Story by Biba Adams | Photos by Bill Bowen, Julie Fiedman
Detroit is a city full of artists who are finding new outlets for their creative talents. In recent years, one of the most beautiful forms of creative expression used to celebrate Detroit has been through visual art in the form of murals.
One of the most valuable resources to exploring Detroit's street murals is the Detroit Mural Project created by Viranel Clerard. Since 2015, he has categorized and diligently researched Detroit’s public art on his site and has earned the respect of artists and curators alike. Clerard is on a mission to tie in the history of Detroit, document public art, and engage other cultural staples like Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Historical Museum. Clerard is also deeply passionate about being an educational resource for the children of the city through teaching art appreciation, "Navigating the art scene can be intimidating," he explains, "through internships and cultural experiences, I would love to expose Detroit kids to the business of art."
Clerard not only photographed over 1000 Detroit public art murals, but also researched information the community would want to know–details about the artist, who they are and why they were commissioned, if at all. "Part of my definition of a mural is whether it is publicly accessible. It has to be on an exterior wall of a building," Clerard further explains that the difference between graffiti and public murals are the benefit the community and not the artist, "Is the artist giving their time and effort to the community? Or are they tagging their names and self promoting?"
"There are so many incredible details about the art in Detroit that’s fun to discover and share," he explains with a smile, "When I found out that Diego Rivera’s last living assistant has a mural in Southwest Detroit, I couldn't wait to text all of my friends."
Whether you are new to the this great city or looking for new gems to discover, we warmly welcome you to enjoy the fabric of Detroit through its mural works. Some are by famous artists, while others are by the more obscure. All of them offer an introduction to soul-stirring conversations through their transformative beauty. As you venture out to explore the murals in the city, be sure to download the CANVS Street Art app to learn more about each piece and its artists as you go!
Detroit's Staple Murals
Murals in the Market
Murals in the Market celebrated its fourth year this fall with 10 exciting days of painting and programming. In addition to creating new murals, Murals in the Market also hosts many events during the festival including panel discussions, artists dinners, meet and greet opportunities, site-specific installations, block parties, nighttime events that coordinate with Eastern Market After Dark, and more. Murals in Eastern Market include paintings by Hebru Brantley, Ouizi and Tashif Turner.
Photo by Tony Bennett.
This earth-toned, reconceptualized American Gothic stands tall before the iconic Detroit skyline, showing a woman and a man looking in opposite directions. The west facing woman, is donned in a simple dress, neatly braided hair and tools – lifts a lantern that surrounds a window to the building. The man sits on the other side of the house in the background with a fatigue hat and tools with a determined expression. So much of this mural pays homage to Detroit; the unassuming hemlock blooms, how Detroiters watch each other’s backs, and of course – the agency and craftsmanship implied by this tool-wielding duo.
Lincoln Street Art Park at the “Recycle Here” Center
The area currently shows evidence of renewed investment and revitalization, with new construction cradling the Lincoln Street Art Park. Situated just behind the Recycle Here center on Holden and Lincoln Avenue, Lincoln Street Art Park offers a feast of abstract creatures and murals all inspiring the art of reinvention or rediscovery. The Art Park uses the space as an opportunity to invite the public to recycle and perhaps reimagine the use of vacant lots (which we are unmistakingly of no shortage here in Detroit) as fertile ground for growth and imagination. A once illegal dumping ground has been transformed into a place for greater use and conversation.
Ouizi on Agnes Street
A Detroit-based large scale artist, Ouizi is one of the more familiar names and faces in Detroit street art. Her work has been featured in multiple locations in the city. Her aesthetic is inspired by folk, indigenous, and spiritual art, as well as patterns found in nature, and patterns from textiles and wallpaper. With experience in creating textiles as part of her background, she takes a lot of effort in producing harmony between line work, composition and color. This piece located in the historic West Village is a favorite for its beautiful texture that fits seamlessly into the feel of the growing neighborhood.
The Legends on Livernois
Derrick May, J Dilla, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye walk into a bar. No, that's not the beginning of a great joke. It is for many of us, what Detroit feels like. The Avenue of Fashion, Livernois Avenue, was once considered the “Fifth Avenue” of Detroit, and it has now become a popular neighborhood for creatives to gather and collaborate. This mural speaks directly to the Gen Xers who are reclaiming this area as their own.
Creating black and white mural art that focuses on visual movement, imaginary architecture, and exotic rhythms, Bevan has created work in Memphis, New York City, and Detroit. Attracted to the city by the low cost of living and vibrant arts scene, Bevan adds a rhythm to his work born of his years as a multi-instrumentalist playing drums, keys, guitar and more. His work is about fun with shapes and experimentation.
Mostly found on a detour around the Grand River traffic, Milwaukee mostly stamped with over passes and industrial buildings in use as lofts or as distribution centers. On this cross street however, you will find a delightful solace by Phil Simpson. On one side, you’ll find the sun kissing the moon, surrounded by a film strip border and psychedelic forest. On the other, a rainbow of bold smiling and curious faces amidst a large heart. A scenic spot found in between industrial buildings and parks of the Milwaukee Junction.
A non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the human spirit through clay, Pewabic Pottery works to make ceramics relevant and accessible for Detroiters through exhibitions, events, and educational programming. Fittingly, on the side of Pewabic Pottery is a lovely mural in shades of green and gold by Michael Burdick and Kelly Golden featuring people working with clay.
Photo courtesy of Pewabic Pottery.
Mack Ave and McClellan
The newly laid road on Mack Avenue makes for a smooth ride through historic neighborhoods and into Grosse Pointe. Here among the monochromatic buildings is the stunning portrait of an afrofuturistic figure with a deep, relaxed gaze surrounded by monarch butterflies. Bystanders agree to its beauty but are unsure of whether it is completed or not. Perhaps like all great art, it leaves us to find its meaning within ourselves.
A Detroit-based multi-disciplinary artist, Rutt has a background in advertising where she learned to find humor in her work and to manage her time effectively. She has contributed work to public schools as well as other art installations. Rutt also regularly sells out during her own gallery exhibitions. A part of Detroit's art community, Rutt frequently collaborates with other artists on work that speaks to issues in the city. Her mural in southwest Detroit is an exciting series of geometric objects against a dark background that brightens the entire neighborhood.
The Z Lot Garage
Only in Detroit will you find 500,000 square feet of commissioned murals designed and executed by dozens of artists from all over the world. And in true motor city form- all of it is encapsulated in a parking garage. This zany garage hugs the corner of Library Street and Gratiot Avenue and requires no car for viewing pleasure. Our suggestion — ride the mosaic tiled elevator up to the top, and walk down the stairs and stroll each floor for Instagram-worthy memories.