Updated: Jun 27, 2020
Alleys & Ruins no. 146, Electric (2014, Portland, OR, 11pm)
Portland is a city with some odd contrasts. It is one of the hippest, most artsy cities I’ve visited, and yet it has some of the harshest rules against graffiti. There’s a blanket zero-tolerance policy covering the entire city. It is illegal to create a mural on an outside wall even if you have permission (or a commission) from a property owner.
2006 fire destroys the Taylor Electric building
So while Portland is an awesomely cool and progressive city, it tries to keep its exterior squeaky clean. Huge brick walls begging for murals remain free from paint (and inspiration).
Enter the ruins of the Taylor Electric Supply Warehouse, built in 1936, in the Central Eastside Industrial District. After being destroyed by one of Portland‘s largest ever industrial fires, it has become a mecca for the city’s street art. After the 2006 fire, toxic chemicals started to pour out and a thorough clean-up was required, leaving behind huge bare walls that were quickly painted over by graffiti artists.
Every few months the city will paint over the entire structure to discourage graffiti, but all they do is leave behind a fresh, clean canvas for more art.
Lighting the scene during the 30-minute exposure.
Photo by Guy Bodin
There are precious few places in the city to see quality graffiti art (as opposed to quick, ugly tags) and the ruins of the Taylor Electric company have sparked debate over whether the space constitutes an artistic gem or a horrible eyesore.
But the land has been sold and is now slated for re-development. The graffiti walls will be torn down and the street artists will have to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Before the shoot, I shot a brief video of the location.
Some interesting background:
THE HISTORY OF TAYLOR ELECTRIC
Since 2006, the remains of the Taylor Electric building have been a unique Portland landmark. A sanctuary for artists, rebels, and outcasts. Over these nine years, this burnt out industrial skeleton at SE 2nd and Clay had been continuously and illegally reinvented by the public into a gallery for urban art and exploring. Taylor Electric was full of possibilities, a homemade refuge, and a cultural space of our own making.
The aesthetics of Taylor Electric were addictive for many, not only artists and tourists, but academics, journalists, photographers, and videographers. As geographer Bradley Garrett wrote “these spaces are appreciated for their aesthetic qualities, for their possibilities for temporarily escaping the rush of the surrounding urban environment and their ability to hint at what the future might look like, when all people have disappeared, a visceral reminder of our own mortality.”
In the months leading up to its demise, the art in Taylor Electric flourished as the fences went down and security was reduced. More so than ever people of all types, young and old, high heels and rubber boots, descended on this public place to experience an post-apocalyptic scene bursting with color.
Rumors of demolition and development plans had been circulating for years. With Portland’s economy and population is booming this change was inevitable. As power and urban space collide, developers moved their attention to this centrally located urban property. It was a profitable time to rebuild. This time instead of an electrical supply company, this site would be occupied by an office building and café. Part of the existing south-facing retaining wall of the 1936 building will be preserved and incorporated into the new structure.
In early May 2015, a large fence was erected, surrounding the entire building and closing an adjacent street. On Monday May 10th the demolition of Taylor Electric began. Spreading quickly through social media, artists shared images of the first walls to fall. Some onlookers talked with workers, gathering details of the plans. Local media outlets, like the Willamette Week covered the story, focusing on the cultural importance and impact of this space.
While a sense of loss pervaded, there was also a sense of unity and reflection that arose, as many people began to introspectively think about what was being lost, but also what had been built over the years in this space.
Taylor Electric was showcase of local, regional, national and international graffiti art. When people visited Portland and wanted to see graffiti, Taylor Electric was the obvious and easiest destination.
While it has been difficult to see Portland’s only truly public and easily accessible graffiti space crumble before our eyes, graffiti is about temporarily occupying and re-imagining the spaces of the city. This spark that creates culturally rich places like Taylor Electric, lives within us. We use these urban voids as conduits and staging grounds for our creative energies. Taylor Electric was a particularly conductive environment for such electricity, but there are always new frontiers. That’s part of the beauty of graffiti; it’s always searching out the unexplored and raw. Strangely, it’s ephemeral and nomadic nature contributes to its resiliency and allure. Because it won’t be there forever.
All images © 2015 Anton Legoo
And From Willamette Week:
Street Art Mecca Taylor Electric Gets Bulldozed
By Lucas Chemotti | Published May 13, 2015 Updated January 24, 2017
The paint covered, burned out walls of the old Taylor Electric building where finally brought down May 11th, following months of close watch by street artists and Portland Street Art Alliance. The site, at Southeast 3rd Avenue and Clay Street, will soon be 240 Clay, an office building in the inner Southeast Industrial area. Taylor Electric's long-vacant concrete shell, leftover from the factory's 2006 fire, has been a rare Mecca for paste poster artists, sticker taggers and graffiti artists to put up their work. Portland's strict no tolerance graffiti policy prevents painting on walls without a specific set of approval from city and the site's owner.
While critics in the inner Southeast community viewed the abandoned building as an eyesore, for graffiti artists, musicians shooting music videos, wedding photographers and tourists, it was just as much a venue as Portland Art Museum or St. Johns Cathedral Park.
"It's been accessible for people who wouldn't normally see this kind of thing." Says Portland's most famous sticker turned wheat paste artist Skam.
"Before I was doing street art, I was just coming down here with my friends, looking at the walls," said the anonymous street artist founder of Invoice, a Portland graffiti blog.
A worker on the job site told WW that they would be saving pieces of the site to remain in the new building's parking garage. However the most famous and most graffitied walls were torn down.
Some of Portland's street artists are working on putting together a gallery including photos and pieces of the site including work from artists Invoice, Arrex, and Skam.