In this month’s Visual Arts feature, we talk to Portland street artist mr SAY about his craft, the shifting reputation of street art and the battle against blank concrete.
ELEVEN: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and how did you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest?
Merlinda Bartolome: I was born and raised in the Philippines. Moved to the states when I was about 19 yrs old. I had a rough life growing up. My family was poor. That is what gave me the courage to move to this country, once I had the opportunity. I knew that I would be able to get a full time job and help support my family back home. My parents divorced when I was a kid. My dad moved to Bend, Oregon shortly after. That’s how I ended up in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve always loved art. I used to draw a lot when I was a kid, but I didn’t get into photography until about two years ago.
11: Can you tell us how the camera ended up in your hands?
MB: My mother died from cancer in June 2016. It was a very difficult time for me. Not only because I lost her, but because I wasn’t able to be with her and help take care of her while she was sick. I had to stay here and continue working, since I was the only one that could afford to pay for her medical bills. I’ve never been in that rough of a spot. I didn’t know what was the right thing to do. Either I stay here and send money home, or go back and take care of her, and not have a way to make money. Finally, I made the decision to go home in February 2016 to help take care of her. I was home for a month. It wasn’t a lot of time, but I’m glad that I was able to make it home and help take care of her.
After she died, I went on hikes/adventures, all by myself. I just wanted to be alone. I started taking pictures on my phone. I remember one of the first pictures I took, was a sunset at the Oregon coast. Sunrises and sunsets, I would say are my most favorite to photograph and edit. I just love the bright colors on all my pictures. I think moody and bright colors go well together.
11: Do you have a mentor or anyone that influences your creativity?
MB: My mother definitely influences my creativity. She was a single parent and worked really hard to make sure I had a good life. She would always tell me to follow my dreams no matter how hard I have to work for it. Also my grandmother, who is one of most selfless people I know.
11: Are you a solo adventurer or do you prefer traveling with others?
MB: I like both. I used to be terrified of the idea of adventuring alone. When I first moved to the states, I wasn’t independent at all. I’ve never been away from my family, let alone lived in a completely different culture. Now it’s like the complete opposite. I want to travel as much as I can. I’m actually planning on traveling to Iceland alone, either this year or next year. I also like traveling with others. I like making good memories with people.
11: If there was one location or person you could photograph in your life who or where would it be?
MB: I would say LIGHTS. I’ve been a huge fan of her music for a few years now. Her music has helped me through so much. Her parents were missionaries and she spent some of her childhood in the Philippines. She is part of an organization to help people in the Philippines that are dealing with poverty. In a way, I could relate to that.
11: Where can our readers find your work locally?
MB: I’m still new to photography. I’ve only done one show so far, I would love to do more and expand. As of now people can check out my work on instagram!
Find this artist on Instagram here.