Local artist brightens Gladstone Street with 'empty light'
The first wave of an ongoing art installation appeared along S.E. Gladstone Street in early December.
Brightly-colored posters adorned 108 utility poles from 26th Avenue all the way past Cesar Chavez Blvd (formerly 39th). Each bore the same recurring image of a circular rainbow on a swirling blue background. The artist had signed, numbered, and titled the prints with a curious moniker: "Empty Light Project".
Neighbors stopped for a closer look, as they walked their dogs or biked up the hill. Some snapped photographs and posted them to social media. Others carefully pried away the staples and carried prints home to frame and keep. And a few tore them down and threw them in the trash. Artist Jonathan Seiber said he's seen many different responses, and he appreciates all of them. He wants people to react according to how his art makes them feel.
"I told myself, if just one person appreciates this, that's great," explained Seiber – a father and student who lives in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood, and describes himself as a "non-professional artist with various college degrees that he doesn't use".
Seiber said his Empty Light Project will play out over the coming months, with the next round of new posters going up as this issue of THE BEE was going to press. He described the new design as "more vibrant" than the first. Each set of prints will appear in batches of 108, and will extend farther across Southeast Portland – eventually creating a loop back to the neighborhood where it all began.
The project is actually a tribute to Seiber's mother, who passed away in March. "She very much loved art and beauty," he reflected. After she died, he found himself making a lot of art, and searching for new ways to connect with other people. The idea to take his designs to the streets grew out of that period of creation and reflection. "I guess it was just part of my process of grieving her."
As he contemplated his mother's death, he considered the Buddhist concept of reincarnation – and this led to the design on the initial round of posters. The circular rainbow and wavy lines illustrate a Buddhist concept called "Thigle", which the online Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia describes as "emptiness containing bits of energy." Seiber thought about adding this explanation on the posters, but then opted out of using text because he wanted people to respond to the image without preconceived notions.
Seiber's goal for the project is to offer the gift of art in order to brighten the emptiness many people are feeling amid all the pandemic and political upheaval. "The world just seems so hostile," he remarked. "What I wanted, as a human, was to go out into the world and see beautiful things."
He added, "I think that if more people were thinking about what they could share with the world, instead of what's wrong with the world, we could really change things."
Seiber is documenting these ongoing art installations on Instagram, hoping to connect with people who stumble upon the posters. He encourages the public to share their photos using the hashtag #emptylightproject.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.