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Deep Into Detroit

I arrived in Detroit on a rainy June 27th. The saying “all roads lead to Rome”, well, the same goes for Detroit as all the avenues converge at the center point, downtown Detroit. One can see the road lead straight to the Book building, one of downtown’s oldest skyscrapers. My contact there, B1M, who is a prolific bomber in the city, was waiting for me at the shop. We rolled out in the rental so I can explore the “Motor City”. I witnessed a place, in many cases, abandoned and old and it gave me the impression that I was in a forgotten city. I distinctly recall driving with the feeling that no other cars were behind us. Of course there were, here and there, but most of the time, a car or cars were many traffic lights behind. What I learned was Detroit once had a population of 2 million inhabitants, today it has lost over half of that and the city’s residents have dwindled down to a meager 800,000. No wonder the city streets seem so desolate and what a shame because it is a major American city.

Although the city is in need of rebuilding, I found a great deal of beauty in its architecture. All around were many beautiful buildings and homes dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Very ornately constructed designs of Victorian, Neo-Classical and Gothic structures that reminded me of NY, Philadelphia and Chicago but Detroit has its own independent style of building that I could appreciate.

B1M brought me to the owner of a huge warehouse, it was the former Cadillac Auto Shop when the US Auto industry was at its height. I was introduced to Phill who is a supporter of art on public spaces. But because of the rain, I was delayed and not able to begin painting until almost midnight. I quickly illustrated my lines upon the wall and by 3 a.m., I had a big bulk of my work done.

The next day I went back out to the wall to complete the first mural of B1M and begin the second one. Phill was a great help as he “buffed” (or primed) the second and third mural spaces for me. Priming the wall is fundamental to a successful outcome when painting a mural, a canvas or any other surface. Unfortunately, the rain did not cooperate and within 15 minutes after the second priming, it poured again and washed all the yellow laytex onto the street. But Phill reprimed and we were good to go.

I began sketching in my lines for a compositional scene which I based off of Raphael’s “The School of Athens”, 1511. I painted the Table Series figures, putting them in another situation as I have done in the past with the Centre-fuge trailer and Welling Court of May and June 2012 in New York. It was fun working loosely, moving quickly with my strokes and fills. I changed up the color scheme on this one from the first mural and I would do that again for the next one.

Saturday was day three of my trip and I completed “The School of Grafstract” and started the final wall space for the “J Dilla”. I really enjoyed the making of this portrait because I abstracted the features further on this one than the ‘red’ wall, which made the B1M proportions more realistic. This was the driest day of my stay and I was most certainly hustling as I completed this portrait in a little under two hours. I was compelled to paint J Dilla for several reasons; he was a Detroit native, I like his music and I wanted to commemorate him. The residents in the neighborhood were very supportive, driving by honking their horns and giving positive feedback. It was nice talking to the locals as they were curious about what I was painting. Some thought B1M mural was Jesus Christ.

I had a great first time in Detroit, my hosts were gracious, always making sure I was taken care of with whatever I needed. I would like to also thank Fatoula Lambose for connecting me with Detroit; Laura R. for giving me a real cool place to crash; B1M, Phill M, Doug and Onda Skillet for assisting me and making my stay in downtown Detroit an awesome experience and another memorable moment in my life.

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