Dizzy Orion works with ghosts of all kinds in basement

by: PHOTO BY RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Dizzy Orion works in his haunted basement art studio in downtown Oregon City.Dizzy Orion’s basement artist studio in downtown Oregon City is haunted.

In the 1864 Myers Building, Orion (aka Jason Lavery) once tried to turn the studio into an office space for his other persona, who is a licensed contractor and property manager.

But as Orion, 32, tried to move around his computer in Main Street’s oldest continuously occupied retail/office space, a ghost attacked him from behind.

“Something threw me over a stack of wood and knocked me over a set of shelves in a domino effect,” he said.

At the location where Orion began his adult life as an artist, there’s always been a “heavy” supernatural presence. The spirit of former Clackamas County Sheriff John Myers (state senator from 1872-89) still slams a door above his studio even though the doorway has long been filled in with bricks. But Orion works with ghosts of his own making as well.

“I come down here to process every major change in my life, and from time to time, my past will echo in my ear, and you just have to take it in stride,” he said. “It’s my personal holy place, you might say.”

From 2000 to 2005, Orion lived in an apartment on the top floor of the building, but he says he’s since had to move to a house in Milwaukie to stay sober.

He likes keeping his studio here, because it’s always the same temperature, and no sunlight ever enters the space always lit by bare incandescent bulbs. Cans of spray paint fill a cavernous cabinet next to an easel he built by hand, spattered with 12 years of painting projects.

One of his latest paintings is “Dear Valentine,” after the title of the song by Guster, lyrics of which Orion scrawled across the piece. “There are words to say/and there are songs to sing/but I can hardly speak at all” are some lines from the nostalgic song about dreams after falling asleep to black-and-white TV.

“I never paint in silence, and something that often happens is that the lyrics from the music end up on the canvas,” he said. “I don’t think as much as I feel my way through the process of making a painting.”

Another recent painting is on a shed door that he salvaged from the 1930s or ‘40s and that Orion has covered with a modern skyline.

“The best work comes when you really need to make a decision and you tell yourself what you need to hear without ever knowing it,” he said.

Orion (as Lavery) manages several dozen other units of property, including the Myers Building and a 90-acre farm in Washington County. In helping keep up the buildings, his artistic side crosses with his practical side. In addition to painting signs for auto shops, he’s also been working on repainting the Myers Building’s facade to create the impression of natural stonework.

Longtime Myers Building tenant Doug Gless said he’s not himself a “ghostbuster,” but he nevertheless relates to efforts to appease spirits in the building.

“I’ve been hearing that this building was haunted forever,” Gless said. “It’s nice to see downtown getting spruced up a bit, and Dizzy’s certainly part of the efforts that include the Arch Bridge and other downtown improvements, but I’d think the ghosts would be really set in their ways and will not want to move out.”

Genesis of an artist

In 1994, Orion’s dad knew that he would not stop painting on walls and, being a supportive father, went in to the backyard of their Oregon City home and built him a box to paint in. It was a 10-by-4-foot rectangle, 10 feet tall.

Orion said, “He told me ‘You can spray paint back here all you want, but if I catch you painting on anything else, you’ll never paint again.’ And off I went. I couldn’t tell you how many times I covered that thing. Close to a hundred I’m sure.”

But before long, Orion crept out of his box and wound up painting the shed, too. His freshman year of high school, the same year, he received permission to paint a mural in the school cafeteria. Throughout the next decade, he would complete 23 murals for the Oregon City School District alone.

In 1999, he got a mural job at a Oregon City’s Ollies Skate Shop, run by Sandy Ormandy, who he said just gave him a key during the middle of the job and said, “Why don’t you sell something if you’re here,” and that became his side job until 2006.

Almost every square inch of that shop, besides half the ceiling and most of the floor, was covered in Orion’s art.

In 2001, he met a local rock band, Grindstone. Painting as he went along with them, he spent the next five years working with rock bands and touring with them on and off until 2006.

“Problem was, my drinking got to a point when even rock bands told me it was too much, and life was falling through my fingers one piece at a time,” he said.

On April 4, 2005, he stopped drinking and has been a “grateful member” of Alcoholics Anonymous ever since.

In 2006, he married another artist and bought a house, and within a year they had a son, also named Orion, but they separated right before his first birthday. The Orions still live in the same house in Milwaukie with his now fiancée.

“He’s with me a majority of the time, which is great, because he’s now the backbone of all I do so to speak. Even on a hard day, I tell myself, all for Orion,” he said.

In 2007, economic conditions persuaded him to go into business for himself as a contractor helping a friend turn rental homes. He “had to choose security” for his son, as much as he wanted to follow his passion for art and music full time, and his first priority became being a single father.

In 2011, he founded another small company called Shared Space, which rents workspaces to creative professionals. He now balances his art, music, property management, contracting and his workspace business.

“It’s interesting to me because I almost get to live a double life,” he said.

But, through all of the changes, all of the relationships, the ups, downs, and even sobriety, he’s always had his haunted studio.

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