99E expands five years’ exploration of sites in North, Northeast and industrial Southeast Portland, in Oregon City, and in northern Salem. These sites are all located on or near the same road: Oregon Highway 99E. These paintings follow the road south to its end.
99E is a portion of the old Pacific Highway which begins in North Portland near East Delta Park (originally Vanport), and runs south until it merges with 99W to become Highway 99, ten miles north of Eugene in Junction City. I-5, the interstate highway that replaced 99E in the 1950s, has a sameness to it throughout most of Oregon: fences and embankments separate it from the places named on the exit signs. Highway 99E grew out of the cities and towns and takes part in the life of those places, reflecting their passage through time.
The areas near old highways are some of the first places in a region to change: stone, iron and concrete age quickly under modern traffic: strip malls and new commercial development form a kind of lit-up stucco crust which surrounds the older centers of town. On other stretches of highway – those relegated to the status of “scenic back roads” by the presence of the nearby interstate- the evidence of human activity is reversed. Businesses are moved. Walls come down. Empty foundations are picked apart by patient roots, if no wrecking ball is handy.
When the road leads out of town, where does it go? The answer changes more quickly than expected. In the past several weeks, four buildings have disappeared or been renovated. Traffic patterns have shifted constantly around blinking arrows and orange cones. Billboards have changed their allegiance more than once, of course. Fields have been harvested. These paintings began late this summer when there were more than twelve hours of daylight and skies seemed unusually clear: now the afternoon light is a new color. Darkness comes earlier each night. There’s moisture in the air below the clouds: the streets shine, and the city skies reflect the color of the lights below. Already everything looks different.