Dan Witz’s Street Art – Hiding in Plain Sight in Eugene, Oregon

Dan Witz is a master of trompe l’oeil (‘trick of the eye’), the visual style of painting that looks three dimensional.

In the summer of 2017, he visited Eugene, Oregon, and placed 11 (according to the city) of his works around town. While Eugene celebrates many building-sized murals, Dan’s artwork is on a smaller scale. Locating them requires some leg-work as they are not published on a map. Also, you might have to look at places that you generally overlook. Most of his works are downtown between 7th & 11th Avenues and Charnelton & Pearl Streets – I listed some hints below – their charm is in discovering them. Several pieces are outside the downtown grid and I have provided a general location on where to find them.

Nine images are shown; the tenth image has yet to be located, the eleventh image (located off of 11th near Chase Bank) was forcibly removed and stolen.

While researching Dan’s work I learned that he called such works “WTF” images. The idea is that a casual bystander on the street or someone passing in their car might briefly spy one his works, and ask the question, “What the f$@k was that?”

His artwork is creative, surprising, and sometimes disturbing. You will be asking questions about his work long after you spy them.

#1. One of the most photographed images of Dan Witz’s work in Eugene. It is located downtown on Broadway near a restaurant. Look close to the ground.
#2. Dan’s images are sometimes in places that you might not visit. Here, in a downtown alley, next to the trash dumpster and the recycling bin is a WTF image. …most people would overlook such an area, I did…at first. I wonder how much of the grime on the wall and the neglected-looking doors is real vs painted by the artist.
#2 (continued) A close-up of the image.
#3. These hands appear to be wearing yellow rubber gloves like a person might wear who uses caustic chemicals in cleaning. Such gloves hide hints of race, age, gender or other traits that might bias the viewer. It also suggests anonymity. You’ll find this in an alley close to Broadway.
#4 & #5. Many of Dan’s images are in close proximity to Blek le Rat’s stenciled works here in Eugene. Like all good things, it takes some work to divine the location of his images. Both pieces in the photo shared wall space which appears unfinished, even a bit garish, yet it is in this unkempt space where you find the artists’ creativity. Dan’s work on this wall is possibly one of this most disturbing for me; one because of its unnerving presentation of a reclining human figure that appears to be inside a wall, and secondly that I walked past this wall for many months before I really saw it.
#4 & #5 (continued) A close-up of the reclining man; is he resting, or deceased? The two panels together are about 5 feet. Sometimes it’s easier to see this image from the side. I’m counting this as two separate pieces. To find this look on the back wall of a cabaret for actors.
#6. Definitely a WTF image – seeing a blue hand pushing the grate apart. Why is the hand blue? Does the hand belong to a tagger whose hand is covered in blue paint? Or is it something more sinister? The location for this is easily overlooked by people visiting the local farmer’s market on weekends. Instead of walking up the stairs to your car take a look around the garage’s ground level.
#7. OK, this is not one of his paintings, but his work does trick the eye. While in the proximity of Tacovore in the Whiteaker (Eugene) look at rooflines for his yellow gloves. Note the Blek le Rat work in the background.
#8. This image is downtown. It’s hiding in plain sight above the back door of a music venue that opened in 1925.
#9. This is a window-sized design.  I have both driven past and seen its location from across the street many times, yet never observed it. It is worth finding. Start at the Whole Foods in Eugene and make your way across the street to the All Prophets Tattoo shop, keep your eyes open.
#10. Photo from the 20x21EUG Mural Project. This 2017 image shows Dan Witz working on his street art located on 11th Ave by the Chase Bank. I once saw this work while riding a bus, the next time I saw it I learned it had been stolen (definitely a WTF moment), all that remained was a squiggly outline apparently from the industrial-strength epoxy where his art once attached.

#11. ? Location unknown…still looking.

Tracking Down Blek le Rat’s Street Art in Eugene, Oregon

Blek le Rat is a street artist whose work appears on many cities, including Eugene, Oregon. Finding his work can be part of a great day outing.

