Eastside Portland mural aims to claw out conflict

The mural is the latest project from Paint Outside the Lines

'The Guardian' is a new mural by Ernesto Maranje that overlooks a parking lot that is shared by Central Eastside businesses Cargo, Hair of the Dog Brewing Co., and Lippman Company. (Michaela Bancud, The Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — A proud tiger prowls along a brick wall in the Central East Side. It overlooks a parking lot next to the train tracks that provides free parking for businesses close to Southeast Water Avenue — Cargo, Hair of the Dog Brewing Co., and the Lippman Company.

This is where street artist Ernesto Maranje paints from a hydraulic lift, the hiss of spray-paint cans just audible over the drone of traffic on the Morrison Bridge. The mural is the latest project from Paint Outside the Lines, an international nonprofit that brings art to areas of conflict and displacement.

Maranje is a former U.S. Coast Guard technician whose murals enliven buildings in Miami; Kiev, Ukraine; and Jordan. This one is called “The Guardian.”

“We love the beautiful mural Ernesto painted on our building,” said Cargo’s Patty Merrill. Neighboring business Hair of the Dog asked to have the tiger and bird extend even farther onto their portion of the building, but Maranje found that the paint didn’t adhere to the older brick there.

'Under the Same Sky' is located on the Bishop's House in downtown Portland near Southwest Second Avenue and Stark Street. (Michaela Bancud, The Portland Tribune)
‘Under the Same Sky’ is located on the Bishop’s House in downtown Portland near Southwest Second Avenue and Stark Street. (Michaela Bancud, The Portland Tribune)

“The Guardian” is a joint project of the Cargo building, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and Paint Outside the Lines, a street art campaign Samantha Robison founded five years ago also known as AptART, or Awareness and Prevention Through Art. The Unicef-sponsored campaign has a broader mission to bring public art to each city over barriers of race and religion with bold, thought-provoking images.

Robison lives in Berlin, but came to Portland recently to receive an Outstanding Young Alumna of the Year Award at Lewis & Clark College. The 2008 graduate travels to Jordan next, where she will work with two muralists at a refugee camp.

“It’s called Azaraq, a camp where Syrians under age 18 who crossed the border alone end up,” Robison says. “We’re painting it to improve the space.”

Walls in Iraq, Belgium, Jordan. Why Portland?

“There’s so much anti-immigration news coming out of the U.S, so we wanted to offer a different message, to humanize these people and their stories,” Robison says. “Portland is considered a hub for acceptance, but it isn’t easy to paint there. There are also many homeless in Portland.”

The tiger mural is the first of four Paint Outside the Lines projects in the pipeline. It was developed in workshops with p:ear., a Portland group that mentors homeless youth through art. The kids painted phrases about family and home on the mural’s lower expanse. The tiger seems to offer some protection and a watchful eye in return.

Before they set out to paint the wall, the teenagers went to the Mercy Corps’ Action Center to learn about violence and displacement in places like Kosovo, and to think about displacement in different contexts. Mercy Corps will assist with an upcoming mural project in Jordan, Robison says.

The second of four planned murals is signed by Kevin Ledo and titled “Under the Same Sky,” located on the Bishop’s House in downtown Portland near Southwest Second Avenue and Stark Street.

A smiling child gazes up, joy on her face. Dynamic blue and purple bands swirl around her. Students from David Douglas High School and R.I.S.E. (Refugee & Immigrant Student Empowerment) created stencils and words in Arabic, Swahili, English and Somali about belonging and diversity. You have to work to find it, says one.

“It operates on a few levels,” Robison says. “First it’s an African-American girl in a very white city. And it impacts the public space in an uplifting way. I’ve seen lots of people get up closer to have a look.”

Two more murals are coming in the spring. Plans call for one on the former Schleifer Furniture warehouse on Southeast Second Avenue between Ash and Oak.

“It would be amazing to have a series of murals in the district,” said Cargo’s Bridgid Blackburn, who has offered to store the paint until Robison returns in the spring.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.