Art That Stops You in Your Tracks
For much of his career, Martin French has found himself a translator for two worlds often speaking past each other: the art community and the church. An illustrator whose client list includes Apple, The Atlantic, and the Olympic Games, French moved to Portland in 2005 to teach at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and soon connected with the nondenominational Imago Dei Community, pastored by Rick McKinley. On the first visit, says French, "There was a real sense of the importance of creative expression within the church and … engagement with the city, which is so much of what I was moving here for. It was a really good fit from the start."
French's leadership on Imago's new public art project has meant translating for another duo often speaking past each other in post-Christian Portland: the church and city government. The Exile Poster Project, a collection of 20 posters created by Imago members and French's students, center on the theme of sex trafficking. The posters have appeared in City Hall, the Capitol in Salem, and trafficking hotspots throughout Portland. Speaking with Katelyn Beaty, editorial director of This Is Our City, French explains the power of these posters to change attitudes about one of Portland's most pernicious social ills.
How did the Exile Poster Project come about?
I had wanted to do a poster project since moving to Portland. The art form has been influential in my own work, and Portland is a very poster-oriented town, a huge music scene. But I wanted to go deeper into what was going on in the city—a very non-Christian city—to create dialogue.
At the beginning of 2011, Rick McKinley taught through Matthew. I found myself on Sunday morning going back to the theme of Exile. Not, "Who are the exiles in the city, and who can we help?", but that I was an exile. I walked away with the Exile Poster Project concept. Paul [Ramey, Imago's arts pastor] and I talked about hosting it at Imago's art space. Another pastor, Ken Weigel, said, "Dealing with sex trafficking in a creative way is constantly coming back in my office and from the city. The city's saying, 'We're not making a lot of headway on this, and we're looking for creative ways.' " And I said, "Why don't we choose a social issue and present it to a group of artists each year? And let's kick off with sex trafficking."