When an "epic windstorm" took down the fence at Larry Yes' North Portland home in 2014, the local jack-of-all-trades decided not to rebuild. Instead, he painted the fence posts with bright colors—like a Crayola explosion—and the most optimistic words he could find.
Yes (that is his real name) was working as the art curator for NoPo's Cherry Sprout Produce market and had an exhibit fall through, so he filled the bare walls with his technicolor fence posts instead. The cedar slabs read things like "brave," "spectaculous," "you" and "truth," words he crowdsourced from customers. In contrast to dark, intellectual and subtle art installations, Yes' Positive Words hits you with all the effervescence of Pop Rocks and soda.
"My wife was pregnant at the time and I was high on the super-joy of having a kid," Yes says. "There have to be dark arts, I dig that. But all the skull and crossbones, 'I hate my dad,' blah blah blah is super-taken care of."
A self-described "poor, chubby kid," Yes says he's seen a lot of dark shit, including witnessing two of his best friends suffer fatal injuries while biking when a drunken driver veered to miss hitting Yes and drove into his friends. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more optimistic indie artist, though. According to Yes, on some strange level any word can be turned into a positive. "Maybe being overly optimistic is kind of my mission," he says.
Patrons at Cherry Sprout bought into the optimism, purchasing fence posts for $10 each. âYum,â âpeaceâ and âsupercalifragilisticexpialidociousâ were top sellers, and Yes used the money to buy diapers. But the audience was less sunny on Southeast Holgate Boulevard, where Yes put up a second installation at Marigold Coffee. âPeople there were angry,â he says. They pointed out misspellings and faulted the work for being overly happy. Still, Yes was pleased. âThat made me so happy,â he says. âI guess I was just glad they had a response. I want people to feel how they feel.â
Yes' downed fence posts are now long gone, so when he's not playing gigs around town with his band Larry Yes & the Tangled Mess, he trolls NoPo's streets and Craigslist for broken cedar fences, repurposing them into "cathartic and cheesy" art. Starting on Saturday, Positive Words will scream neon "fantasticalness" and "forgiveness" to passersby from PDX Contemporary Art's Window Project on Northwest Flanders Street.
"Ninety-nine percent of life is pretty awesome," Yes says. "It's all, like, harmonizing together. I think we need that instead of, 'We're all gonna diiiie!"
SEE IT: Positive Words opens Saturday, Aug. 29, at PDX Window Project, 925 NW Flanders St., 222-0063. Through Sept. 26.