After the windows got shattered at the Portland Pop-Up shop Maker’s Outlet, we decided to turn the black plywood boards that replaced the windows into art. Shop owner Rosalee Rester and I each took a section and spent a few days adding some cheer and positivity to downtown.
The Portland Pop Up shop program puts local designers and artists into vacant storefronts in downtown Portland for the holiday season. Maker’s Outlet at SW 2nd & Pine was one of these, run by Rosalee. She created a happy and welcoming space for local artists to sell off dead stock that had been languishing in their studios. Vivid Element was proud to be part of it.
The pandemic has hit Portland’s downtown particularly hard. With office employees working from home, businesses lost customers. Massive amounts of homeless people are camping on the streets. Night after night in 2020 there were incredible peaceful protests for racial justice and also late night fires and vandalism. There were awful Proud Boys vs. Antifa showdowns involving the PPB and the Feds, and helicopters constantly circling. Many downtown shops boarded windows and eventually closed. Walking downtown now it’s strangely calm and half empty.
Working on the mural in the very same area that I spent much time in during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s felt nostalgic. I have fond memories of musicians, artists and bike messengers in the bustling night scene of music venues and bars like Berbati’s Pan, and days of hustle and bustle at Square Peg Flower stands and the Portland Saturday Market.
It was mostly quiet on the January days in 2022 that I spent painting except for the occasional person incoherently yelling, or the man who stopped to talk about alternate universes while holding up his pants and watching me paint. Of course there are tourists and locals still out and about with their Voodoo Donuts, but they were sparse. It doesn’t feel unsafe necessarily, just desolate.
I was happy to be able to add a little bit of art, good energy, and a connection to nature to this corner of the city through Rosalee’s pop up shop and then with our temporary mural.
Before Portland, downtown was a forest, and native people have lived in the Willamette Valley since time immemorial. Thinking about the plants that once thrived next to the river, I painted a giant Oregon Grape leaf and a giant Salal leaf. These two gorgeous evergreen plants are native to our valley and would have been in this area were it not for all of the concrete and asphalt. We need some connection to the glorious nature that surrounds us to heal our city and its people.
We used free house paint that was donated through our neighborhood Buy Nothing groups.
Rosalee painted her own message about the kindness and connection that is lost in our online world. Between the days we painted on the mural, the building maintenance people removed some graffiti. Unfortunately they also removed a lot of Rosalee’s work. Despite the set backs she carried on, changed the plan, and finished her “Seeking Human Kindness” mural with hand painting, stencils, and spray paint.
Today our temporary mural is still up, although the pop-up shop is over and the building is for lease. I look forward to the day downtown Portland is thriving once again. I hope our city and its communities can work together to give opportunities for housing to all and to offer services to the folks that need help with mental illness and drug addiction recovery.
Remembering the plants that once thrived here and finding a connection to nature is a path toward helping our planet and its people. Using native plants in your landscaping and visiting the nearby forest and parks are easy ways to do this. I hope our little bit of public art cheered someone’s day and offered a connection to the forest. I also can’t wait to create another mural!