Friday, August 26, 2011

King of the Ruins: The Packard Plant

On Monday I rode to the Packard Plant, an automobile factory left over from the first half of the 20th century. The doors closed in 1958, launching a creeping tide of disintegration. About forty buildings link to form a crumbly, mile-long labyrinth of decay. Cavernous rooms that once housed thousands of workers and vast networks of clanky machinery now collect old tires, mismatched shoes, beer bottles, and empty spray-paint cans. Fragmented cement walls buckle tenuously under caved-in roofs and sagging rafter beams. The factory sits forlornly on its 35 acres like a discarded snake skin.

I unpacked my easel at a parking lot on Concord Avenue next to the Plant. Crickets chirped in the uncut grass. The wind sighed through the buildings, swirling debris and rattling the few remaining spiderweb windowpanes. A car rattled by every five minutes or so. A few people poked around in the distance.

As I unpacked my brushes, a police car pulled up, crunching over gravel and broken glass to stop beside me. The driver's side window hummed down to reveal a beet-faced officer with an over-stuffed pillow body. "Hi there," he said through nearly motionless lips. "What are you up to?"
"What do you mean 'painting'?" He moved an imaginary spray-paint can in a loop-de-loop. "Are you gonna do graffiti?"
"No," I said, looking over at the cement walls of the plant, technicolor from decades of tagging (would it even matter if I did?)
"Are you sure?"
I glanced down at my painting supplies to check if I had packed some Rustoleum I had forgotten about.
"Yeah I'm sure."
"Okay...well you might want to change your painting location. Sometimes people get dragged into these buildings and..." he drew his finger across his throat. The window rolled back up and the police car drove off, stirring up a confetti mixture of dust and trash. Slightly spooked, but unwilling to change venue, I finished setting up.

Halfway through my painting, a figure emerged from a vast hole in the wall of a building 100 yards away. The figure ambled jerkily towards me, bringing into focus a weatherbeaten face and a tangle of red hair.
"Hi," said the face.
"I seen you from way over there so I come over. Name's JoJo."
JoJo walked around behind me to check out what I was doing. "Well holy shit," he coughed, "here I thought you were takin' photographs but you're paintin' a god-damned picture!" I mixed a blue-gray and laid it on the canvas to indicate a distant building. JoJo looked from my canvas to the plant, and back to the canvas. "Well fuck, you know all about perspective and shit. That's pretty fuckin' good." He caught sight of my bike: "Nice ride. I used to have a bike. But then it got taken away when I went to prison. Yeaahh, I went to prison. Not for nuthin' violent. Got twelve DUI's, two of 'em on my bike. So they put me in the clink." "Ohh..." I said, scouring my brain for an appropriate response. "Whereabouts you bike from?" interjected JoJo, saving me from certain awkwardness.
"You BIKED from Wisconsin?!?"
"All the way?"
"Holy fuckin' shit!"
He thought for a minute and then squinted at me: "Hold rode ALL the way from Wisconsin? And your paintin' stuff? Shit girl, you're my hero. Wanna get married? First I gotta get a divorce from my wife..."

I returned to the Packard Plant on Tuesday for more painting and drawing. I asked JoJo if I could take a picture of him and he said, "No, you're just gonna put that on the internet, aren't you?"

Below (from top to bottom):

Inside the Packard Plant (8"x6")

The Packard Plant (8"x6")

Inside the Packard Plant, looking up

Walkway over Concord Street

My bike at the Packard Plant

Inside the Packard Plant


The Packard Plant

Inside the Packard Plant again

More graffiti

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