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Writing on the Wall

A Portland stencil artist hopes to legitimize surreal graffiti art.

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The street artist Klutch, aka Russell Short, got his nickname from the weirdo artist featured in a 1973 Disney movie, “Superdad.” It's stuck ever since he was an Oklahoman skate punk in the early '80s, years before he moved west and started Vinyl Killers, an international collective of artists who repurpose old vinyl records into hand-painted artwork.

“I'm not too involved anymore, which is weird because it's bigger than ever,” the 47-year-old says from his home in Portland. “I was making a good living at it, but walked away to do murals.”

Klutch never intended to be a full-time artist. He spent 13 years working for ABD Insurance & Financial Inc. in San Francisco, working his way up from the mailroom to a six-figure salary, he says. “I had been living in punk houses for 10 years and was suddenly in charge of dudes from Stanford University,” he says, “so I had an attitude.” Eventually he decided he couldn't take it anymore and returned to his early love of street art — which he doesn't regret at all.

His work has since been featured in magazines such as Time, Juxtapoz and Thrasher, as well as a Nike ad. Today his multilayered stencil and graffiti work adorns skateboards as well as walls across Portland and San Francisco, where he decorated a room in the chic Hotel des Arts. More recently he landed a high-paying gig at the home of Portland Trailblazer forward Channing Frye. The work he brings to Richmond, “Invasive Species,” is more surreal than most graffiti — a lot of the paintings feature twisting, colorful braids and vines.

A lifelong defender of graffiti artists, Klutch says these days he usually only works on privately commissioned murals — thanks partly to tough graffiti laws in Portland. “They have a mandatory sentence of 18 months for a first-time offense,” he says. “But every time I do a mural, the citizens love it.”

Ghostprint Gallery's Thea Duskin says she wants to promote creative graffiti as a legitimate art form, and the Klutch show is a great example. “We don't advocate vandalization,” she says. “But there's a difference between being a vandal or a gang banger and being a street artist.”

“What always attracted me to graffiti was the flow and the color,” Klutch says. “I want my art to be less mechanical and more human — sort of a cross between folk art and graffiti. Very handmade, all the flaws are embraced.” S

“Invasive Species” at Ghostprint Gallery opens Friday, April 3, 7-10 p.m. Through April 25. 220 W. Broad St. 344-1557.

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