I can’t keep my eyes off these wonderful hats from the 40’s at JBird Vintage, so what else to do but….start painting them! Apparently it was the one thing that people were still creative with during the wartime since clothes were kept very simple and functional. Also a couple more houses from the historic Stuart district and Michigan Avenue downtown.
Some more Vintage Kalamazoo. Now the summer is over work has moved indoors and downsized to desktop painting! I was told once I was a ‘size queen’ and large formats have always been important to me, so finally accepting the challenge of this experiment has been interesting.
Partly because big paintings take meticulous planning, I can spend days debating over the order in which to proceed with layers of paint before it dries and it’s not always possible to have that spontaneity of wet-on-wet paint. Big paintings are all enveloping, you get completely engulfed by them, physical manipulation of heavy canvases with wet paint usually needs strength and a strategy and even then you get the paint all over you.
It also has to do with the whole extension of your body reaching out and stretching, it’s more of a dance. A little canvas is so contained and doesn’t forgive heavy-handedness too much either. There is something much more light-hearted though, you can go to town on one little detail, small ideas rather than the big statement composition and do several a day. Leaving behind my powdered pigments was a bit harder but ready made paint and canvases make it all very easy work.
On arriving I was lucky enough to take over a vegetable plot in the Wall St Community Garden. At two blocks from where I’m living it’s near enough to feel like a back garden to get out to when you’ve been at the screen all day and I inherited sage, kale and raspberries. Starting in July was a bit late to do much planting, but it feels like I just got to do the nice bit which was the picking and eating.
The industrialization of agriculture and the concern for where your food came from was parallel to the growing ecological consciousness in England in the seventies that I grew up with. Nearby farms cattle dying in massive numbers and Chernobyl were two examples mentioned as wakeup calls. And the remnants of wartime gardening (be it allotments or victory gardens) were a lingering reference too. A lot of people have become very involved again since the economic recession in 2008, but it seems to be gaining strength still. It’s not only about the food you cultivate……
The Wall Street community has been pioneered by Mitzi DeLuca for thirty odd years, restoring the old wooden celery planters houses and since 2000 a community garden. A recent project is the native plant meadow which was in full splendour at the height of this summer. The following photographs are of a group session putting down compost to keep enlarging that space. Monthly group efforts help to tackle the big jobs that would be impossible individually (always followed by a picnic).
The transformation of this block into a street which is lovingly tended to from corner to corner is a great example of urban regeneration. The vision of the city filling up with orchards and vegetable gardens when spaces open up where old buildings disappear (like Detroit but on a different scale) is a heartwarming idea.
Since community work is often slow to bear fruit, it’s great to witness Wall St now when Lara and Paul have also started a native plant garden at the corner of Rose St where a house was taken down and Sally has an orchard at the other end of Wall St and Park. Both endeavours are ecologically and community oriented, with lots of planting of native species for insects and bees and the orchard is for people to enjoy on site.
Last but not least a few images from the Murals in the Market event last Friday in Detroit, an event that has grown exponentially in the last two years. The amount of people there was incredible and the murals impressive, although we come from a place where graffiti is a bit old hat having been co-opted for a political cause. Financing the medium encouraged exploration and Venezuelan tags and murals are much more creative than many I’ve seen abroad, but this is definitely more ambitious in scale and scope and not obliged to serve as propaganda. In fact the murals really make the most of what could be a devastated urban landscape and convert it into an open air museum.
So we finally made our way down Woodward Avenue past the motorways and construction sites to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. The main show by a Detroit artist called Sanford Biggers was Subjective Cosmology, described as an “unseen world made visible”. At first glimpse it could be the parallel worlds that people of different colour and ethnicity seem to inhabit here, as someone observed, it’s a room full of corpses, and as a comment all too pertinent in the exhibition text with the “continued killings of unarmed black civilians by the police”.
Turning the corner on our way downtown from the Heidelberg project was this beauty of a building all boarded up and awaiting rescue. The mix of styles from Art Deco to Neogothic is almost whimsical in many buildings dotted around and a testament to the tremendous energy and creative freedom that must have existed in the city’s heyday. And so very different in feel from Europe, I was particularly struck by a church that seemed to use gothic and islamic in one go and was Pentecostal in denomination. Downtown we caught a quick glimpse of wonderful stone carved skyscrapers while looking for galleries that were shut and decided to make our way up to MOCAD. Even though a light rail is just being installed (we saw a train speeding by but were told later it must have been a trial run) it’s not particularly friendly to pedestrians as we found wandering down Woodward Avenue. Maybe too much to ask of a city which was (is?) the epitome of the automobile culture, and still has a way to go reinventing itself in that sense. Definitely a long way before I’d be comfortable cycling around the expansive motorways. There are civic minded details that we appreciated though like the outdoor reading room at the library…
Tyree Guyton has been a pioneer in urban renovation with the Heidelberg project since the mid eighties and it’s already world famous, but how to resist taking a few more pictures of such an interesting installation. Several people came by while we were there to wander through and do the same, even a police officer! Obviously the reasons that led to this amount of open space available are not ones that anyone would repeat intentionally, but it definitely feels inviting if you like to intervene creatively in your surroundings. Such as in the work of Monica Canilao (although from California not Detroit) she also uses recycled materials, found objects and has a wonderful mural on Gratiot Avenue from last year.
There is also the ‘not the Heidelberg project’ over the road