In 2017 Blek le Rat visited Eugene, Oregon, as part of the 20×21 Mural project. He placed 10 works around town. Most are located in a grid in the downtown area between 7th & 11th Avenues and Oak and Olive Streets. Several images are outside this grid area and those locations are mentioned in the captions. One piece was painted over in the summer of 2018, an image of it is included below.

Blek le Rat got his start as a graffiti artist in the 1970s in Paris. Eventually he used stencils to differentiate his street writing from others. Today, he is considered the godfather of stencil street art and is credited with influencing many others, including Banksy. Accompanying his work is often the image of a black rat. Blek once mentioned (paraphrasing) that rats are the only wild creatures in an urban setting, their numbers are vast compared to the human population, and they also carry subversive plague like how graffiti affects a city.

Tug of War. This image is located next to the stage door of the Hult Center (in an alley).

 

Another one of Blek’s stenciled works outside the downtown grid. This eye-catching design is located next to Tacovore in Eugene. Enjoy a cup of coffee at the local shop as well.

 

This is another work that is outside the general grid. It is located near 13th and Oak, and in the proximity of some other wonderful murals (from other artists). The man is the image is apparently of Blek’s son and his likeness appears on many of the Blek’s works around Eugene. The Koi Fish are from a previous artist’s work and can be seen at several location swimming around town.

 

A downtown image on the backdoor of a restaurant. Note the tagger is dropping the can of spray paint. Is he dropping it because it is empty or because the cops have shown up?

 

Ballet – dancing couple. When you find this piece (if you take public transit downtown look around) keep your eyes open for works of other artists like Dan Witz.

 

Another one of his works in downtown Eugene. The musician is not playing. I really like the reflection in the plexiglass, this is almost two images. Curiously, in juxtaposition, a nearby work of his features two dancers.

 

The Pied Piper. This wall-sized work is at the edge of the IDX building in town. It is not hard to see the piper from the road below, but I’m surprised how many people overlook the work entirely. To see it properly you need to climb up several flights of stairs in the parking garage. At the piper’s feet is a rat with a microphone.

 

A graffiti tagger looks around a corner. If you park your car to attend the local Farmer’s Market you’ll see the tagger – or, the tagger will see you.

 

An image of the tagger and bird in Eugene, Oregon. This sadly was painted over in the summer of 2018, it was located just off Broadway between Willamette and Olive Streets. Photo from Blek’s website.

 

The mouse with a microphone. Possibly my favorite of his Eugene works. This is different from his other pieces in Eugene in that it is located inside a building. It is easy to overlook, though it can be viewed from the sidewalk through the door. The name of the establishment is in the photo. …Nice ink on the person’s arm.

Wicked San Francisco: Fear, Sex, and Gold

San Francisco is a city born within a moment — the discovery of gold in 1848. The city’s parents were not elites or idealist, but gritty prospectors, sailors, railroad workers, gamblers, ladies of the night, grifters, poets, and carney hustlers. Today, San Francisco is often viewed as a place where a person can discover one’s fortune, where an individual can craft their future, and where it’s OK to be weird. But, beneath the sidewalks, in unimpressive alleys, and among lonely buildings is a hidden San Francisco, a city that was forged in fear, sex, and gold.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: November 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 8 | Type: walking and urban exploration

Our interpretive walking trip explored how fear, sex, and gold changed the city in three important ways. We saw how fear directed at those considered “unfit” by society  (poor, minorities, and women) reveals they are the true backbone of the city, then how censorship of sex led to modern freedoms, and finally how gold fever changed forms never really disappeared.

