Detroit Rock City Recap

Last week was a whirlwind visit to Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. Upon landing I knew plenty of work was implicated and the expectations of the students high.

Arrival was swift, Don Kilpatrick, illustrator, letterpress aficionado and all around great guy picked me up and we headed over to Heidelberg Park just before sunset. Jack Frost was busy at work, but the vision of Tyree Guyton was dazzling, as his honest portrait of neglected city searching for clues to reestablish community was visually realized.

Sunday, I cruised over to the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum. The DIA has always been one of my favorites, as Diego Rivera’s famed panoramic mural, “Detroit Industry,” occupies a floor to ceiling mural totalling 27 panels. Diego Rivera (1886-1957) painted this tribute for the city’s manufacturing prowess and worked on it over eleven months. This particular Mexican fresco is probably one of the greatest examples of paint upon wet plaster in the entire world. Just saying, it’s worth the trip.

DIA expanded their museum, as art is big business, and I was happy to discover John Singer Sargent, Pablo Picasso and a striking graphic piece by Jean Metzinger (1883-1956). Countless classics fill the halls and a recent acquisition of Kehinde Wiley (1977) “Officer of the Hussars” dominates one entire wall in the contemporary wing. Rock City delivered and I was ready to teach a letterpress “Zine” workshop, infuse some visual stimulation and meet a ton of illustrative, graphic and fine art students all around the CCS campus.

Monday’s class delivered an invitation to the students and the school to make ready, connect with unknown students (as you never know who will march into history), and take in a 4 page brief focusing on self-promotion. Essentially, students were invited to design a 16 page “zine” while proclaiming a sense of style and creative focus that can be shared, exchanged and used as a significant promotional device. The crux of the matter was to design a landscape piece that occupied 2 8 ½” x 11” pieces of paper. The assignment delivered parameters for the class to follow, however the concept was open for their individual expression and due in three weeks. The class will be graded through Skype, email and Don Kilpatrick’s leadership. Nice.

Tuesday was an all out Mark Murphy fest. Kidding, 11:20 am Delivered a compelling speech about cultivating partnerships, collaborating with others, exploring unknown territory and dedicating yourself to your craft. Essentially, a 48 slide presentation featuring original artwork, design, artists, typography and motivational notes. Questions were requested at the beginning of the talk and all those that asked a question, prizes awarded—questions were answered during the entire talk to keep people from falling fast asleep. 6 pm and a matinee screening of Scribble.08.

Wednesday, was an all out student discussion, receiving input and promoting project development from 10:30 am to 11 pm. Wow, what a day, but great work in progress and many talented students really going for it. Nice job!

Thursday was spent on the letterpress preparing for my upcoming solo exhibition at Subtext on April 15 entitled, “Plug Me.” Before I departed to CCS I created a limited edition certificate and header card to compliment the packaging of all of the prints created for the exhibition. Don helped me get set up on a Vandercook proofing press, taught me many great techniques and I cranked on printing about 100 impressions. Later that night I set up a grid of six Staedtler blocks that were carved before I arrived and assembled into one 11” x 17” original featuring six images quilted together with hand applied color. Printing included 3 editions—16 initialed proofs to be given back all of the students in the class, 8 chipboard impressions, 10 impressions on Rives BFK White, 250gm paper. Lastly, first monoprint created and printed—loved that process and can’t wait to explore it further.

Thursday ran into Friday. 1am Carving of my first linoleum block, 7 ½” x 12,” which is a fussy material or at least made me weary of stabbing myself with the carving knife. 9am back on press printing “In the Neighborhood of Politics” (details above), featuring other worldly know-it-alls who spill too frequently at the mouth. Christian and Ray, students at CCS focusing on advertising and illustration helped out immensely and worked along side with me. Without them, not sure I could have pulled it all off.

Friday was a stop over to the famed Scarab Club formed in 1907 by a group of artists dedicated to the arts and cultural fabric of Detroit and often referred to as a great reference for costume balls in LIFE magazine. Needless to say, if the building could talk, there was a great history of artists who made their way through and signed their name on the ceiling of the second floor reception room.

Final notes on this great trip to CCS—Detroit is making its way back, transforming bombed out looking structures from the turn of the 20th century into creative opportunities for young people to work at an affordable rate. Housing is $1000 in the core of the city, however, as Juxtapoz recently proved, can offer creative inspiration as Tyree Guyton visually expressed in Heidelberg Park. Jack White, originally from Canada, actively calls attention to Detroit and Mies Van der Rohe, Diego Rivera and a 150-year history of art and culture by design has left an indelible mark that offers an industrial Detroit the distinct privilege of sharing this rich history to compel an eventual comeback.

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