Mike Bennett turns Portland into land of cartoon giants
Mike Bennett realizes that art drops, or displaying one's work in public for the sake of exposure, are nothing new for an artist.
But when somebody turns the corner and sees Homer Simpson peaking out from inside a bush, they'll smile at Bennett's attempt to spread some cheer and goodwill.
In recent months, Bennett has built 6-foot-tall plywood cartoons, and some smaller, and placed them in his Northeast Portland neighborhood and elsewhere — in open spaces, on posts, poles and trees, both on public and private space. So, the likes of Homer Simpson from "The Simpsons" and SpongeBob SquarePants, Patrick and Squidward from "SpongeBob SquarePants," Winnie the Pooh, Pikachu, Freddy Krueger from "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Calvin and Hobbes," "Rick and Morty," the "Futurama" and "My Neighbor Totoro" characters, and Kermit the Frog have been seen out and about. (In the future, you might even see scores of little figures of Diglett, the Pokemon character).
He puts a note on the back of each of them, emphasizing that if the art drop inhibits or bothers people, he'll be there within minutes to remove it. Thankfully, none of it has been vandalized or stolen, he says.
The idea sprang from the Internet meme — and scene from "The Simpsons" — in which Homer peaks out from inside a bush.
"I looked in the front yard and thought, 'I have those bushes,'" Bennett says. He had succeeded in making a giant plywood snowman inspired by "Calvin and Hobbes," to combat the fact that snowmen melt when temperatures rise, and "I thought, 'Why don't I recreate that (the Homer image)?'"
He also lives on an Alberta Arts District street where goats used to reside. He missed the goats after they left and wanted something fun to make the kids smile.
Bennett has made his own, unique art — see www.MikeBennettArt.net and Instagram and Twitter. In fact, he'll be working on Sasquatch figures as part of a personal project to try to sell to a business such as a bar or restaurant.
"They're becoming my babies," he says. "I think people will like it. The city will like it."
He's also going to work with Jack Kent of Gulls Comic on some strategic art placements.
But doing some known characters certainly has earned attention. News outlets including KOIN, KGW, BBC News and Atlas Obscura have done stories on him. And the figures get plenty of attention from passersby.
Of course, he doesn't sell them. Rights holders wouldn't allow that. He creates and displays the art as "fan art," and rights holders rarely go after fan artists for copyright violations. "They're creating this whole world, why wouldn't they want it shared?" he says.
He makes smaller plywood characters for scavenger hunts. People contact him directly about scavenger hunts, conducted through his social media.
He's made about 40 in all, and placed them at different times on public and private spaces. He'd like to do a scavenger hunt for kids and families, perhaps as a benefit.
"I'm a big baby when it comes to the rules, and I don't want anybody to trespass to find these things," he says. "I'm going to put them where you don't have to destroy plants or jump a fence. They're out for you to enjoy. I put them out for 24 hours."
Bennett says, "shockingly," nobody has complained to him about the placement of the art. Again, he'll retrieve it within minutes if it's bothering somebody, he says.
"A lot of artists who do art drops make something and leave it out, like a painted rock or painting on a pole," he says. "It's not unique on my part, but the scale (of work) is what makes them stand out."
The 30-year-old Bennett, who moved to Portland from Pennsylvania three years ago, and who works for a real estate agent, used to do a lot of work on Vine, recreating famous movie/TV scenes with paper dolls; he worked on an anti-bullying campaign for Cartoon Network among the projects.
But the fan art has him "so excited" that "I can't stop."
He's placed art mostly in Northeast Portland, but also some in Southeast and downtown, "trying to get every neighborhood."
He adds: "They're not out for very long. I'm trying to do it as responsibly as I can."
Thankfully, people seem to like it and not vandalize or steal it.
"I have trust in people," he says, "and I do put them inside at night."
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