Adding Color to the Rose City
By UO Student Lili Wagner
In downtown Portland, on the corner of Couch and Broadway, a massive mural covers the side of an old auto shop. A black and white figure against a mustard yellow background alludes to Ozymandias, the fictional fallen king of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s nineteenth-century poem of the same name, and the mural’s namesake. A serpentine black form dominates the upper portion of the space.
“The form at the top is a physical representation of the gentle but inevitable forces of time,” said Gage Hamilton, BA ’07, BFA ’11, the mural’s artist. The mural serves as a subtle reminder that nothing lasts forever, and that time will ultimately defeat every empire we create. “The figure to the left is the metallic bust of Hernando de Soto, which adorned the hoods of long-defunct DeSoto-Plymouth cars in the 1950s.”
Hamilton, who graduated from the Digital Arts Program at the UO in Portland in 2012, created the mural for Forest for the Trees, a public art project in the city. Ozymandias is just one of 22 murals painted throughout Portland last August for the project, where 24 local and international artists collaborated to bring color and creativity to the streets of the Rose City.
“I realized a lot of cities had presentations of artwork in public, and I found it odd that the creative city of Portland didn’t have more of that,” said Hamilton, who conceived of Forest for the Trees in 2012 and now serves as its primary organizer.
The community is involved in Forest for the Trees from beginning to end, from providing the spaces for the murals or installations to appreciating the final projects once the buckets of paint, lifts, and artists are long gone. Hamilton continued, “It gives people an opportunity to happen upon art, rather than search out galleries. It showcases the creative process and promotes community engagement.”
Hamilton begins by exploring the city, scouting for spaces and cold-calling property owners. Once spaces have been secured, then begins the process of soliciting permits, winning grants, earning donations, and seeking out artists. Along with co-curator and organizer Matt Wagoner of the Hellion Gallery, Hamilton works closely with the Regional Arts and Culture Council, which has in the past led a campaign to match private donations. The fundraising efforts help secure paint, rollers, brushes, lifts, and other necessary supplies. As for the artists and organizers, their work is entirely pro bono, or as Hamilton said, “labor of love.”
The project has grown since its inaugural year in 2013. Hamilton said, “Each year we’ve had a better idea how to go about it. Originally we were trying to push past expectations of what a mural could be. Community and historical murals weren’t giving artists enough opportunity to be creative. After redefining what a mural can be in Portland we want to push past what’s expected of this type of project. We are working on including more installations, different mediums, woodwork, etcetera. With each year we get more artists on board, more property owners who want walls painted, and a better understanding of the process.”
Forest for the Trees is seeking 501(c)(3) status to be recognized as an official non-profit and is expanding community engagement efforts by promoting a series of panel discussions with the artists.
When he’s not working on Forest for the Trees, Hamilton does commissioned art and produces work for gallery exhibits. His commissioned work has recently included projects for the Portland International Airport, Weedman Interior Architecture, and Guerilla Development's new Zipper building by architect Kevin Cavenaugh. His work has recently been exhibited in galleries in Portland, Oakland, and Tokyo.
“This month I'm part of a group exhibit in Seoul, South Korea, which pairs Western and Korean artists together with a common English/Korean phrase, which the artists are to create a typographic piece for,” he said. “The exhibit previously opened in NYC and is backed by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“I’m trying to keep it fresh and interesting.”
To explore Hamilton’s work visit http://www.gagehamilton.com/
If you would like to learn more about Forest for the Trees click here