Pole Art 3 part 2: Brightening Up the Days of Passersby

I’m feeling the pressure of being the sole arbiter of Pole Art.** It’s a challenge. With this power comes great responsibility that I can’t really handle. I can breathe easier by admitting that all I want to do is share Portland’s Pole Art with the world. No pressure there. I hope it catches on because I long for the day I can wander from pole to pole to see various manifestations of Pole decor that have sprung up from this craze. Utility poles are everywhere. It could take a while. Until then let’s enjoy the Pole Art we have.

Pole of Cards

Right at the entrance of Pittman Addition HydroPark is a pole covered in playing cards. This was the case this summer anyway as it’s hard to tell how many card games have since broken out in the park. The cards may have been pilfered by now. The immediate reaction may be how much of an artistic statement this is. People might be thinking it’s just cards attached to a pole. What the concept lacks in artistic merit it makes up for in fun and spectacle.

A pole covered in cards takes effort, vision and at least a couple of decks of cards. There isn’t a casino in the Portland area so this Pole Art feels out of place but it doesn’t have an inferiority complex about being artsy. Remember, too, Pole Art is a broad category. If you read last week’s post you know that anything stuck to a pole makes Pole Art.

Oceanic Swirl

A swirling seascape of fish, colorful bubbles and kelp slithering up this pole in the Sunnyside neighborhood has the feel of a hippyish, paisley, old tie design. A little paint creates Pole Art bursting with life, vibrancy and color on an otherwise baron utility pole. I appreciate the efforts to jazz up this neighborhood.

Busy Squirrels

This pole was created from what looks like leftover decorations from a nearby yard covered with knickknacks and bird baths in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. The tastefully arranged squirrels appear to scamper up the pole. Life often imitates this piece of Pole Art, at least in my neighborhood where real squirrels run rampant up undecorated poles.

Fast Art

The fast food art of an obvious fast food enthusiast appears as graffiti on traffic signs around town. It caught my eye on this pole near the Portland Meadows horse track. What looks like a simple chalk drawing applied to a utility pole creates another example of, you guessed it, Pole Art. Are these images modern hieroglyphics, subliminal advertising, the eye-catching subject matter of unwarranted public art, all, or none of the above? Consider yourself lucky no multiple choice test is involved at the end of this Pole Art blog post.

Pole Art, Art

 photo by Graham Marks

In a Pole Art overview we must also consider the art that’s inspired by utility poles. This is an example of a photograph that captures, in specific detail, what utility poles endure through the application of multiple heavy-duty staples and nails for posters and flyers. This frame freezes in time the world-weary, battle-scarred nature of the life of a North Lombard Avenue utility pole.

Found Art Pole Art Found

 photo by April Stock

In response to seeing a Facebook posting about last week’s Pole Art piece, April asked if I had seen this Pole Art. It was new to me. Initially I thought it was fantastic. Well, it is, but I had been under the impression that it was a piece of original art attached to the pole. A closer look revealed that it to be more of a found art conglomeration. It’s still striking  and skillfully arranged. Discussion followed about where this Pole Art was located. I feel it’s important to let any possible Pole Art aficionados know in case they want an up close and personal viewing. This art was spotted last spring so at first the recollections were spotty. It was narrowed down to Butterfly Park before iPhone technology saved the day offering the more specific location of SW Miles Place.

A License to Art

In case anyone is wondering what to do with the license plates that pile up in the garage and seem like souvenirs from all the places you’ve lived but are really a heap of colorful metal gathering dust, this example of Pole Art in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood might be the answer. It’s fun to look at adding color, geographical information and various letters and numbers to otherwise drab surroundings.

Keep Smiling

Here are two examples of a design that can be found all over town. It’s not only seen as Pole Art but on stickers too. In faces and flowers we see the wide open third eye keeping watch for the rest of a face reflecting total bliss. These decorations were found in the North Williams corridor and they seem to be offering something in the way of brightening up the days of passersby.

**If you have a look at this Pittsburgh Orbit post you’ll see someone else is hot on the trail of Pole Art in a specific way. I’m sure someday there will be a meeting of the minds concerning the significance of all of this Pole Art.

