Art Amid Gibberish

October 24, 2008

Consider me an accidental archeologist of urban blight. No academic journal will record my find yesterday during a trek through part of Portland where I don’t normally walk. But the thrill of discovery is reward enough.

I was retrieving my car, in the shop for overdue maintenance. I turned onto NE Everett off Grand after navigating through day laborers clustered on the I-84 bridge. Trees losing their grip on red and yellow leaves helped deaden the din of traffic.

Ahead a Quonset hut caught my eye. Or half a hut — the building had been sliced lengthwise, and the other half was nowhere to be seen. The remaining piece was festooned with graffiti, mostly testosterone strokes of gibberish. The corrugated metal must make a challenging canvas for taggers, I thought as I strolled past.

Then I saw it, dabbed demurely on the cement foundation in black paint, an image so primitive yet evocative that it reminded me of those found on ancient cave walls: a tree shedding leaves like tears, its roots burrowing away from the chaos above.

Be on the lookout: an artist prowls among the denizens of the night.