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February 6th, 2002 Lisa Lambert | Visual Arts
 

SCRAP OF PRIDE

Local artist Samir Sankari reinvents a Portland block.

     
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Residents along Southeast 21st Avenue and Madison Street have their own secret garden. Local artist Samir Sankari's scrap-metal sculptures line both sides of the block, with tight weaves of wire in large metal frames framing houses on the street's south side, while other pieces sprout from the Terrace Apartments courtyard opposite.

According to Sankari, who lives in the apartments, the names of his sculptures aren't important. He also doesn't see major aesthetic trends among his works and doesn't know enough art history to be influenced by other sculptors. But, for the record, the piece at the top of the Terrace's steps is called The Beacon (see photograph).

Behind The Beacon, a hodgepodge of different pieces, from a 6-foot angel to a flat, twisted abstraction, forms a junkyard Louvre. "I just put them out there because I didn't have anywhere else," says the twentysomething Northwest native. Sankari will move, remove or change a piece at any time, either by choice or when something's sold.

Neighbors find a certain point of pride in the growing garden. "We're all into promoting each other as much as we can," says neighbor Jennifer Bugley, who thinks the blue sculpture in front of her building resembles an anchor. "Our lawn is ugly, and it's much prettier with Samir's sculpture." "Some people have added the garden to their neighborhood walks," Sankari says. "It's like a bonus for them."

After graduating from college, Sankari sought out his stepfather, Gary Morris, a welder in the Columbia River Gorge, whose creations Sankari watched take form as he was growing up. One of Morris' works, an elevated steel dome, was supposed to have been the family home. They never moved in, but, on weekends, Morris threw magnets onto the dome for kids to find in a sort of climbing-wall Easter-egg hunt. "He's definitely eccentric," Sankari boasts of his stepfather, who gave him an hourlong welding lesson before sending him out into the world.

After getting his master's in teaching at Portland State University, Sankari became a substitute teacher, a job that gave him time for his welding. He runs a self-contained operation, with his studio in one of the Terrace's garages, his front window facing the courtyard, and his display space a few feet from his front door (his apartment is decorated by many more functional pieces). He now spends about eight hours a day in this one-car garage filled to bursting with organized piles of scrap metal. Rusty rods are gathered in one heap, heavy metal stamp pressers in another.

Sankari normally builds a substantial base and then sees how the spirit moves him in arranging the forms and deciding whether to paint the pieces, varnish them or simply leave them to rust. On weekends, he combs Abrams Scrapyard, estimating that his passion costs about $60 a month to pursue.

Sankari's pieces are gaining regional acclaim, with past shows at Plain Jane Gallery on Northeast Alberta Street and in the Cracked Pots Garden Art show at McMenamins Edgefield this past summer. Most people consider them works that belong outside, but Sankari recoils from the label. "If it can go outside, it's 'garden art,'" he sighs. "I hate that term. Most people think of sheet metal cut-outs on a stick." But there's nothing cut-out about Sankari's work.


Sankari's work can be seen on Southeast Madison Street between 21st and 22nd avenues, a block north of Hawthorne Boulevard.
 
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