Pole Art 3 part 1: A Further Odyssey and Slight Exploration of the World of the Pole Art Phenomenon



I won’t exaggerate and say I’ve looked at every utility pole in Portland to bring you the best Pole Art this town has to offer. All I can serve up are examples from my random encounters. The city has the poles inventoried so there is a record of every telephone pole out there but I can’t tell you if this information collected includes details about Pole Art. Consider the people whose job requires them to wave a gizmo across barcodes posted on the poles. Pole inventories seem crazy for an item that would be hard to misplace. The Portland Orbit gets into the spirit of these inventories by focusing on poles graced with Pole Art.

In previous posts I speculated about committees meeting to discuss what constitutes Pole Art. I have to admit that was a warped fantasy, bureaucracy run amok and a lost cause dream to bring legitimacy to Pole Art. At this point, because I’ve done no research independent of looking at poles, there could be some, as of yet, undiscovered Pole Art scholars out there. As far as I know, I am the sole judge and jury of what constitutes Pole Art. I’ll try not to let this power go to my head. I have even made an effort to create a new genre of art formalizing it with capital letters to make it Pole Art. I could distinguish between categories of Pole Art but I prefer to lump them together. Why should there be a difference if someone decides to hang art on a pole while someone else turns one into an object of art with paint or other art supplies? No one wants to organize committees of art experts who would then meet at a Holiday Inn out near the airport to discuss and draft definitions of what determines what is and isn’t Pole Art. Who needs to expound on Pole Art movements and subcategories either? Say no to Post-Pole Art, Modern Pole Art,  Abstract Pole Art or any other possible combination. Let’s keep it simple and call it all Pole Art.

Join me on yet another Pole Art odyssey.

High in the Polls

Here’s one Pole Art secret that will soon be out of the bag. If you are planning to adorn a pole with art hang it high so no one can jump up and swipe it. It may not be as noticeable but that will keep it around longer. The steps necessary to have this art nusiance removed from a public utility pole might include city workers answering calls about potential bothersome Pole Art, scheduling a pole inspection, making a return visit after retrieving the right ladder while also determining when to remove the offending art piece. This example from the Foster-Powell neighborhood looks like a spray painted stencil. It resembles a homage to a science fiction B-movie featuring an overgrown mutant hairy elephant run amok but I’ll leave it up to others to make their own interpretations. The art is nice in it’s subtlety. Once spotted it adds whimsy to an unadorned pole.

The way to make utility poles attractive is to add metal folk art with intricate markings. It’s does compete with pole’s  beat up exterior of flyer remnants and rusty staples but the art on this NE Alberta Street pole distracts from the rough hewn nature of its surroundings offering a unique piece to appreciate.

Pole Count

photo by Graham Marks

Here’s further proof of the importance of keeping track of telephone poles so they’re not lost. Poles are decorated with random numbers, pole inventory bar codes and medallions, the meaning of which is lost on a laymen such as myself. I have a budding interest, along with a low level of expertise, in Pole Art but anything official looking befuddles me. It can’t help imagine someone having to check an awful lot of telephone pole bar codes while also getting a chance to admire some Pole Art in the process.

A Trilogy of Tidings

Utility poles work double duty. They don’t just hold up wires. On other occasions they act like community bulletin boards passing messages. I spotted these signs in the Kenton neighborhood. This artistic sign with its simplistic Pay Attention message had me thinking that if someone really wants me to pay attention they shouldn’t distract me with signs that I’m going to read that tell me to pay attention while requiring me to take my eyes off the road as I’m driving. Find another way to present this information.

On the other hand I still think about Doug and hope he’s no longer lost. The third sign in the photo offers an official warning making me wary of any pole that displays it. This may be the one thing government officials can do to discourage Pole Art artists and keep them away from poles. Posting official, colorful and cryptic signs should keep literate people at bay. The problem is I have no idea what backfeed is so the warning is effective. I don’t want to experience backfeed of any kind. Possible backfeed is as daunting and intimidating as any other form of backfeed could be.

