Editor’s note: Earlier this year, Brian Knowles reached out to me in response to Ryan Seslow’s post about teaching a class on street art and graffiti. Brian also teaches about street art and graffiti at the university level. As it turned out, I knew Brian’s Instagram account and his flickr and he always seems to be catching great work that I don’t see elsewhere, so I asked Brian if maybe he would like to do a guest post highlighting street art and graffiti in Oregon. Of course, what I was really hoping for was a post about The Reader/Read More Books/Boans…, but I figured I’d give Brian the freedom to do whatever he wanted. He responded that he would love to do a post about The Reader’s work in Oregon, so that turned out perfectly. The Reader is one of my favorite street artists/graffiti writers/whatever working outdoors, so I couldn’t be happier for Brian to let us publish some of his photos of The Reader’s work in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon. – RJ Rushmore
Eugene and adjacent Springfield, Oregon straddle the main rail line and Interstate 5. Two hours south of Portland, it’s the last big stop before San Francisco. It’s a good resting place for travelers heading north or south. The graffiti artist Read More Books has been a frequent visitor, as evidenced by the number of his pieces in the area. I’ve been documenting graffiti and street art here for the last 5 years. Every year a few new pieces appear as Reader passes through. None are ever legal, yet they seem like they were always supposed to exist in that spot.
For me, Read More’s style has a timeless quality. His work feels like it could have existed for decades, and his skulls and books give his admonishments to ‘Read up!’ and ‘Read More’ an apocalyptic flavor.
Below is the classic Reader throwy of the open book. Here inverted black on white and white on black. These are from 2011.There used to be trees between the books, hence the spacing. Here is an earlier photo.
The black and white book below is from the end of this summer, and the double books on the semi are also 2013. There’s a shot from its original location, and then one from its new home behind a fence with other trailers. Whomever moved it to the new location did Reader a solid and made the rear book visible from a major street. The colored triangle shapes are actually by one of Reader’s friends.
Higher than the rest, this Boans roller is all that’s left of a combo roller piece that Reader featured in his Label 228 zine. I never managed to see the wall before it had been dissed. The current graffiti underneath is better than the original diss, but not of the quality of that original epic piece. Here is a scan of that zine page.
Just down the tracks from that roller is “The Rapture”, a massively long spelling of the words with a still unfinished OYE drawn out in yellow lines at the far end. It’s visible from a local park and appeared around the time of those ‘end of the world/rapture’ predictions. Here is an earlier photo.
I would never have found this spot without help from the locals. It is a time capsule of area graffiti. Reader painted this Boans piece in 2010 (I think).
Reader and legendary New York writer Atak put up some throws in the summer of 2012 in some of the more desolate trackside industry spots.
This next piece from 2013 is trackside in the famous Eugene neighborhood ‘the Whiteaker’. It sits across from the colorful Read Up roller piece (more on that below).
On display alongside the ever-present skull is Reader’s classic piecing style with its radically different fonts for each letter. From sometime in 2013, it sits trackside in an out of the way, industrial part of town.
This next massive undertaking appeared late this summer. The roller up top has spray edges. The numerous skulls congregate beneath it with several boaney throws. With a minimal palette and playful style, this piece is humorous and a bit sinister – just in time for Halloween.
The new big boans piece is across the tracks from the READY! roller from last year. This shot really gets at how truly massive both of these blockbusters are:
The large ‘ready’ was painted in the summer of 2012. The Outlaw Confederacy banner was added in 2013 – Reader basically cleaning up the locals’ painting below the roller. Here is a photo of the original. I love this roller as it uses the shape of the concrete bricks for the serifs in the letters. It’s so clean it looks like it was meant to go there, and so massive that its illegality and associated logistics are truly impressive. That Reader manages to pull off these incredibly large and illegal projects continues to add to his legendary graffiti status.
This next roller is probably the most visible piece by Read More in the whole area. It’s trackside in the Whiteaker, accross from the Eugene Hostel. Amtrak rolls by daily, as do countless cars, bikes, and pedestrians. It was completed in 2012 and featured in the article on Reader in Juxtapoz. A friend of Reader’s did the colored triangles.
Under a railway bridge over the Willamette river, this yellow and black Read roller appeared sometime in early 2013. It’s another great example of the precision and cleanliness the Reader’s rollers are known for, and the visibility and impact of his spot selection is immediately apparent. The primary-colored books were added near the end of the summer and also demonstrate Read’s dedication to crisp, clean lines -this time using a spraycan. Like almost all of the Read, Read Up, Read More blockbusters, this one is in a highly visible area with an auto bridge nearby. In general the Boans pieces tend to be off the beaten path, or trackside, much more hidden and elusive than the ‘Read’ works, which are usually in strikingly easy-to-see spots.
The potential of the ubiquitous street barricade just got a boost with this ultra clean piece. Facing the tracks as so much of Reader’s work usually does and situated at a dead end, this extensive roller tag makes smart use of the road barricades. It stays hidden from the street but visible to the trains and the road across. Reader is a member of the OYE and HK crews, among whose spellouts my favorites are Open Your Eyes and Higher Knowledge. The HK and, of course, the skulls are both done with spraypaint. This roller appeared in the summer 2013.
My favorite new works by Read are these metal and chain pennants installed between two telephone poles. I also found two more of these in Oakland. Made from cut up signs and suspended between chains with their locks still connecting links, this heavy metal street sculpture has roots deep in the renegade principles of graffiti. Stolen and painted, then locked down on the street like his recent newspaper boxes that have been sighted in New Orleans, these metal pennants are powerful works of graffiti which, in my opinion, start to get to that level of the Revs welded pieces -unrivaled permanence and ‘badass’-ness.
For a place its size, it is remarkable that Eugene and Springfield have been graced with so much work by Read More. With different sensibilities than New York, New Orleans, or the other major cities in which you find Reader’s works, the cities have not buffed any of his pieces. I think Reader’s work runs for longer because of the positive message: Read, Read Up. That so many of the pieces are huge in size lends to the belief by the public that they must be sanctioned, maybe some kind of public service announcement. And unlike most graffiti, Reader’s is accessible – its legibility means that anyone can read it. In combination with Eugene’s proximity to the west coast’s main travel corridor and the permissive hippy vibe and college town feel, Reader has found the perfect spot for his brand of graffiti to take root, grow and flourish.
The past four summers I’ve taught a class at the University of Oregon on street art and graffiti, and I’ve been benching trains in the Eugene Springfield area since finishing my MFA in printmaking there in 2008. My favorite graffiti artist is Read More Books, and I’m working (still) on a book on of his work, so it was a great thrill for me to get to share Reader’s work with RJ and the Vandalog community. Thanks again RJ for your patience and this space!
Photos by Brian Knowles