Portland Belmont barista and artist Tim Root has been a Stumptown institution for as long as most of us can remember. He was a member of the “original 10” hired by Duane 12 years ago, and he’s the artist behind the hilarious notorious Stumptown ads, often featuring snaggle-toothed old guys with twisted skinny limbs contorted at the mercy of their own bodies, riding skateboards and pounding french press. “Living out near Foster gives me good subject matter about real living,” he says.
Whether you catch him riding around town thrifting at the Bins for weird toys, playing music with his two daughters in his chartreuse green and hot pink house, or listening to records and drawing in his backyard studio, one thing is very clear–Root’s visionary life is the embodiment of his art.
We took a look inside his hallucinatory studio, hung out with him being a rad Dad at home, and were lucky enough to poke around inside that infamous van.
Root’s camo-painted dayglo Toyota van overflows with rubber snakes, doll heads, fake fur, slasher masks and distorted action figures–on one side, he’s spray painted one of his goofy and lovably grotesque characters, lounging in a Playboy repose, hair whipping in the wind.
Growing up shuffling between the South Florida wetlands, riding swamp buggies with his Dad, and living in New England with his Mom, where he discovered skateboarding and rock and roll music, must have influenced his rambling spirit–he almost moved to India on a whim before he met his wife Mya in Athens, Georgia, and decided instead to pack up their two dogs and drive around the country in his Ford Econoline van, flipping a coin to decide which direction to go. They stopped in San Francisco, stayed in Chicago for a year, and eventually headed West to Portland, where they lived in a trailer on the land of a survivalist commune, leaving after being advised to shoot their dogs to prepare for Y2k.
Root’s drawing studio in a converted garage in his backyard is next to a grassy BMX ramp. It gives off a bizarro Pee-wee’s Playhouse vibe, but even more kitschy, and much, much cooler. Every wall and surface is covered with drawings, found objects, cherub-faced leprechaun masks, Mariachi string puppets, creepy outsider art, and crates of records and comics. A tray of plastic donuts sits like an offering under a cake plate on a table, and it’s so packed with toys and ephemera you can barely move, but everything is arranged with such precision–and a very good eye–it looks as if it all belongs exactly where it is.
Root’s done everything at Stumptown from drawing the ads, to delivery and production, to being a barista and managing the cafes. “I managed terribly at all locations,” he laughs. “Thank God they’ve really been kind to me. I’ve done lots of stupid burnout moves–like quitting because I thought I was going to move to Nashville and be a garbageman and raise our kids in the South–but they keep taking me back.”
The opening reception to his latest show “Sober Enemies, Drunk Friends” is on Sunday, December 2 at the Division cafe from 5-7 p.m. with music by MSG (aka Tim Wenzel, a fellow favorite Stumptown lifer), and runs through the end of the month.