An Unlikely Collaboration to Create Art for All

Our office in 1948

I’ve been a fan of street art since childhood when my mind was blown with musical artists like Run DMC and iconic films like Breakdancing and Breakin 2, Electric Boogaloo.  Whose life wasn’t changed by these pillars of 80’s pop culture?

Fast forward 25 years and I find myself operating our web shop out of two 1950’s railcars in Inner SE Portland.  How did that happen? Well that's another story altogether. Our railcar landlord/owner initially wanted us to help him fend off deviant taggers from painting over the oxidizing paint he paid good money to have applied.  As I approached him about the prospect of painting the trains with a large mural by local graffiti talent, he was reluctant but open to it. The owner of the tracks on the other hand was quite against it. Graffiti artists (or to many, taggers) were the bain of railcar owners’ existence.  

In 2013, I decided to seek forgiveness v. permission, and had a budding local artist, Chet Malinow, paint an entire railcar.  He jumped at the opportunity. I was happy to have the old tags and fading paint primed and turned into a mystical mural.  This mural was almost entirely done with rattle can paint. We had a couple run-ins with the police that could not fathom I would actually want graffiti on my train.  The old timers down the tracks at the then-new OR Rail Heritage Center couldn’t make sense of it either. Over time we found out that graffiti culture largely respects the work of their own and rarely tag over the top of someone else’s creation.  So it stood for several years and garnered a ton of attention by local media and passers by.

We then had a brother duo I met through ski coaching apply a trippy mural on our box car.  Their vision was out there and caused some entertaining stares as people tried to make sense of it.  Such is art! Their vision was painted with brushes and rollers and lasted for a couple years.

As these creations started to show their age, Chet and I decided it was time for another mural.  His craft had evolved and he was keen on taking on both railcars with his new mandala creations. The circular black mandalas span both trains.  He rolled white primer over both murals and rapidly applied his murals with black paint pens. Its a design that has been widely applauded for its clean, modern, organic style.  

Through Chet, I was introduced to another well connected street artist, Phil Haleen.  Phil is a community builder and had a vision to not only contribute to the piece, but pull in talented friends to deliver a creation that spans the east side of one railcar.  After a couple weeks of afternoon and late night sessions, their highly colorful creation was complete. This one is had a mix of precise and complex designs with fun gangster and royal characters on either end.  Rattle can was the weapon of choice for these artists.

Before long, he was back with 3 other local graffiti heavies that applied a series of elaborate tags in the spirit of the Brooklyn graffiti art.  They are each unique and amazing in their own right. The only downside in this work is that it's not as visible to the public as the west facing creations.  I was reminded by one of the artists that the opportunity to paint a ‘whole roller’ is unheard of. They were grateful for the opportunity to practice their craft without fear of police intervention and I was equally thrilled to have fresh life applied to the aging railcar.  

We certainly aren’t the only ones embracing large format street art in Portland, but we do love being a part of this exploding trend in our great city. I recognize art all over town as being done by artists that have contributed to our trains.  While it's sad to see the art fade with time, it’s simply making way for the next creation that will follow.

If you’re looking for talented artists to breath life into your space, let me know.  I’d be happy to make introductions. If you’re an artist looking for a large, unique canvas, give me a call.  Maybe we can collaborate on something amazing for all to enjoy.

The office in 2019