Painting in the streets

Washougal artist’s passion for social, environmental justice depicted in vivid ‘street art’ images

"Cub-napped," painted by Travis London on a wall of the historic Blair Building, at 1801 Main St., in downtown Washougal, depicts the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition taking the cubs in 1806 when they camped in Washougal and found a den without a mother bear present. The explorers then traded the bears for wapato tubers, similar to potatoes, with Native Americans.

Artist Travis London, a 2000 Washougal High School graduate who now works as an elementary school teacher in Vancouver, has lived in Washougal for more than 30 years.

Artist Travis London honors wolves by painting images of them on a commercial building at 602 N.E. Third Ave., near downtown Camas. London said the majestic and misunderstood wolf is critical to healthy ecosystems.

Washougal artist Travis London painted several salmon on his car, a 1990 Honda Civic, after he was involved in an accident. His car was side-swiped by a vehicle with an uninsured driver, so London decided to paint fish on his car.

Washougal artist Travis London named this artwork, "Wilson Cady Heron," in honor of Wilson Cady, a Washougal birding enthusiast and longtime member of the Vancouver Audubon Society. The painting is located at Textured Forest Products, 720 S. 27th St., Washougal. (Photos by Dawn Feldhaus/Post-Record)

Anyone who has been in Camas or Washougal has probably seen one or more examples of Travis London’s artwork.

London’s art includes the recently completed “Historic Lager,” a painting of two horses pulling a log, on an exterior wall of the Big Foot Inn, 105 Pendleton Way, in downtown Washougal. The Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance (WACA) suggested the name for the artwork that was funded by a $3,900 Washougal lodging tax grant.

People who see London’s paintings may describe them as murals, but he prefers to call his work, “street art.”

“I try to express my passion for social and environmental justice, which includes a lot of history in my work,” he said.

London, an elementary teacher for the Vancouver School District, combines his interest in history and the environment with the “Historic Lager” art.

During a recent interview, he referred to Washougal’s long history of logging, as documented by the Two Rivers Heritage Museum, in Washougal.

“State forests and timber industry land surround our community,” London said. “The mornings are usually a steady stream of logging trucks coming down Washougal River Road, one of the only ways to access a lot of those areas.”

In one of his @deepgreenarts Instagram posts, London said logging by horse is romanticized by some while it reminds others of the beginning of habitat loss for so many.

“Grizzly bears, wolves, elk and condors are a few that used to call this area home,” he wrote.

London’s “Rewild” artwork, located at 602 N.E. Third Ave., Camas, features three wolves that he said were hunted to the brink of extinction.

“The majestic and misunderstood wolf is critical to healthy ecosystems,” he said. “As a keystone species, they play a central role as has been seen with the reintroduction in Yellowstone. Yet this culture maintains a hatred of them.”

London’s interest in wildlife is also demonstrated with his “Wilson Cady Heron,” artwork named in honor of Cady, a Washougal birding enthusiast and longtime board member of the Vancouver Audubon Society.

The painting is located at Textured Forest Products, 720 S. 27th St., Washougal.

“He’s been a friend and inspiration for years, and he played a central role in local conservation and the formation of the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge just east of the artwork,” London said, regarding Wilson Cady.

London, 36, painted “Cub-napped” on one of the exterior walls of the historic Blair Building, 1807 Main St., in downtown Washougal.

The artwork depicts the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition taking the cubs in 1806 when they camped in Washougal and found a den without a mother bear present. The explorers then traded the bears for wapato tubers, similar to potatoes, with Native Americans.

Growing up in the gorge

London remembers, when he was a youngster, going on hikes and exploring the Columbia River Gorge with his brother, sister and grandmother.

One of London’s first art projects, while he was preschool age, involved carving a wood walking stick and adding a piece of leather as a handle, with the help of his grandmother.

“We also made a village out of school milk cartons and construction paper with grandma,” he said.

Reflecting on that time, London thinks growing up in Washougal, being in contact with nature and having values passed from his grandmother and his parents got him interested in protecting the environment.

When asked if he was an environmental advocate or activist, London, a father of two, said he is “just a human, an animal, trying to live cooperatively and navigate this insane culture.”

He said most of his paintings are politically motivated.

“Within the environmental movement, there are some, including myself, that believe that environmental problems are an inherent part of industrialized civilization,” London said. “I only see radical political change as the answer.”

He added that some progress has been made with the modern environmental movement, but overall the movement is losing.

“Every living system, everything is in decline,” London said. “We’ve lost half the world’s wildlife in the last 40 years. The oceans are predicted to be empty within my daughters’ generation. Climate change could lead to an uninhabitable planet by the century’s end.”

“It seems like there are dire warnings that come out daily, and yet we don’t even talk about it,” he added. “So I think organized political resistance — everything from education to artwork to lobbying to Nelson Mandela’s use of sabotage — should be considered.”