My wife and I stopped off at the store to pick up a few things. When I got out of the car I had to step across a set of drawings lined up on the sidewalk. A man was sitting a few feet away next to a telephone pole and some newspaper dispensers. I turned and looked down at the drawings which appeared to be something very different from what I expected to see being sold on the street. I glanced over at the sitting man and asked if he had made the drawings. He said that he had, so I told him that I'd take a closer look on my way out of the store. He said "Right on" in a casual but pleased way. From what I could gather from my quick survey all of the drawings depicted political demonstrations, but I wasn’t sure exactly from what angle. We grabbed our groceries and I went back out to look over the drawings more carefully. There were a variety of historical protests including ones for Women's Suffrage, the “I Am A Man” Memphis Garbage Strike, Prohibition, etc. all done in a sort of old-fashioned simple style that in it’s regularity at first appeared to be a stamping or printing process, but were in fact all drawn by hand. Another set of drawings were done in a more colorful cartoonish style and represented a current day, semi-fantasy protest of the Bush Administration. These ones included a wide spectrum of people including punks, bearded types, kids, and yuppies all joined together with a common cause. The protesters in the both sets of drawings had smiles on their faces.
I asked the artist about the smiles and he said it was because they are all very sure of their protest’s success. I introduced myself and found out that his name is Michael Patterson-Carver. He was living in a tent up in Forest Park. He’d traveled all over the country and spent a good part of his childhood in the South where he was exposed to the Civil Rights Movement. In general he said he’d been very political all of his life. I asked Michael if he had any interest in showing his work in a gallery. He said that would be great, but that the gallery would probably get bombed because of the political nature of his work. I told him that I might know of a gallery that would be willing to take the risk. I bought one of the Michael’s drawings and took pictures of the rest and then went back home and emailed Matthew Higgs at White Columns. Matthew emailed back right away saying he’d like to show the work in his next open slot which was in about two months. I’d worked with homeless people before and staying in contact can be a problem, so I suggested that we just buy all of the work upfront, that way Michael would get paid and the gallery could count of the work being there for the show. Matthew agreed and suggested that any money made from sales beyond the costs for framing and shipping would go back to Michael or a Portland homeless shelter if Michael can’t be found. I went back a couple of days later, but Michael wasn’t there. Another homeless man was in his spot selling Street Roots, a local homeless newspaper. I asked him if he knew if Michael was around. He said he’s seen him earlier that day, but had no idea where he was now. I gave him my name and number and asked him to have Michael call me if he saw him. I thought maybe he had taken off for another town and that the drawings would never make their way to NYC. A few days later I got a message from Michael saying he was still around, but with no other information on how to track him down.
I went over to the location where I’d met him again and this time he was there. I told Michael the news. He was very pleased. I gave him a thousand dollars and took all ten of his finished drawings. The rainy season was just starting up strong, so he told me he would be checking into a motel that night. I asked him to give me a call when he got more work together. About six weeks later I got a message from Michael telling me to drop by and see him at his usual spot. I rode my bike over the next day and found him sitting by the newspaper dispensers with a new set of drawings (as good or better than the first ones) lined up on the sidewalk. He told me about how nice it was at the motel taking hot showers and sleeping in a bed, and about all of the food he’d been eating. In particular he described in great detail a breakfast he’d had that included eggs, pancakes, potatoes, and toast. He said he was trying to make up for all of the deprivation he’d experienced being homeless, but then the money ran out and he wound up back in his tent in the forest. We talked about the Libby conviction which he was very pleased about, and he told me his thoughts on various presidential candidates – he’s and Obama supporter at the moment. He also talked about local politicians, skin heads and Nazis that he thinks are out to get him, and about a law suite he is working on against the Department of Homeland Security. I bought three more finished pieces, and he said he’d be heading back to the motel that night. I’m hoping to figure out a more long term living solution for him, but I’m not sure what that will be right now. We are both really glad that White Columns is giving Michael a chance to show his work to a new audience on the other side of the country.
Portland, Oregon 3.11.07