Flowering Pole Art

A display like this one found in SW is never a good sign. It’s a memorial to someone who has perished in the vicinity. There’s no way to know if the pole was involved but it seems like a tragic spot. Pole Art has it’s gray areas between art and memorial.

Crap Up A Pole

A pole consumed with information in that old college bulletin board way blends into a cinematic montage seen through a kaleidoscopic lens. Invitations to DJ nights, stickers, show advertisements pile on top of each other creating layers of crumpled, ragged and shredded paper flapping in the breeze. The pole combined with other urban elements like a graffiti strewn newspaper box and trash can in the Mississippi District have evolved into a living piece of conceptual art.

Help Me…

A cry for help won’t go unnoticed when it’s posted gallantly on a pole on Lombard Avenue. When there’s no one around to offer help to it’s certain to go unheeded. It summarizes my state of mind after being immersed in Pole Art. Bear in mind this is only part one! Part one will be followed by part two next week rather than keep anyone in suspense for longer than necessary. I think it’s accurate to say we have saved the best for last which may have you wondering how we could possibly have topped the images of Pole Art that you’ve already seen. Just wait.

Pole Art 2

Anonymous artists are at work adding pizazz to mundane telephone and electrical poles. These adornments are sometimes subtle and unnoticeable. There is a fine line between Pole Art and Pole Decoration. If a pole is decorated in an artistic way then surely it should be elevated to Pole Art status. It’s as if a committee of scholars and experts is needed to conference at a Holiday Inn somewhere next to an airport to make Pole Art status determinations and establish Pole Art guidelines.


Strands of clear tape slapped on a pole dance in a breeze. Poles become small scale bill boards for a variety of expression. Eventually whatever use the tape served morphed into weathered abstract sculpture.

Some pole artists take it upon themselves to spray paint directly on to the pole.


This redundant replication of the speed limit seems to over emphasize the need to slow down.


Spray paint creates half-assed designs resembling bananas that, at least in the past, could be seen being unloaded on Swan Island below. Pole Art can and will imitate life at times.


Electrical looking crap, for lack of a better word, left on a pole on Lombard St. can look artistic in its own right. Giving it the old black and white will help it to resemble art.

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Black and white photography is key to making pole decor artistic.


Pole step hangings have a sub genre feel in the Pole Art movement being more decoration than true art. It is an easy way to spice up a pole. All it takes is the right object to hang. The Pole Art Definition Committee will spend many days and possibly nights in the hotel bar perfecting the exact language necessary to distinguish Pole Art from Pole Step Art.


I am curious about who gets inspired to hang Pole Step Art. The question isn’t necessarily “why” so much as “why not?” Is it one neighbor doing all the hanging or is it contagious in the neighborhood in that cliched “Keeping Up With the Joneses” way? Is it all about finding the perfect hangable object that would look exactly right on a pole step rather than inside a house on a wall? Only the neighbors on N. Dana Ave. know for sure.

Would you believe there’s enough Pole Art documentation for a sequel to this blog post? Sorry to cut you off from this fascinating Pole Art world and send you back to reality. We’ll give it a rest but you can bet that someday you will barely be able to believe your eyes when you’re reading a blog post entitled Pole Art 3.

In the meantime I hope this Portland Orbit Report on Pole Art will suffice. Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jmz2zdqKPE


Pole Art (part 1)

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You enter a dimly lit room with a high ceiling and sit at one of the many tables in an otherwise empty space. You become mesmerized by twinkling lights that swirl and cut through the darkness. Shimmering curtains in the back of the room are made of mystical, metallic material. A soundtrack of a loud, sweetly distorted guitar solo fills the still air. Your eyes fixate on a single pole that appears in a spotlight. Out saunters a dancer in a leather bikini with fringe hanging from the waist band, being quite naive, you had no idea they made those. Her hips sway as she moves like the star of an alternate culture ballet. She approaches the pole, reaches up with both hands and wraps one thigh high up and around. Your mind drifts to another kind of pole art.

