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September 11th, 2013 12:01 am WW Staff | Cover Story

Portland Fall Arts Guide 2013: 24-Hour Arty People

A day in the life of Portland’s working artists.


11 PM

IMAGE: Rebecca Jacobson


In standup comedy, there’s bombing, and then there’s whatever the tall, boyish kid onstage at Brody Theater’s open mic is doing. His Arnold Schwarzenegger impression sounds more Cool Runnings than The Terminator. His bit on talking squids elicits only nervous pity-titters. He asks the host how much time he’s got left. With four minutes to go, he hugs the back wall like a safety blanket. “Is this heroin gluten-free?” he mutters.

It’s cringingly uncomfortable—and an example of what makes live comedy such a visceral art form. Even the most polished comics walk a tightrope, and while witnessing a great comic destroy a room is exhilarating, it’s an entirely different thrill watching someone plunge to their death. And there are bodies all over the Brody tonight.

Back onstage, the kid mostly fills his time with dead air. “You guys like P. Diddy?” he asks. Thankfully, the host—dryly sarcastic yet uniformly supportive—steps in for the mercy kill. “You don’t have to be funny all the time,” he reminds us. MATTHEW SINGER.



IMAGE: Jay Horton

Sea Tramp Tattoo Co. is Portland’s oldest such shop. It was opened three decades ago by Bert Grimm, a native Oregonian who claimed to have inked Bonnie and Clyde. His far-flung string of parlors did much to brighten the reputation of tattoos, once just for bikers and swabbies but now favored by people like 20-year-old Jerica Coughlin, a dark-haired sylph from the suburbs of Dallas. Asked if she considers tattoos art, Coughlin is vaguely offended. “Well,” she says, tapping an intricate starlike design flowering out beneath her belly button, “I drew that. I think it’s art.”


1 AM

IMAGE: Richard Speer
From the eighth floor of her Pearl District apartment, Sandra Stone—prose writer, opera librettist, winner of an Oregon Book Award—is digging into her next volume. The manuscript chronicles her rehabilitation from a bad fall she took in 2001 in New York. Sharing hospital space with victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she gained strength from those survivors’ indomitable will to live. A beloved Portland fixture known for her salons and illustrious friends, Stone has been nicknamed “Night Owl,” thanks to her penchant for witching-hour emails and all-night writing marathons.

“There’s sanctum in the night,” she says. “I love hearing the voices of the sepia hours. I sometimes write with all the lights off and the screen very dim.”

Stone refuses to reveal her age. Whatever the number, she has the creative juices and work ethic of a hungry young writer, setting herself to chronicle “the vagaries of the human heart leaping the chasm.” As the clock approaches 2 am, Stone hints coyly at one of her new work’s subplots. It’s something unexpected that happened to her as she recovered from her fall: a romance. RICHARD SPEER.

2 AM
IMAGE: Ronit Fahl

It’s closing time at the busy Montage restaurant under the Morrison Bridge—long known for late-night spicy mac and its Last Supper mural with staff painted as Jesus and the apostles—and Angela Vincent is preparing a dragonfly.

More to the point, she’s yanking reams of aluminum foil out of long rollers to fold the abdomen of the bug around beans and rice. A screaming roll becomes a wing, another the second wing. It’s all over in about 45 seconds, leaving a fully formed insect about 3 feet long. Montage does this with all leftovers, packaging them as custom-made foil creatures—or a He-Man sword.

“We teach each other shapes,” Vincent says. “First snails, then cats, then squirrels. Anything with legs takes a little longer.” The best she’s seen is a flying Pegasus unicorn. Behind Vincent, server Sean Moder constructs deformities, still twisting them as he speed-walks to the waiting tables: squirrels with scorpion tails, penises with wings and other crossbred affronts to nature.

Usually the shapes are at the servers’ whims, but sometimes they’re tailor-made. Late-night stoners might get bongs, for example. “Somebody asked for a single frog leg wrapped up,” Vincent says. “So I made him a frog with one leg missing.” MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

3 AM

IMAGE: Matthew Korfhage
We don’t have to look homeless, says “Jane,” a street artist, because we’re heteronormative. “Cops won’t question a guy and a girl standing on a corner together.”

What’s important is we look like we belong on the mostly vacant streets of the Industrial Eastside at 3 am. Jane and I are standing lookout. Down the block, “John” spray-paints a brick wall’s buffed white rectangle—graffiti that’s been painted over by the city—to look like the side of a Mack truck with balloon-animal hieroglyphics.

Down the way, an actual delivery truck turns on its headlights. “Chill!” Jane says, and John tucks away his spray can. The truck doesn’t move, so she whistles an all-clear.

I’ve been warned that “what we’re doing is illegal and to come with a sober mind.” Jane knows the law better than some paralegals: Painting more than 14 feet above the street is ideal, she says, because Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations make it harder for workers to cover it up. Portland is one of the worst cities for public art, she says, with police even staking out street-art gallery shows to photograph patrons.

Jane’s screen prints are intricate and lovely. She uses only plant-based materials for the ink and paste. “I worry about what I put in my body,” she says, “and I worry about what I put in the environment.”

Over the course of an hour, Jane and John each place art at four spots. Along the way, they affectionately point out the work of other artists. Jane sighs aloud when she sees someone’s work covered over.

At what will be the final stop, near Southeast Grand Avenue, John gets out his materials. As I watch, a police car stops mid-intersection three blocks away.

“Chill,” I tell them. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

4 AM

IMAGE: Joe Donovan
The rented studio inside AudioCinema is piled with replica M16s and Glocks. There’s a stack of army costumes and gaming-convention T-shirts. The fridge is stocked with Red Bull. “I’m up at 4 am because it’s when I’m most creative,” says J. Lee, the videographer who uses this space to make live-action short films based on video games. His work appears on YouTube and is discussed on gamer blogs. He plays a trailer he made for Resident Evil, hesitating before pressing play. “Straight-up art doesn’t work on the net,” Lee says. “Portland has such an indie vibe. Everyone is resistant to YouTube.”

Lee is commissioned by game makers to do this. His hero is film director Michael Bay, who got his start before Transformers making 90-second promotional clips. As I leave AudioCinema at 5 am, it’s still dark. Lee walks back into his studio. “I’ll be here for a while,” he says. JOE DONOVAN.

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