Susan Orlean Remembers When Bud Clark Exposed Himself to Art

Orlean was as much a product of Portland’s early-’80s cultural ferment as Clark was.

The tributes to Bud Clark now extend to the pages of The New Yorker.

Its webpages, anyway. On May 10, Susan Orlean penned a memorial to Clark, the Goose Hollow barkeep turned Portland mayor who died at 90 this winter. Paeans for Bud aren’t hard to find these days—he symbolizes a lost time when this city felt pride in its distinctiveness—but Orlean’s is noteworthy because she was as much a product of Portland’s early-’80s cultural ferment as Clark was.

Orlean, now a nationally prominent author who’s been portrayed in the movies by Meryl Streep, wrote for Willamette Week from about 1979 to 1982. She specialized in closely observed stories on slightly obscure topics, ranging from social life at Grant High School to a company that reconstructed fatal accidents to determine blame. By the time Clark took office, Orlean was in Boston. But her article this week uses her knack for detailed scene-setting to home in on a moment when their time in Portland overlapped: the day Clark donned a trench coat and posed for a photograph flashing a statue.

The resulting poster, “Expose Yourself to Art,” is probably how most Americans know Clark. Orlean recounts how the photo, taken for a campaign against venereal disease, languished in obscurity until a lucky break at a street fair.

At 1 pm Sunday, friends and family of Clark will gather in Pioneer Courthouse Square to remember his life. The event is being held two days before election day—timing organizers say is intended to harken back to Clark’s shocking upset of hippie-hating Mayor Frank Ivancie in 1984.

Nearly any result from Tuesday’s election—voters repudiating City Hall for presiding over garbage and a diminished downtown, or rejecting the hold of the police union and business interests on local politics—could be claimed as part of Clark’s legacy. Over time, he came to be a civic mascot of sorts, standing for everything Portlanders liked about their city, and nothing they didn’t.

Orlean’s essay points out that such elasticity happened partly because Clark arrived in politics out of nowhere, and disappeared just as suddenly. He didn’t start a political dynasty, or even establish a clear voting bloc. Bud’s legacy is that he was loved.

Related: Read WW’s coverage of Clark’s election victory from May of 1984.