Go for a drive around Detroit and you won't get very far without passing a building designed by one Albert Kahn. In Detroit's boom days, the architect designed many of the fixtures of our cityscape, from the Fisher Building to the Packard Plant, both the Detroit News and Free Press buildings, the Belle Isle Aquarium and Conservatory, and many more.
He also designed the Russell Industrial Center, the hulking former automotive plant that now houses artists studios, and one of the artistic tenants recently decided to pay tribute to his building's creator with a mural.
"He designed pretty much all the big industrial buildings," says the artist, Kyle Danley. "A really good friend of mine is in school for architecture right now, so we're always talking about architecture in Detroit, so I just decided to pay tribute to him because he's the biggest name."
Danley, who moved into the building in February, says he submitted a proposal to the R.I.C.'s Eric Novack, who immediately approved it. The mural features a portrait of the bespectacled architect, surrounded by colorful geometric shapes and the letters "Kahn" in a bold, tag-like style.
"I'm kind of a sissy when it comes to that type of stuff," Danley says. "But I'm 100 percent inspired by street art. That's what inspired me to do the big 'Kahn.' You see all these buildings up top with the huge [tags] of artists. I wanted to do his last name represented in that style, because you see that on all of his buildings."
Danley was born in Wyandotte, and grew up in Rochester Hills. He took a few semesters at the College for Creative Studies before setting off to travel all across the country, living in Arizona, North Carolina, and California before heading back to Detroit. "I always end up coming back to Detroit," he says.
He and his wife, Rikki, moved back in January. "I love the environment, and the people all around," he says of his studio. "There's always something going on," he says. "And if you need something done, you can find it here. There's a lot of creative things going on here."
Danley got the studio with the idea of running a cabinetmaking business. While in Asheville, he found an ad on Craigslist from a cabinetmaker looking for an apprentice. "I never really did a lot of 3-D work, but I met him and told him I was an artist," he says. "We hit it off really well, and I worked my ass off for him for over a year, just me and him. I learned every aspect of the business."
Rikki went to CCS for metalworking, and they aimed to start a cabinetmaking business together. "The back area was made for Rikki's metalwork, but slowly, it's being taken over by my paintings," Danley says sheepishly. He says for now he and his studiomates, the Culture Vulture Collective, have been able to pay rent with their art.
Ever since the mural, Danley says he has been working larger. His paintings feature a mix of representational and geometric shapes. "The two of them sort of mesh together," he says. His paintings are made from acrylic and spray paint, but he's also been experimenting with oil painting lately.
Danley says he'd like to do more mural work. "(The Albert Kahn mural) is the largest piece I've done," he says. "I wanted a showcase piece to get that going."
He says he spends time in the studio every day, even if just for a few hours, balancing the woodworking and painting.
"I'd like to merge both," he says. He shows us a miniature model of a dumpster he and Rikki made, about the size of a breadbox, complete with a bent aluminum lid and graffiti painted on it. "I took the measurements of one of the dumpsters outside," he says. "I'm going to make a bunch more of these, because people really love them."
Danley says he plans on making a smaller matching garbage can, which could be filled with markers. "I just thought it'd be a really cool thing to have in the studio," he says. "So if you have a lot of artist friends, they can write on the back of it."
Danley says he and his wife ran a tattoo business while they lived in California. "We were a little homesick and looking to settle down," he says. "We were looking to buy a house in California, and we were like, 'Let's just go back home, and take the money we made out there in the tattoo shop and start a new business.' We've always loved Detroit, so why not put the money back in Detroit?
"The more I leave, the more I hear about all the cool things going on in Detroit," he says. "There's a really cool hum about Detroit going on right now."
And there's a cool hum going on at the Russell Industrial Center, too, these days. "I got a tour the other day from Eric [Novack]," Danley says. "He was showing me all these new areas that they just went through and put up walls and put in hundreds of new studios. When I was here last time, I wouldn't even go in that building!"
For now, Danley plans to hunker down and keep painting. "We're gonna go real hard through the winter and paint as much as we can," he says. "That's our goal for the wintertime, to just huddle up in here and get some stuff done."
There will be a mural reveal as part of the Russell Industrial Center's Fall Open House from 6 p.m. to midnight on Saturday, Nov. 15 at the Russell Industrial Center, 1600 Clay St., Detroit. The Culture Vulture Collective is located on the first floor on the northwest corner of Building 2.
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