The “Wall of Artists” in Portland, Oregon (all photos courtesy of Jonny Luczycki, unless stated otherwise)

On Saturday evening, August 1, artists in Portland, Oregon set up a wall of easels around the scene of the violence incited by Trump-ordered federal agents who were sent to the city to suppress protests.

A group of 15 local artists, mostly painters, participated in the “Wall of Artists,” a live painting action organized by the Portland-based painter Jonny Luczycki.

The artists placed their easels and art equipment at Chapman Square in downtown Portland, not far from Multnomah County jail (commonly known as the Justice Center) and the federal Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse where protesters have been bombarded by tear gas, rubber bullets, and other anti-riot ammunition on a nightly basis for the past two months.

The artists set their easels at Chapman Square, the scene of violent clashes between protesters and federal agents
About 15 local artists, mostly painters, painters participated in the event

“People who read articles in the media have no idea what’s going on in Portland,” Luczycki told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation. “They don’t see the injustice of how police have been responding to protests, the violence, the tear gas, and how First Amendment rights are being violated.”

Luczycki, who has been painting during protests for the past two weeks, said that he was tear-gassed by federal officers while making his art. In spite of this, he kept returning to the protests with his easel.

“To me, art is the most sensitive, nonviolent form of protest,” he said.

One of Luczycki’s paintings is based on a hospital mugshot of Donavan La Bella, a 26-year-old protester was severely injured after federal police shot him in the head with a rubber bullet. Luczycki created the painting next to a sidewalk that was still stained with La Bella’s blood.

Artist Jonny Luczycki’s portrait of Donavan La Bella, a protester who was severely injured after federal police shot him in the head with a rubber bullet

Carla Bartow, another Portland-based artist who participated in this weekend’s event, created a portrait of the late John Lewis, a Senator and civil rights leader who recently died at age 80.

“I found a way that I could use my art to contribute to the Revolution,” she told Hyperallergic in an email. Bartow enveloped Lewis’s portrait with quotes from an essay he wrote for the New York Times shortly before his death, which was published posthumously. “I put his last words in there because I found them inspiring and hopeful,” she said.

Artist Carla Bartow painting a portrait of the late US Senator and civil rights leader John Lewis (courtesy the artist)

On Thursday, the federal forces started gradually withdrawing from Portland. Since then, protests have been relatively calm.

“When the feds left on Thursday, that was the first peaceful night we had in over 60 days,” Luczycki said.

One of Luczycki’s live paintings during the Portland protests

Luczycki is planning another Wall of Artists event next Saturday, with even more participants.

“I want to see 100 artists there,” he said. “Artists were the original journalists; they recorded history with their brush. I think it’s important to capture and spotlight what’s happening in Portland.”

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...