'I Don't Look Like The People That Are In That Sphere' - Maine Muralists Pay Tribute To George Floyd

Jun 19, 2020

During the first wave of protests in Portland over the death of George Floyd, three local artists painted a memorial mural for Floyd and other victims of police violence on the brick wall of a downtown building.

In his own words, muralist Ryan Adams talks about what he hopes the image will convey, and about what it is like to be an artist of color in Maine:

"The Maine landscape is what you see in a lot of fine art galleries around here. I am doing nothing like that. I don't look like the people that are in that sphere, and I'm not painting like them.

"My name is Ryan Adams. I'm 35-years-old, born and raised in Portland, Maine, and I am an artist, muralist and designer. The entire wall was a collaboration between myself and two other Portland artists, Mike Rich and Jason McDonald. So we kind of started the discussion and came up with the idea of painting a portrait of George Floyd, and then the statement next to it, 'Again We Rise,' with the names of all the other people who have fallen victim to police brutality over the last few years. I shouldn't even say all of the people, because when I started kind of digging in to find names to put on the wall, the numbers are terrifying.

"This is actually, to be completely honest with you, the first time someone has asked me about my experience of being a creative or an artist of color in Maine. That alone is pretty telling.

"I think that it is easy to overlook an artist of color, say, if you were an art critic. The majority of them, that I'm aware of, are white. They're looking at emerging artists and they see a black guy with tattoos and spray paint, and then they see the young white art student who looks like their nephew or niece. I would imagine that they may tend to, whether it's their intention or not, go towards the more familiar person.

"When you go to gallery openings, or you're around that world and you see who's getting the looks, who's getting the next chance, it's very obvious. You see folks like myself, or, you know, folks in situations that don't quite fit into that already existing world, working just as hard, doing new things, trying things out, and are just overlooked. I don't think that people set out to give that feeling or impression. I mean, maybe some do, who knows?
 
"But I've never harbored any feelings of ill will or  any negative feelings. I feel like if anything, it's made me more scrappy having my own style of work large and out there and on the side of buildings. A part of me was driven to work harder on that because I felt that I would not be accepted into this fine arts sphere. I think those are kind of the things that drove me to push further on that side - was kind of feeling as if I'm not going to be accepted here. That's OK. I'm still going to get my stuff out there."

Artist Ryan Adams spoke with Maine Public's Will Ryder Arnold, who produced this story. 

Originally published at 3:31 p.m. June 18, 2020.