Graces/ Disgraces

March 31, 2018

Graces Disgraces (in pen and ink from November 6, 2001) and 8 by 10 inchesb

The graces flew the coop, gracefully, of course.  They were gone and they never really returned.  They’re somewhere else now.  They’re in the land of mystery, playing games with cobwebs, bubbles and star dust.  I hope to visit them there someday.  They might let me participate.  If not, I’ll just take notes.

Before their departure though, there were strange and horrible events.  This is what happened.

The disgraces rose to the top.  It was the nastiest sort of bully pulpit, with the bully always terrorizing the smaller, weaker ones.  These toughs were frightened of being mean to anyone equal to them or anyone better.  They loved to step on people, if they thought that they could do it safely.   They preferred to kick people from behind, or better yet, to kick them while they were down.  They were mean through and through, giddy on curdled cruelty, until the fall.

On an unexpected day, the graces met the disgraces in a dirty alley at 3 a.m.  It was no contest and over, nearly before it began.  Yet the damage had been done.  The repairs would take a long time to complete.


The Free Port as Art Penitentiary

February 27, 2018


The poor art works are hidden or hiding.  I think that it’s terrible to have art hidden away so that no one can ever see it.  It makes the art works seem like prisoners are hostages!

They lock it away in crates stored in warehouses.  Beautiful art is reduced to pure commodity.  It’s punishment for being sold to rich collectors is similar to its being locked up in a penitentiary.

If it’s taken out of the crate and displayed, then its monetary value might go down a bit.  The cautious greedheads would be happy if their precious art collections remain hidden.  They’d like these works to never be seen by any human eyes.

If they were on display in a private home, at least someone would see them.  Sometimes these collectors are kind and generous enough to allow the works they own to be seen in a museum show.  They loan them out.

Yet this hoarding and hiding is a real crime.  This system is a mockery and  an insult to every living, working artist.  Free the art!

From the previous link, a New York Times piece:

“It is a shame,” Helly Nahmad, a London dealer whose family is said to store 4,500 works in the Geneva Free Port, told The Art Newspaper in 2011. “It is like a composer making a piece of music, and no one listens to it.”

Art Free Ports:

Coming to New York City:

The Geneva Switzerland Free Port:

An audio report:

Back in Bumbleton Corners

December 31, 2017


The mayor’s always smiling and when you least expect it, you’ll get a handshake.

Down at the general store, the men hang out and exchange wise-cracks.  Some of them are innocent and some of them are guilty.  Once a week, on Tuesdays, it’s free pickle day.  Goods sold there include blades, dry goods, notions, cheap fabric, toiletries, traps, noise-makers, candy, smokes, booklets, tools, novelties and gunny sacks.  There are a number of other unusual retail establishments scattered about.  They cater to the sportsman, the collector, the grease monkey,  the home-maker and to the ne’er-do-well.

The children roam the streets and parks.  They play terrible and wonderful games.  The officers often have cause to regret that these little ones are too young to arrest.

Once in a great while, you’ll see a horse, or even a horse and wagon.  Sometimes there’s even a buggy.  The motor vehicle is here to stay however.  They continue to appear and to disappear.  You may also see scooters, pogo sticks, go-carts, roller-skaters and numerous bicycles.  There are plenty of pedestrians.  There’s even a dirt road and too, a gravel road.  Concrete and asphalt aren’t everything.

There are several lovely restaurants.  Crabbles is probably the best of these.  You can also receive a good turn at Mack’s Diner, over on the edge of the city.  They serve everything you’d expect and more.  The dishes and silverware are always extremely clean.  Over at Aunt Aggy’s, they cook the meat twice and the vegetables are always fresh.  The area also sports several lovely taverns and even a few dives.

Bumbleton Corners is a very strange little town.  It’s known to take normality into places where it usually never goes.  It reminds me of a wolf in sheep’s clothing or of broken things which mysteriously repair themselves.



What Time Is It? Time to Move!

November 30, 2017

I’m tired of inertia and fatigue.  It’s time to move and to shake things up as they’ve never been shaken up before.  Now’s the time?

Everyone’s so busy, so strapped and tapped.  Working two or three jobs is more and more common.  There aren’t a lot of lazy people out there.  Does boredom even exist anymore?  The world seems to be set up to keep us distracted from the most important things.  For many of us, the trivial and the trendy becomes central.  This leads to trouble.

