On a platform no larger than a standard-size water meter cover, just feet from the entrance of Pioneer Place in downtown Portland, Mr. Statue has patiently stood still, or nearly still, for more than 31,000 hours over the past 20 years with a donation bucket at his feet. Performing his own brand of street poetry in slow- to no-motion, the silver-painted 45-year-old has become a Portland icon—as familiar to locals and tourists as Pioneer Courthouse Square’s bronze “umbrella man.” (Mr. Statue actually flew to Amsterdam in 2017 to play that silent character at an event for a Dutch reality TV show. Travel Portland paid for it.) Slight of stature and very private, Mr. Statue, as he prefers to be known, opened up about his two decades perched stonily silent just inches above the street as the city rushes past.
Contact juggling is where it all started. I was doing it before I became Mr. Statue. Due to Job Corps [a government-funded vocational training program], I ended up in San Francisco, where I studied baking. That’s where I first saw contact juggling, mimes, and silver people.
My first character was more than 20 years ago, in San Francisco. [I wore] black-and-white Adidas pants, a painted-on tuxedo shirt, and a top hat. I was hanging around people who were doing the painted thing. They wanted someone to do orange, so I did an orange character. At first it was just makeup, and then I added pointed ears, a cone head, and a fake nose. When I moved to Portland, I first did granite ... and then other colors like red and black, and copper and blue, but that took a lot of storage. Now, for the last seven years, I am down to silver with the blue highlights.
As for makeup, I purchase bottles of Kryolan Aquacolor metallic paint for around $70 or $80. It’s a professional makeup that most silver performers I meet don’t know about. That lasts me three to four months. It’s nontoxic. It doesn’t hurt my skin.
When I first started doing the painted thing [in Portland], I did it in a seated position. In 2001, I did a [Catholic-inspired] white statue. That costume was in The Hunted [a 2003 PDX-shot thriller with Tommy Lee Jones]. That’s when I first decided to stand, and I’ve been standing ever since.
It isn’t hard to stand still. I bend my knees into a squat. The costume helps if it’s a little baggier ... what clothes I wear can help fool the eye. The best thing about my performance from my side is people-watching.
A good day is when I am not attacked, which happens once or twice a month. When I am out there I think about everyone who is walking by and what they might do to me. I’ve been tackled, pepper-sprayed, and punched, and I need to be ready to respond to whatever comes my way.
A bad day is when I have to leave because I am way too cold or hot—or there’s just nobody around. To stay warm I wear layers of wool and put pieces of leather in my pockets. If it’s really cold I put hand warmers in my pockets and in the toes of my shoes.
I’ve never performed at Disneyland, but I enjoy going there when I can squeeze it into my budget. I don’t wear Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, but I do wear Disneyland Halloween shirts and a Mad Hatter/Alice-themed denim vest.
When the money is better, I take more days off, but I pretty much work every day. I make 40 to 50 bucks on my best days, which last about four or five hours. My worst day was back when I first started in San Francisco, on Fisherman’s Wharf, and it was February and rainy. I made five bucks. I barely survive on the money I make. I’m considering taking the mail carrier exam soon.
I have a roommate and live in an apartment in the outer Gresham area. The most shocking change I’ve seen in Portland in the last 20 years isn’t from my pedestal. It’s at the Gateway Fred Meyer [on NE 102nd Avenue]. Remember in Back to the Future, when Marty McFly [travels] home in the future and it looks all run-down? That’s what I think about today when I see the Gateway Fred Meyer.
Twenty years ago, this was the only thing I was doing. I didn’t know I would be doing it 20 years later. But I’ve rolled with the punches and I just keep doing it. What I do is visual art. I’m trying to be what I would like to see in the world. I’ve been told that when I put my costume on I have a different persona that makes me come out of my shell a little bit. It’s strange art, but I like doing what I am doing.