Portland murals aim to break daily routine

September 23, 2015

Images both whimsical and provocative— a flower with a lightning-bolt stem, a kitty sporting an eye patch, a baby floating in a beaker, a rhinoceros curling its lip like a pirate growling “Aargh!”—inhabit an outer wall of Miller Paint in Southeast Portland thanks to Michael Salter, director of the UO Digital Arts Program.

Salter rendered his 70-foot wide by 13-foot tall mural during the annual Forest For The Trees (FFTT) mural festival, a nonprofit project dedicated to the creation of contemporary public art in Portland. The festival brings together local and international artists and provides them with the freedom and resources to create artworks in easily accessible places.

Salter's mural
Above: Michael Salter, director of the UO Digital Arts Program, paints a wall in Southeast Portland as part of the annual Forest For the Trees (FFTT) mural festival. Photo by Rocio Zambrana, courtesy of Michael Salter.

FFTT co-organizer Gage Hamilton, a former student of Salter, “has repeatedly tried to get me on the project but not until this year have I been able to make it work with my schedule,” Salter says.

Salter’s mural is the “most recent delivery of my long-running interest, investigation, and criticism of iconography, branding, and symbols,” he says. “I use the language to comment on the language.”

He’s been developing the series of icons, symbols, and logos—which now number nearly 1,000—over the past ten years, and had exhibited them in a variety of forms before embarking on the FFTT project.

For the mural, he used four to five gallons of flat latex house paint for the project, which occupies nearly the entire façade of the Miller Paint building at Southeast Martin Luther King Boulevard between Ash and Pine streets. Salter says the project, which involved rolling the background then hand painting the icons with a brush, took about sixty hours over five days.

“I was able to see the site and its dimensions prior to deciding on a composition,” he says, “and this particular composition of my icons seemed particularly appropriate to the scale and location of the site.” Images of his project in process can be seen on Salter's website.

“Forest For The Trees hopes to pull Portland’s residents away from their daily routines and provides them a moment of appreciation for the creativity that surrounds us in the Pacific Northwest,“ the group’s website states.

The FFTT festival unfolds each year during an August week that, in addition to the artists’ daily work, includes after-hour sketch and “rehydration” gatherings and, on the last day of the festival, a mural tour by bike.

“It was an honor to be a part of such a great project and to be associated with so many amazing artists,” Salter says. “I hope I get to do it again.”

Lump Gallery in Raleigh, North Carolina, will host “Antenna,” a solo show of Salter’s work, in March 2016.