by Jennifer Ingram
Whitworth hosted one of the Pacific Northwest’s most talented artists on Nov. 17, Martin French. French grew up in the San Francisco Bay area on the Californian coast. He studied at the Art Center College of Design where he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in fine arts before moving to Bend, Ore.
There, he worked as an illustrator and a designer. In 2005, French moved to Portland and became a teacher, and later the chair of illustration at the Pacific Northwest College of Arts.
ESPN, Microsoft, Nike, and Apple are just a few clients French has worked with since discovering his talent for art.
French stood up behind the podium, Thursday, with a big grin on his face and laughed about how surprisingly smooth the evening had gone. Normally, he said, at every college campus he visits, something always goes wrong.
About that time, the overhead went to sleep and his PowerPoint shut off.
After waking up the projector, French talked about how as a professor at the Pacific Northwest College Arts, he challenges his students to find a way to stand out within our “iconic visual world.” Style, fashion and trends are constantly in your face every day, he said. Everything people touch and buy is invested in this market. So how does he connect his art students into becoming artists?
This phrase, coined by French, describes the “mysterious structure” that makes up the inner core of artists. An artist can be anyone who acts, dances, designs, writes, takes photos, or sings. French said he believes everyone has a uniqueness that lives inside them.
He said, “it’s not about creating something new, but rather finding something that is already there.”
By this, he said that he wants his students at PNCA to learn to understand and believe in the passion inside of them. By learning why people process the world the way they do, and figuring out how to communicate that feeling, that’s when they’ll find the kind of iconic imagery French is looking for.
“I want to create an experience and encounter with these people,” he said.
French flashed drawings his daughter drew as a child and commented on the pure marks she scribbled on the paper. Now, at 18, his daughter cannot say what she was trying to get across, but at the time she understood the feelings and stories she was trying to articulate.
Success is about bringing two different cultures together with one image, said French. He knows his students have the power to make a connection with visual media. This can be anything from creating products for the Grammy’s, or painting designs just to represent feelings inside. French wants people to own their art and learn to really appreciate it.
French recently started the Exile Poster Project. He brought 15-20 artists into Portland to help him create images to promote ending sex trafficking, which has become a big issue in Portland.
The project is now an annual event taking place each spring. Next year, the design team plans to tackle homeless youth.
To end his event, French closed with a few final, inspiring words for his listeners.
“To pursue this,” he said, “you have to be all in. There is a risk, but it is worth it. If you have something inside you, chase it.”