MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility

In the studio: Blaine Fontana

From his riverside workplace in a North Portland art hub, the muralist and public artist fans out around the globe

The winding sidewalk to North Coast Seed Building Studios is caught in a vice-grip between the hurried freight cars of the Union Pacific rail line and their fellow travelers, the cargo ships along the Willamette River below. Both sides are neatly ordered, and the hustle and bustle of behind-the-scenes raw materials and merchandise on the move make this industrial area between the Fremont and Broadway bridges in North Portland seem plucked from another time. Tall, bushy, and abundant dill plants spring from the space between the macadam and the gutter, fighting for space with monumental rosemary bushes. Maybe accidental escapees from the former seed storehouse, the out-of-place plants are a nice reminder of how tenacious life can be. There’s little pause between the trains as they create a small wind chamber; their weathered exteriors carry both loaded social commentary and amateur graffiti messages.

Blaine Fontana: the artist amid his art.

Blaine Fontana: the artist amid his art.

For the last seven years the artist Blaine Fontana has worked here. Inside, his studio looks like many in and around this sprawling artistic compound: projects stacked by studio doors; found pieces that look their age, but have enough of the right lines and material to deserve an eyeful. Near its high rafter ceilings Fontana’s studio has windows that face west and fill the room with an almost unfiltered light. The space is divided into sections, giving the unmistakable impression of a creative warehouse. With its stacked materials and framing of wooden beams, it’s playful, too. The smells of fresh lumber and 1950s filing-cabinet steel fill the air. Fontana is of a similar nature. He’s focused, grounded, driven, always on the hunt for something new to appreciate. He’s a tall man, with black swept hair and some well-placed tattoos. Around the edges of his thoughtful composure lurks a little of the bad boy.


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