3 Sides 2 Every Boxcar: Snapshots from the Other Side
of the Tracks
Boxcar Bertha's, 248-9231, Corner of NW 17th and Lovejoy, Tues-Sat 7 am-3 pm, through July
EVERY YEAR, hundreds of hobos and rail workers quietly take marker in hand and leave their anonymous art on the sides of freight trains. Portland-based photographer "Obscura" has been photographing and tracking this form of art for the last 15 years. Specifically, Obscura focuses on art created by railroad aficionados--not the graffiti that relies on aerosol and flashy colors.
"I love it because it's so mysterious," he says. "You look at these drawings and you think, what does that mean? And many times, you never know what the artist intended."
One such artist Obscura tracks is Colossus of Roads, who has been tagging trains since 1971. Colossus has refined his moniker down to one tag, a minimalist outline of himself: a Midwestern rail worker with a beard and a hat.
"Colossus is a little more methodical than most rail worker and hobo graffiti," Obscura explains. "His captions are ever-changing, and you'll see those everywhere around the country."
These captions can vary from statements as simple as "Bad Headache" and "Not Cloudy All Day," to obscure references to mythology and modern art.
"In a way, it's almost as if Colossus is preparing to someday be written about, to be recognized," explained Obscura. "Everything he does is so recorded, it's as if he wants to be documented."
Though Colossus is an anonymous artist, it's rumored he is a rail worker himself. "He's just a guy," says Obscura, "A guy who's out there, wearing his overalls, his hat, working the rails, and leaving his mark,"
Obscura estimates that 60 percent of all railroad graffiti is made not by hobos, but by people who actually work on the rails. "It's great because there's no money involved, and no trade. The artist's canvas is just this public space, where they are free to draw whatever they want."
Obscura presents pictures drawn by Colossus, among other rail worker and hobo graffiti, at his show this month. He is accompanied by North Bank Fred, who takes portraits of hobos on the rails, and by Photo Bill, who also photographs hobo and railworker art.