Touring Portland's Murals

Portland has always been a town that appreciates the finer things. Craft beer, custom bicycles, unique culinary options, vibrant music. I could make a list that was as long as a city block and still have more examples to jot down. It should come as no surprise then that Portland has some of the most interesting and finest public art of any city in the world, in particular the city's many different murals. It seems in the last five years or so in particular, public murals have been cropping up all over the place and they reflect a city that is growing more diverse by the minute.

Recently I took a walk around the inner south east side of town to visit and photograph five of my current favorites. I plan on making this post a bit of series and later publishing some of my favorite murals from other parts of town including North Portland, Downtown Portland, the outer east side, and even some of the more obscure gems one can find in the suburbs of Gresham, Beaverton, and more.

Also, for those who like to geek out about these sorts of things, all photographs were taken with a Minolta SRT-101 35mm camera and some expired Kodak slide film.

Number One.

LOCATION: Just north of Water Avenue between two buildings along the railroad tracks.

This has to be my favorite mural in the entire city and I don't think I could ever make a photograph that does it justice. It is absolutely chock full of vibrant colors, life, and energy. I am not sure what the artists intentions were with this piece, but to me it speaks of music and dancing, of using one's voice and one's culture as an expression of positive outcomes. I don't know, maybe I'm totally off base, but the depiction is awesome regardless.

Unfortunately, it is located in perhaps one of the most obscure spots one could possibly imagine a mural to be. Hidden away in the south east industrial district, one has to walk along a dirt path and brave some active railroad tracks in order to get a decent look at it.

Number Two.

LOCATION: Division Street, just west of the Ford Building

This mural is brand new. So brand new that it was difficult to get a photograph of it without a bunch of construction equipment in the frame. The mural is also incredibly huge. To get an idea of the scale, that is a construction crane on the right side of the frame and it reaches about as tall as the mural itself. This mural is on the side of a new high rise being constructed on the inner south east side that imagine will either be office spaces or over-priced condos. Yeah, not really what Portland citizens love these days, but if every new building had public art that was this cool we probably wouldn't complain so much.

You know what is the coolest aspect of this mural though beside the massive scale? Look closely at the figures hair. Those are actual living plants starting to take root in the woman's hair along the side of the building. How cool is that!!?

Number Three.

LOCATION: Martin Luther King Blvd., just south of the Chevy dealership.

I've always loved this mural purely for the crazy amount of things going on. You've got donuts, classic cars, a strange figure with a bow on its head and a bird foot coming out of its pant leg. You've got vibrant colors mixed with chaotic posturing. I really have no clue what this mural is trying to say and I'm not sure I even want to know. It's like a David Lynch film, the power is in the experience.

Sadly, I do not think this mural is going to last much longer in this world. The parking lot I was standing in when making this photograph has a giant sign on it announcing the construction of a new five story creative work space. While I'm sure the mural will not be damaged or town down, it is going to be blocked by the new construction dooming this mural to the fate of existing only in a dark alleyway.

Number Four.

LOCATION: East side of Grand Ave, just south of the Chevy dealership.

Given its location in a parking lot, it is tough to get a good photograph of this mural without including a bunch of cars and garbage bins. Either way though, I've always been fond of this particular mural for its contradictions. The overall scene is one of calm, stillness, reflection, and possible depression. The brush strokes on the other hand create a sort of kinetic energy that implies the scene is going to burst into life at any moment. The inclusion of the bird creates a different sort of duality. Is the woman looking at the living bird, bending its head back in song, or at the hollow skull placed directly in front of her?

Number Five.

LOCATION: Southeast Taylor Street, just west of Southeast 12th Street.

I admit I love this one for purely selfish reasons. I like foxes. I find them adorable and cool. If I could responsibly have a pet fox in my life I would. I also like the simplicity of this particular mural. One could almost turn this mural into a banner or a bumper sticker and it would look just as interesting.

Andrew Kaiser

My name is Andrew Kaiser, welcome to my site! I have a passion for making images wherever and whenever I can. I seek to capture humanity and the world around me with a focus on the figure. Film, digital, pinhole, and instant photography are all fair game for me.

I grew up in the California Bay Area and started taking photography seriously in High School. I was one of the lucky few who had a chance to go to a high school with a working darkroom and a teacher who understood that making images was an art form – care and patience was a necessity in the image making process from start to finish.

Later in life I attended the University of California in Santa Cruz where I received a Bachelors Degree in the History of Art and Visual Culture. After having my fill of the California sunshine I packed up my life and moved to the Pacific Northwest. I quickly found the overcast skies, lush forests, cooler temperatures, and creative communities to be a perfect match for my work.

Over the years I have exhibited my photographs in several galleries and art shows including the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival and Cascade AIDS Project. I’ve published a few books and taught workshops up and down the west coast of the United States. Through this site I’m hoping to share my work and perhaps inspire others along the way.