider that kind of melt down. . . well, I must love trees too much.

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Then there’s another nature lover to consider by the name of Joyce Kilmer who wrote in his greatest poem (pause here while I look it up).  Oh yeah.  He waxed poetic about seeing a tree as lovely as a poem before going off to war and leaving his five kids in the lurch. There is beauty in lovely trees but it’s all for naught when someone throws paint on them, unless they do it in a kind, subtle and fun way.

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How can you not return a smile to the smiling tree? You’ll find it facing North Delaware Avenue beyond Kenton Park. I can live with the paint on that tree. A smiling tree seems like a friendlier tree. It’s welcoming and happy. So I look at the addition of these markings as a detail that brings an otherwise regular tree a dash of character.

Unsmiling Trees

Having contemplated tree vandalism lately, I thought I’d drum up two examples. I’m on the fence, I’d say.  After singing the praises of the Smiling Tree, I saw a tree with certain anomalies that might benefit from vandalism. I wish the 11th Commandment, preserved in stone for all humanity to obey for all time, read, “LEAVE TREES ALONE.” Then again, with that 11th commandment, this blog post might not exist.

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A tree in my neighborhood has a hole in it that seems to be filled with cement or maybe it’s  a heart shaped bad spot that had been crying out for paint. I’m no arborist, that’s for sure. Initially I thought someone had taken the opportunity to immortalize their love for someone else. I could have sworn there had been a plus sign between the B and the D. Without having done the research (walking down the street), I was speculating the profession of love from B to D was also a side-armed tribute to Kilmer and his love of trees. Catching myself, I remembered no one gives two bleeps about Joyce and his tree poem these days. I had to spend a few years working at a middle school named for him to become interested enough to delve into his legacy. The tree was a place to broadcast affection or really, in this case, a place to immortalize a pair of initials. Kilmer told the world about his love of trees through poetry, and B told us about B and D or D told us of B or BD told of him or herself. Like poetry, it is open to interpretation. So let me get wishy-washy and not stand firm here (or there) by saying most tree vandalism is mostly wrong. Also, it may be better to write poems about trees than to write on, carve, or spray paint them.

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Does a Bear Get Nailed to a Tree?

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What do you do if you have the perfect piece of decorative bear art and no place to put it? There is no reason not to nail it to a tree. The bear is rugged and vibrant despite the nail in her underarm. I’m going to go out on a limb (there has to be a goddamned tree pun) and say that if people feel the need to decorate trees, I can’t see a nail hurting too much. Also, if someone considers decorating a tree, hanging an item featuring nature really does work as exterior decorating.

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Pole Art 2

Anonymous artists are at work adding pizazz to mundane telephone and electrical poles. These adornments are sometimes subtle and unnoticeable. There is a fine line between Pole Art and Pole Decoration. If a pole is decorated in an artistic way then surely it should be elevated to Pole Art status. It’s as if a committee of scholars and experts is needed to conference at a Holiday Inn somewhere next to an airport to make Pole Art status determinations and establish Pole Art guidelines.

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Strands of clear tape slapped on a pole dance in a breeze. Poles become small scale bill boards for a variety of expression. Eventually whatever use the tape served morphed into weathered abstract sculpture.

Some pole artists take it upon themselves to spray paint directly on to the pole.

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This redundant replication of the speed limit seems to over emphasize the need to slow down.

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Spray paint creates half-assed designs resembling bananas that, at least in the past, could be seen being unloaded on Swan Island below. Pole Art can and will imitate life at times.

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Electrical looking crap, for lack of a better word, left on a pole on Lombard St. can look artistic in its own right. Giving it the old black and white will help it to resemble art.

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Black and white photography is key to making pole decor artistic.

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Pole step hangings have a sub genre feel in the Pole Art movement being more decoration than true art. It is an easy way to spice up a pole. All it takes is the right object to hang. The Pole Art Definition Committee will spend many days and possibly nights in the hotel bar perfecting the exact language necessary to distinguish Pole Art from Pole Step Art.

