Last week, public mural project Forest for the Trees brought twenty artists to Portland, handed them a couple of buckets of Miller paint, a pair of coveralls and a blank wall — and asked them to paint the hell out of it. FFTT organized bike tours and distributed treasure maps to the murals in media res, so the city could play a part in its own magic-making — each splatter, stroke and rattle-can shake along the way. These large-scale pieces transform our daily commute — concrete and steel rectangles soundly rounded at the edges, fitting in with and also against nature a magic moment at a time.
Artist, illustrator, sculptor, cartoonist and all-around shining polymath Maryanna Hoggatt painted one such mural on the corner of 59th and Sandy in Northeast Portland. The mural is an extension of Maryanna’s Animal Battle series — drawings and sculptures of cartoonish animals primed for a whimsical fisticuffs and armed with all the trappings of storybook war — star-lit lanterns, a quiver of heart-tipped arrows, wooden swords and an earnest, easily-digestible valor. A little bit Jim Henson, a little bit Roald Dahl, Animal Battle weaves a fantasy narrative in an effort to unearth our self-flagellating, masochistic and fearful tendencies and remind us of the immense reservoir of untapped courage in our wild hearts. We caught up with Maryanna to find out how she fights for her dreams.
How does your work relate — if at all — to the world in which us humans live?
We all have our personal struggles. My work is about our internal battles to bring dreams and ideas to life. Sometimes the dream is as big as pursuing what we feel is our destiny, some ideas are as ordinary as finding the courage to ask someone on a date. Through my fantasy world, I want to encourage people to overcome those fears.
Fear is a feeling that all of us — animal and human — are confronted with in various ways throughout our lives. Is there a way your work explores differently fear and doubt anthropomorphized, that is more effective than other expressions?
I’m strongly influenced by the fantasy books and films that inspired me as a kid, and in almost all of those narratives Evil was represented by an animal or creature. When you assign a tangible identity to an emotion such as fear, it’s much easier to look it in the eye. The next time you hesitate to do something, either because you are unsure or scared of the outcome, imagine plucking that emotion from your head, placing it in your hand, and telling it, “No.”
I think subconsciously I’ve expressed this narrative through animal soldiers because, while my work is meant for all ages, it’s really meant for children. I wanted to take a complex concept and be able to distill it into simple visual terms that a child can understand: find your courage, be brave, and face your fears. I’m sure there are other ways to express this, but for me, it’s the most natural way. Plus I apparently like to play with paint and clay, so that helps.
You just completed a mural for Forest for the Trees in Portland. How did you approach your work in terms of place? Did you get to have input on site/location? Did thinking about the neighborhood and place affect your process?
One of the best things about this event is that its organizers take care of all the leg work — the permits, supplies, and scouting for walls — so that all you have to do as an artist is show up and paint. We were offered a certain wall and had the option of selecting a different one, but most people take the first choice. I was given my wall (at BTU Brasserie, on NE 59th and Sandy) because it was my first mural and one of the smaller walls.
The other great thing about this project is that the business owners are aware of its intent and have faith in the organizers and their artists. I was allowed to create freely. The location did not affect my idea, but I think it helped that it was nestled into a neighborhood full of families and longtime residents. I had many visitors come by, some with their children, who were really excited about my mural and the project. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
Do you have any good luck charms?
No. I’m the kind of person who will work really hard and hope for the best. Luck is just icing on the cake.
What’s one fucked up thing?
There are so many fucked up things. I’m easily overwhelmed by the fucked up things. But I think part of my job is to remind people of the good things.
Animal Battle is on view at Portland’s Hellion Gallery through August 30.