Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beautiful Wreckage

Sunday morning a heavy rain washed through Detroit as I slept off the miles and days of cycling. At 11am, the sun poked through the clouds and reached through the window to pry open my eyes. Creaky with rest, I mechanically peeled the bedsheets from my body and roboted into my clothes.

After a coffee and sweet roll infusion, I tooled around to gape at burnt-out houses, abandoned factories, and boarded-up warehouses. "Ruin porn" it's apparently called. After several sketches, I felt primed and ready to paint. I set up my easel on a quiet block of Chene Street across from a meek-looking white clapboard house. Apron tied, sun hat secured, and shoes kicked off, I dipped my brush into a pile of ultramarine blue and started painting. As I scrubbed colors into the canvas, a voice echoed from down the block: "Hey! What do you think you're doing? Painting pictures of my house?" "Uh-oh," I thought, and turned to see a man wobbling toward me on a rusty green bicycle. "Well there," he panted, dropping his bike to the sidewalk and peering over my shoulder. "Hey that's pretty nice. I just bought that house a year ago and now I'm fixing it up. That one over there's my house too," and he waved towards another white clapboard house down the block. "Lived here on this block all my life. Fifty years." He sighed and rocked back on his heels. "Well hey, you be careful. This neighborhood's full of cracky heads. Anyone gives you trouble, you just knock on my door and me or my mama will help you out."

I did talk with a few cracky heads during the course of my painting, but they turned out to be the harmless kind who wandered away when I said I didn't have any money. So far, Detroit is my favorite place to paint. The people are (for the most part) friendly and welcoming, and the subject matter is endless...

Below (from top to bottom):

The white clapboard house on Chene Street (8"x6", oil)

Another house on Chene Street

House with a collapsed roof

1 comment:

  1. There is a web stie devoted to abandoned detroit houses which is pretty depressing to look at, as so many of the buildings are gorgeous Victorian houses that were so grand and often are not bad, it's just that the neighborhood around them has disappeared. NIce to hear an account of your actual experience to add some context.