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I am curious about who gets inspired to hang Pole Step Art. The question isn’t necessarily “why” so much as “why not?” Is it one neighbor doing all the hanging or is it contagious in the neighborhood in that cliched “Keeping Up With the Joneses” way? Is it all about finding the perfect hangable object that would look exactly right on a pole step rather than inside a house on a wall? Only the neighbors on N. Dana Ave. know for sure.

Would you believe there’s enough Pole Art documentation for a sequel to this blog post? Sorry to cut you off from this fascinating Pole Art world and send you back to reality. We’ll give it a rest but you can bet that someday you will barely be able to believe your eyes when you’re reading a blog post entitled Pole Art 3.

In the meantime I hope this Portland Orbit Report on Pole Art will suffice. Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jmz2zdqKPE

 

The Color Field Cover-Up

Admittedly this idea is borrowed or maybe a better word is inspired, by a September 2015 piece in the Pittsburgh Orbit about abstract art that had been described in the post:

“created and maintained as a joint effort between some number of indefatigable spray paint-wielding taggers and what we imagine is a combination of city D.P.W. (Department of Public Works) ‘graffiti busters’ and concerned citizens taking matters into their own hands.”

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No. 2  (St. Johns Coffee Shop)

From that post, I recognized the local angle of the Rothko style graffiti cover-up. Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist painter, lived in Portland during his youth. Not to make light or be too simplistic, but it seems like growing up with Portland’s dreary rainy season weather could have contributed to the depression he suffered in his life.

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No. 6  ( Upholstery Shop, Lombard St.)

Finding out that Rothko attended Lincoln High School blew me away. When I consider a couple of other graduates including voice artist Mel Blanc of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and many other Warner Bros cartoon characters fame and Simpson’s creator Matt Groenig; they represent a hallowed trinity of creative geniuses. These guys make me think there’s a force field within the walls of the school or a hyperbolic chamber there that shaped these minds. This theory begs for more research and a separate blog post. It might also get me arrested if I were to wander into the school unannounced, spouting such theories and making demands to complete my research by being directed to the genius chamber. This trinity idea, and in the creative world I consider it holy, may be thwarted by the possibility that there may be even more famous and weirder Lincoln graduates which would create a new theory about something being in the water from the drinking fountains creating the possibility of my being arrested multiple times for trespassing to drink from these fountains. These days you don’t want to drink from any fountain in a Portland Public School due to impending lead testing.

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Get the lead out!

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Color Fields in action.

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No. 13 (Peninsular Ave)

My aim is to acknowledge an accidental Rothko homage in a technique used to cover up graffiti that’s seen all over town. Big blotchy splotches with features from Rothko’s color field paintings are painted on building walls and under overpasses. They don’t measure up to the abstract expressionism work of Rothko, but they could be considered elementary renditions if a bit of imagination were employed. This coincidental connection is a way of honoring a man that Portland needs to claim as a favorite son. He did spend his formative years here and received most of his education in Portland before getting the hell out and going to Yale.

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No. 21 (railroad bridge support, Columbia Blvd next to I-5 overpass)

A block of paint to cover graffiti serves as an accidental nod to Rothko. It’s barely in the ballpark though because it’s rare to see the more dynamic colors Rothko preferred like maroon or orange. Instead we get industrial shades of gray, brown and beige. While I appreciate the efforts to clean up vandalism, I’ve never understood the idea of not using a similar or identical paint color in order to get a less Rothko result.

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In threes: Color Field, Max Bridge near the Denver Ave. Station

Ultimately, I like these unintended reminders of Rothko. I’m left to wonder if his childhood spent in Portland inspired his art style. When I think of Rothko, Portland and big blocks of paint with sharp edges it all comes full circle.

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No. 28 (Columbia Blvd)

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No. 25 (Concrete Brown, N Argyle St)

View a video edition of this blog post with additional photos: https://youtu.be/Lsi5ZOAOb9c