Forest for the Trees NW

International street artists take over Portland with a public mural project led by Gage Hamilton

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by Hunter Hess


The brainchild of Portland, Oregon-based artist Gage Hamilton, public mural project Forest for the Trees recently brought together over a dozen artists from five countries to collaborate on large-scale murals going up in each corner of the small city. With so many artists working both in teams and independently throughout the city, each piece stands out from the others, but the project as a body of work maintains continuity without restricting the artists to one central theme. From the two-storey Clyde Drexler by MADSTEEZ and Oyama Enrico Isamu Letter, to more abstract, form-based pieces like the massive walls at the ADX shop facility by Erik Otto and MHAK, the project incorporates every artist as an individual while still remaining cohesive as a whole.


“All the artists have their own themes and styles that they work within, and it was really up to each individual and pairing what direction they wanted to take,” says Hamilton, explaining the level of instruction given to the participating artists. “I just matched them up with property owners that liked their work, and all the property owners were cool enough to keep an open mind. It would be really expensive to commission these artists, so it’s best that everyone just trusts in their ability to bring some magic to the walls.”

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Unlike many other large-scale “community” art projects, where the community can become almost an afterthought, Forest for the Trees NW set themselves apart. Rather than relying on public art grants, the project was fundraised by Hamilton and his partners through donations from local businesses and individuals within the community to make the murals possible. Everything from bikes for transportation to beer for celebration was donated to the artists. As a result, the event as a whole achieved a much more inclusive and accessible feeling than public art events have had in the past.


“Matt Wagner at Hellion Gallery came on to help me out so it wasn’t just a one-man job when things kicked off. We wanted to bring something that would make [people] step out of their daily routines and find some inspiration and connection with the artists,” says Hamilton. “And that was definitely the case. There were crowds gathering to watch the artists paint, and I think taking the time to appreciate contemporary art and the creative process is a really nice change of pace for people that might not usually interact with that world.”


The walls were painted over the course of seven days from 19 to 25 August, 2013. Now completed, each mural will stand in Portland indefinitely, but it’s suggested to view them soon because some pieces occupy donated billboard space and other walls may change in the future.

Find a full list of mural locations and participating artists at Forest For The Trees Northwest online. For more images of the making process and other murals, see the slideshow.

Images by Hunter Hess for Cool Hunting