Gary: Portland Street Artist

Ambitions in graphic design

Interview by HH Hsueh
Photographs by Gary S. Truman

Gary S. Truman is the mischievous alter ego created by a graduate of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Mostly, Gary just is some artsy douche-bag with a chip on his shoulder and a strong dislike for authority figures. He’s the kind of person who smirks a lot and regurgitates cringe-worthy platitudes like “I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission,” as if
that somehow excused him from being a no-good, dirty vandal, but deep down he wants to make something beautiful.

1.JPG

Since a young age, I’ve always been interested in graphic design. I really liked drawing bubbles and block letters. I wouldn’t call it typography though. My time at Virginia Tech spurred my printmaking. I learned a lot from a friend of mine during my freshman year on the basic principles of printmaking. I spent almost every little bit of free time in that print room trying to get better at it. To be honest, I’m still not particularly good at it, but there’s always a new way to go about it, or pick up a better technique. I don’t have a particular process. Usually it starts and ends with getting a little bit intoxicated. I think that it kind of loosens up my thoughts. Once I come up with an idea, I’ll write it down or sketch it out. Then I’ll return to it later,
develop it and design as I go. I don’t really have a fleshed-out plan once I start doing something because nothing ever really goes according to plan anyway. I like to leave a bit of room for improvisation as I go.

Similarly, street art has always been something that I was attracted to. As a kid, I used to get into trouble, screwing around and messing with people’s stuff. All of that was more low-level vandalism than art though, but the illegality behind it has always interested me. It’s a method of getting your art out there for people to see, without having to go through a more traditional route like building a portfolio, and taking it around to different coffee shops so they can display it, and then going to galleries saying, ‘I’ve been to these ten different coffee shops.
Are you interested in having some for your gallery?’ There’s this whole ladder that you have to climb in the traditional art world that I don’t have the patience or desire to get involved with. For me, street art was, and still is, a way of creating art and having people see and appreciate it, without having to ask someone else whether or not it was okay for me to display it.

2.JPG
3.JPG

There’s something inherently loose about graffiti to begin with. If you think about graffiti in the classical sense, it’s about being loose, and having the hand styles and techniques to do quick throwies on the wall. But that’s really more of my personal process, to try to remain loose. For some people, it’s all about staying tight and focused. Since I started this endeavor a year and a half ago, I’ve met people from all walks of life, and all age groups. From fourteen all the way to their fifties and sixties, it’s definitely a broad group, and everyone tackles their work from a different perspective. There’s always been stigma around graffiti and street artists, but I think that it’s becoming less so. Whether or not that’s a positive or a negative thing depends on the person you ask. More people are becoming interested in it, and it’s definitely becoming more accessible, with Instagram and other sites spreading its popularity. But older street artists sometimes take issue with the fact that it’s gradually becoming more mainstream. From their perspective, back in the day they were outlaws. Now, it’s just some other random guy on Instagram.

When I first moved to Portland (three years ago) I didn’t know any artists. Even after living here
for a year, I still hadn’t met anyone who was into art, but within a month of starting graffiti art I found major positive reactions to the work that I put on Instagram. Through that, I got linked up with other artists, and soon I became more deeply involved in the culture. I think these developments in technology are incredible tools. They can link people up, encourage newcomers, and trade secrets and tips. They will only serve or make the quality of street art better. There’s someone around the Portland area that just puts hats on everyone else’s
stickers. I always thought that was kind of funny. And it’s great to just meet people out on the street doing graffiti. Instagram has done so much to make the street artists become more of a community. We organize meet-ups to collaborate in a more traditional sense there. But again, there are people who may view certain things as more of a diss than a collaboration. Generally though, if an artist is tapping someone else’s work or going over it, that’s not cool. If I were to put a sticker somewhere, and somebody else came up and slapped theirs on top of mine, that’s just an insult. It’s something that happens on a fairly regular basis though, and the general consensus is that there are enough walls out there for everyone to use. You don’t need to go over anyone else.

4.JPG
5.jpg

Graffiti culture in Portland revolves around stickers. There was one sticker in particular that I had a lot of fun with. I was thinking of different ways to engage the urban canvas. The bulk of the graffiti in Portland happens on street poles and street signs. I wanted to play off of what people traditionally would just see as a street pole. So I devised a sticker that would wrap perfectly around the pole, and make it more whimsical and fun. Now… it just so happens that the sticker wrapped around the pole is a large middle finger. So unfortunately, most of them got torn down right after they were put up. Maybe I’ll send a more positive message next
time. But that was definitely something where my background in architecture and graphic design came into play. Especially going to school at Virginia Tech, where creativity and outside-the-box thinking is encouraged, the idea was something that I could never have come up with were it not for my background.

I’ve chosen the platonic solids as my signature because they are the simplest of three-dimensional shapes. Each of them have the exact same angles and faces, and that’s it. It is just those five. There’s something universal about them in that they represent a truth. Plato thought that they were everywhere. By putting them everywhere with street art stickers, I’m addressing that same everywhereness. I think that they are an iconic symbol, and wherever they are, people recognize them. Because of this, the platonic solids hold a certain power in their form. Nobody owns them, they are just part of human knowledge. I think there is something special about that in this sense, as far as it being an anonymous thing. I can’t really claim ownership
anywhere because I am putting it out anonymously, but I wouldn’t want to claim ownership of them anyways because these ideas are not something that belong solely to me.

6.JPG