Michigan artists get national attention

All stars

While artistic institutes like Brooklyn, New York's Galapagos Art Space and Kraftwerk Berlin have been eying Detroit for new locations for their endeavors, Michigan's homegrown artists have been blowing up nationally and even internationally.

Last year, Detroit-based painter Tylonn J. Sawyer received a nice bump after he starred in a Red Bull commercial that aired during the Grammys. In the clip, which shows various people and places in Detroit, Sawyer says he is inspired by the city. "I find a tremendous amount of inspiration in Detroit," he says in the clip, "primarily because of its people, that's what I paint."

When MT interviewed him later that year, he told contributor Kahn Santori Davison that he wanted to help "make black faces very valid in art," adding "I want to be a part of that conversation where you're considered one of these people who are making images based on people of color and they are amazing and they matter in the context of contemporary art, not just racial politics."

Another Michigan-based painter to get national visibility recently is Niagara, the former Destroy All Monster frontwoman who has established a career as a visual artist as well. Through a convoluted twist of fate, her 1994 painting "Hot Box #1" wound up as the cover of Kid Rock's latest record, First Kiss. While certainly not the first time her work has appeared in a commercial context — she's collaborated with fashion brands like Vogue, Vans, and Hysteric Glamour in the past — it definitely brought her work in front of a new audience.

Niagara wasn't surprised that the painting would get another life more than 20 years later. When we interviewed her earlier this year, she pointed out that people don't get art right away usually. "If something is iconic and you can tell right away like he could, it takes years to sink in," she said. "Especially if the artist dies — then you can really like it. It's so easy to love someone when they're dead." Her work has also appeared in museums like the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.

In photography, Jeremy Deputat has entered the circles of Detroit's A-list music celebrities. He got his start by shooting at local concerts, often without a proper press pass. "Marilyn Manson saw me on the stage shooting him and dude kept spitting on me," he told us last year. But Deputat's reputation grew, and he now regularly accompanies the likes of Eminem and Kid Rock on tour to capture the events on camera. Last year, he held his first solo show at Detroit's Inner State Gallery.

Another photographer to look out for is Joe Gall — aka "Camera Jesus" — whose photos have appeared in Rolling Stone and Penthouse. Gall has become something of an eye on Detroit, and popular subjects of his include BMX riders, concerts, and Detroit architecture. His work with the Motor City Drone Co. has made a fan of Rihanna, who used a drone photo Gall took of her Comerica Park show with Eminem in 2014 for her Twitter profile.

Rick Williams is a photographer, designer, and entrepreneur whose work has left the orbit of Detroit as well. He has collaborated on sneaker designs for New Balance and Reebok, and his metro Detroit sneakerhead store, Burn Rubber, is also the subject of an Eminem-produced documentary. He has also formed the Distinct Life, a design agency that has done work for General Motors, Heineken, and Saucony.

About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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