T he most consistently fascinating place to see new and inspired artwork in Portland right now is the land where traffic laws hardly exist: the inner Southeast Warehouse District. In this industrial area bordered by the Willamette River and MLK, Burnside and Madison, a startlingly fresh, image-and-icon-based wave of graffiti and poster art punctuates concrete pilings and warehouse walls.
New American Casuals, the hiphop and spray can-happy boutique is not coincidentally located in the same area, but even the hyper-color Krylon virtuosity that covers the side of their building looks formulaic and overly stylized compared to some of the more underground work lurking deeper within.
The underbelly of the Morrison Bridge is the best place to start spotting these artworks, and a good half-hour stroll through the area is far more exhilarating than spending the same amount of time in the Pearl. This current wave of anonymous artists working in the Inner SE are paying increased attention to the image's function as an architectural intervention that surprises viewers and interacts with the urban environment. Perched high above eye level, underneath a noisy underpass, an orange bird rendered with childlike simplicity awaits your attention. Down below, photocopies of bicyclists in gas masks have been wheat-pasted to look as if they're cruising along a horizon line created by the cement. Another poster art finding under the bridge depicts a coloring book-style drawing of a boy and a girl raising their hands dutifully, although their arms have been replaced by oversized, pointed antlers.
In a simple playful twist on Matt McCormick's short film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal, one unknown artist used the patch of paint left by a city employee who was covering up an existing tag to create a meta-graffiti sign. A loping band of yellow paint covered an existing wall tag, leaving a haphazard splotch on the wall as a sort of ghost of the graffiti that had been there before. An artist has since come along and quickly outlined the yellow path and added googly eyes, turning the intended cover-up into a cartoony wall snake. It was a simple but furtive gesture more interesting than two decades of a stagnant genre of graffiti art that has entered the realm of craft-fetishists.