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You can’t help it. It seems strange but it started with shoes attached to poles and you saw more examples of it and had been trying to figure it out. It occurs to you that there is no way to know what qualifies as a true example of pole art. You’ve never been sure, at least not sure enough to expect to have telephone poles dragged into the Portland Museum of Art for a major pole art retrospective from the last two decades. Besides, pole art is anonymous and more in line with street art. A pounding drum solo disrupts your revery. A dancer lies in a concentric circle at the bottom of the pole. All of your money has leapt out of your wallet and remains crumpled up on the floor. A bouncer is tapping you on the shoulder and tugging at your collar. You long to escape to the purity of this other world, a different kind of pole art.

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The versatility of poles is evident in their ability to hold up wires and display art. One of my earliest recognitions of pole art was found in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood. The exact street has been forgotten, but I saw it off Ainsworth St. Others might describe it as found objects affixed to a pole–more eyesore than art which may be getting us closer to a pole art definition.  As a resilient repository, poles can withstand nails and staples and suffer through affixations of flyers, poster hangings, spray paint, street signs and other displays.

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There are the times when it’s hard to say what artistic statement is being made or if the attempts at art are serving an actual purpose. Gizmos like the screwed in plastic gadgets, have a function that is anyone’s guess. They resemble bottle caps. It’s hard to imagine the concept behind anyone wanting to screw something into a telephone pole as an artistic statement.  I lean towards them having some functional use because I’ve seen similar devices on other poles. They do spruce up an otherwise dull piece of wood though.



Another artsy type accouterment I’ve seen on poles is this tulip/headband looking number. See below:

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I’m not sure who is trying to dress up the poles around here, but the nailed in,  red, star flower symbol with a strap is really jazzing up the look of the poles in my neighborhood. It means something to someone and something entirely different to someone else.


I know, ah, it’s that similar feeling when a show ends with a to be continued message. There’s so much more coverage concerning Pole Art that it will have to be continued. I apologize for the difficult week you will have to endure as you wait and wonder about what else can be written on the subject matter. Tune in for part 2 anyway and be glad you only have to wait a week.

(Sadly, you will be waiting more than a week due to a bike accident. Check back in August.)

Center of the Known Creative Universe

center of the universe 3

If abducted by aliens and told to take them to the creative hub or nerve center of Portland, I’d head over to the corner of N. Albina Ave and N. Sumner St. (Sorry W&K.) On one side of the street you have Mississippi Records, the other Cherry Sprout Produce. It’s like a lightning bolt hit smack in this area and supercharged it with a heavy dose of ability to channel creative expression. You’ll find it in the ideas about creativity and self-expression and attitude that’s amplified within the walls of Mississippi Records with an art museum, the Portland Museum of Modern Art, in the basement. Last time we visited the record store and art museum we headed over to Cherry Sprout Produce across the street. Sure it’s a grocery store but it has a whole different approach. That day was sunny, there was art on the walls and it felt good to be buying food in that atmosphere. The store’s sound system was playing better music than I heard at Mississippi Records. It sounded fresh, yet vintage–psychedelic garage rock with guitar solos leaping out of the speakers.

center of the universe 1

The telephone pole in this section of town marks the spot where creative energy seems to flow the highest. Yes, right into the street. It had multiple colorful discs on it. I worshipped the crazy colors and decorations. I think this would make the aliens smile too. It took me a while to realize I was looking at repurposed records which makes sense since Mississippi Records sells vinyl.

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Insane, weird, impressive culture radiates out of these two establishments. I’m surprised the powers that be haven’t seeded the clouds in an attempt to wash it all away. If the aliens said take me to your leader I’d try to track down Eric Isaacson, Mississippi Record’s head honcho. He’d probably think that was too weird for him but look at this upcoming film from the screening series he’s organized at the Hollywood Theatre. It’s a movie called The Secret Life of Plants about psychobotany followed up by a slide show (winningly old school!) about the concept of “Ecstatic Truth.” This is happening Thursday, April 23 at 7:30pm so get a move on it. Expect to see the front row full of beaming aliens. It’s so unassuming, yet mind blowing. Pardon me, I have to go write my Alien Abduction novel now.


It’s all happening here.