Turtle talk

Feb 19, 2003 at 12:00 am

News Hits’ turtle graffiti report last week sure stirred an impassioned debate. Among those who called to weigh in was internationally known artist Tyree Guyton, who’s responsible for the polka dots decorating buildings throughout much of Detroit. He called to say he doesn’t consider TRTL a kindred spirit. “I’m really vexed with this whole thing,” says Guyton, who fought a court battle to continue placing his colored dots on blighted buildings. Guyton says his dots are “strategically planned” to bring attention to “eyesore” structures in Detroit. “Every time I see a burnt structure I’m going to put a dot on it because I want to know if it’s going to stop.”

The turtle, by contrast, is showing up on residences and places of business, perturbing Guyton and others. “They have put that turtle on some of my property. They called and left a nasty message and said they were going to tag my artwork, and they did. And I think it’s wrong. They’ve tagged our dots,” says Guyton.

We also heard from Detroit artist Tony “Monkey” Smith, who says he’s making a documentary of TRTL. Smith says TRTL critics should “chill out and sit back.” He claims to have tracked more than 800 turtle tags (mostly in Detroit) with one discovered as far away as a Taco Bell bathroom stall on 14 Mile. Smith says he’s communicated with TRTL online, and thinks he might be a suburbanite who is now getting into Detroit’s urban culture. “Part of our mission is to figure out what the point is,” says Smith.

There’s also a correction to last week’s item: For the record, Aaron Timlin, director of the Detroit Artists Market, wants the turtle “vandal(s)” jailed for five days and forced to serve community service for a year, and to make a public apology. Timlin put up $200, and he’s already raised $510 more as a reward for information leading to the conviction of TRTL. We underestimated Timlin’s contribution and his sentencing request in last week’s report.

Timlin defends his sentencing proposal, which he hopes the people of Detroit demand. He says it mimics punishment for littering in your own backyard. Timlin should know — he was convicted of growing potatoes in tires in his yard; lawyers kept him out of jail, he says.

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