Our group traveled by air from Oregon on Thanksgiving Day to San Francisco. Many of us overnighted at the Fort Mason Hostel and dined at a waterfront restaurant. The next day we traveled by trolley to Union Square and enjoyed the Christmas decorations before starting our 5-mile walk. We explored the sordid history of Maiden Lane, the colorful streets of Chinatown, and the historically depraved area known as the Barbary Coast. Our route followed much of the original shoreline, which is now half a mile inland. We visited City Lights Books and places where the counter-culture Beats hung out. We climbed the steep steps of Telegraph Hill to see the murals of the historic Coit Tower. Our walk took us along garden-lined staircases and alleys. The next day we traveled to the lonely island of Alcatraz to learn more about its prison then enjoyed an afternoon exploring the city. That evening the group enjoyed a salty performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. On the final full day, several members walked ten-miles from the Marina District over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and returned by ferry. The group walked ~20 miles in total. The group returned by plane to Oregon. Photos by Mark Hougardy & Meg Stewart Smith.

Some of the faces and places who showed participants a good time… er, helped them learn more about San Francisco’s story on this wicked trip.

Group Leader Mark Hougardy sharing a story about a gutsy woman who challenged societal norms in the 1860s. Today, everyone can ride a trolley in San Francisco because of her struggle.

We caught a Holiday performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. King Louie sings his heart out. Photo: Beach Blanket Babylon

A resident of Alcatraz Island

Tips for Tour Directors Who Lead Natural History Walks

Recently, I was asked to share ideas with a tour director who was new to leading natural history walks. Here are some simple tips:

When introducing folks to a natural area I like to include in my welcome, “Are there things on this walk that you’d like to know more about?” People almost always want to know about poison ivy/oak and if they will be encountering any. Answering this takes some of the uncertainty people might have about an area off the table and helps them better enjoy the walk.

You’re not there to be an encyclopedia.

Do know the “big idea” of your walk. A big idea is what you want them to take when they leave.

If you know of any good stories about the area, place names, or local colorful characters, share them.

Think of things where people can engage their senses: look, listen, and feel.

When you visit a neat spot (beaver pond, an interesting grove of trees, etc), ask, “What do you think you know about this?” Get them to respond and share information. Everything has a story; people of first nations or settlers could have used even an unassuming plant as an important resource.

If there is an area where people can be comfortable have them sit in silence for several minutes (3 is ok). Afterward, ask them what did they see, hear, smell, and feel.

Point our any temperature shifts, like when you enter a shaded or lighted area.

Compare the feel of different tree barks. Why might they be different?

People tend to look at big things, have them find a small area and just observe for a few minutes. Ask them what they saw. A lot is happening on the small scale and it is just an important as the big things.

You need to know where north is for this. Well into your walk ask them to point to the north. The results are often surprising and entertaining even when the sun is out. Bring a compass and have a young person confirm the direction.

At the end of the walk ask people to share what they saw, heard, and smelled, etc.

“Animal House” Movie Walk

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: January 2018 | Participants: 7 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

In 1978 a low-budget movie about a misfit fraternity who challenged authority was released. The movie “Animal House” prominently featured locations around the University of Oregon. Much to the chagrin of university officials, the movie brought an unwelcome attention to the UO; to others it is one of the greatest comedy films of all time. Forty years later, this small group of Animal House fans visited fifteen sites around campus featured in the movie. We enjoyed a pleasant walk in the light rain. Some areas on campus were similar while other locations, like a refurbished room 110 Fenton Hall where the courtroom scene was filmed, are unrecognizable. We ended our walk the former site of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house, the Animal House. The dilapidated structure has since been demolished and replaced with an office building. Only a small plaque remains about its history from the 1800’s and uses in the movie. Thank you to everyone in the group for sharing their stories about the movie’s production.

Walking the Murals & Urban Art Scene in Eugene, Oregon

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: December, 2017 | Participants: 19 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

Over the past months in Eugene, Oregon, a number of building-sized murals have started appearing  – some almost overnight. I needed to check out this gigantic expression of creativity, so I gave an open invitation for an informal walk. Surprisingly, nineteen people joined me! The murals are part of the 20×21 project, an initiative to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals in Eugene between now and the premier track and field 2021 IAAF World Championships. As a runner myself, I am really excited for this event. After the walk, some of us enjoyed a tasty lunch of pizza and salad (the vegan pizza there rocks; an image is included below). Here are a few photos: