Keto Green will paint on anything he can find. Doors from abandoned houses, pieces of plywood, and broken windows become canvases for his brightly colored paintings.
“I find stuff that you would never think would be a piece of art,” the Detroit artist tells Metro Times. “You’d be like, oh that’s just a stick on the ground. Or that’s half of a plate. That’s a bag that got messed up or a jacket somebody didn’t want. I maximize that beauty because it’s always beauty within every aspect of life.”
Green’s ingenuity is on display at his solo show Against It All at Playground Detroit. Though some of his work is painted on traditional canvases, meshing discarded materials into art is a large part of his practice born through a string of misfortune.
His father went missing in 2013 and still hasn’t been found. Nine months later his youngest brother hung himself in the basement of the family home where they lived. He then became homeless after Green’s uncle, who owned the house, evicted him.
Sleeping in abandoned houses gave him the idea to use doors as a canvas.
“It was like, man I don’t have no money. I don’t know what a canvas is,” he says. “So I started using paint that people had that they didn’t want. When my uncle evicted me out the house, I took a broken door. In abandoned houses the doors was knocked off already, so I took them. I started seeing the frames people threw out of their houses when they’d fix them so I took those and made my own canvas. You’re never without. I tried to figure out how could I maximize not having anything.”
Despite everything he’s experienced, Green’s work is overwhelmingly positive with titles like “Universal Love,” “Mind Over Matter,” and “Sun Balanced.”
“The art I do is not based on a particular person, it’s more of an energy,” he says. “I don’t have intentions of surfaces that I want it to be on, it’s just going through that challenge of not knowing what it’s going to be. I bring in different objects to represent unity. We all are humans. We’re light. We’re unified.”
“Mind Over Matter” is a chaotic mess of broken banisters, canvases, gallon paint cans, twine, and wires.
Green made the piece as he was recovering from a neck injury after a car accident. Frustrated with his lack of mobility, he began collecting random objects, throwing them into a corner in his studio until they culminated into a work of art.
“I don’t know, this is all like God’s work, honestly,” Green says about the piece. “I didn’t know if I could even pick it up after I created it. Everything can be chaotic, and you might not have the strength, but if you believe and you act on it, I think you will get there. That’s what made me create that piece. I was just like, no matter what’s going on, I’m gonna still make it happen.”
Green is one of Playground Detroit’s 2022 Emerging Artist Fellows. He applied for the fellowship during what he says was the lowest point in his life when he was sleeping in his car. After the vehicle broke down during a thunderstorm, he parked it under a tree. With his phone on its last 20% of juice, he applied for the Playground Detroit and other art fellowships, as a last beacon of hope.
“It was a two-door car and the seats couldn’t even recline,” he recalls. “I was getting rained on. I had to stuff my clothes in the window because the window went all the way down. It was very toxic and I’m like, oh my God. I’m crying to myself like, I’m out here in the hood sleeping in my car, there are dogs barking and crackheads hanging around. I was getting hopeless. What am I doing? I gotta do something about this. I can’t give up on myself.”
He adds, noting that he still struggles with homelessness, “I feel like God gave me a gift to uplift people… I want people to understand life can be how it is and people have to go through things underneath the surface to get where they are but that's the beauty in it.”
Where to see his work: Against It All is up at Playground Detroit until June 17; 2845 Gratiot Ave., Detroit; playgrounddetroit.com.