These are urgent days.  Some of us refuse to embrace the confusion.  We insist on attempting to see clearly and to feel without being ruled over by our emotions.  Artists often find ways to enter the mystery.  All of this is very difficult to do.  One keys is to network and to connect.  In union there is strength.

What’s So Funny?

October 30, 2017

One essential question is rarely discussed: “What is the role of humor in art, as it relates to reality?”  In these dire and dangerous times, humor may have an important and unexpected role.  If so, it needs to play its cards right.

We’re in trouble but we don’t have to love it.  All hail wise-cracks, mockery, ridicule, satire, puns and jokes.  Hurrah for giggles, titters, guffaws. howls and belly laughs.

Making fun of things can put the fun back in life.  That said, it not always easy to take humor dead seriously and, at the same time, still be extremely funny.  I’m going to try to add more humor to my own work.  I look at it as an essential spice.  Sometimes laughter can make you think of things differently.  You see them in a fresh light.

In my own work, humor comes to the fore in my puppet performances.  I can really get people laughing.  It pops up in my poetry, cartoons, visual art and musical performances as well.

When things become extremely bleak and seem fraught with peril, it’s hard to see the humor in life, in the world.  Yet it’s always there.

For awhile, people were saying not to make fun of DT aka 45.  Yet the fact that he hates being made fun of makes it tempting.  The whole bad crowd in his cabinet calls out for fumigation with laughing gas.

Yet it’s not just the United States that’s in trouble.  The whole world needs a good laugh!

From 2009:

From 1995:

Hidden Nests

September 30, 2017

The aroma of the ugly anti-culture hangs thickly in the air.  Now and then, it disperses.  It lurks around corners, in little curls of fog.  Its greatest enemies are absolute love and absolute truth.  It has no use at all for any sort of authentic art or artist.

Death culture seems to be ascendant.  In many cases, it’s as it’s if they’re poetry vampires.  They try to suck the poetry out of the world and replace it with its opposite.

It still believes that it will emerge triumphant.  Yet thousands of us, maybe millions of us are standing in line to give it a kick in the pants.

Magic and mystery meet up with a deep and complicated sort of hyper-awareness.  We want to see what truly is, both in the shadows and in the light.

There are pockets or nests of magic, love and resistance.  Some of these are large.  Some are small.  We need to connect the dots to make the picture complete.   People need to come together and work, struggle and fight: for poetry, for art, for truth, for love, for future generations and for the fate of the planet itself.  Now’s the Time.

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The Life and Times of the Heidelberg Project, a Postscript

August 31, 2017

June 2017

Thanks to all of those people who came out to see my extensive Summer exhibit, The Life and Times of the Heidelberg project at the Detroit Mercy library.  It was a lot of work to put it together.  I still need to sort through the papers, photos and clippings which I removed from the showcases.

Thanks also, for checking out these three blog posts.  I’ll write more about the project, eventually.


Circa 1991


I learned a lot about the Heidelberg Project by curating and installing this exhibit.

It’s early days are special to me.  When Sam Mackey was alive, it was still so new and fresh.  It’s been difficult to keep it magical, strange and beautiful.  Considering all the obstacles and setbacks that they’ve faced, I think that they’ve done a good job.

I got to help with it, in those early days.  Later in the 1990’s, the Heidelberg Project helped to inspire me to create my own massive street art project, in the heart of downtown Detroit.  I got to see what it’s like firsthand.

This was the J.L. Hudson’s Building Project, which covered all four sides of the abandoned Hudson’s Building.  Over several years,  I drew over 500 chalk drawings on the black plywood which covered up the display windows.   I never got permission, never got arrested and most people seemed to like it.

It was tough to keep this project up, for 2 or 3 years.  It has to be even tougher, to keep something up for over 30 years.

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Some of my 1990’s artwork on the J.L. Hudson’s Building


In doing this exhibition, I was able to explore some of the sources and influences of the project.  These include the work of Rosetta Archie.  I remember going to see her amazing assemblage on Beaubien near Grand Boulevard.  Tyree Guyton was also a fan.  He used to go there when he was a student at College of Creative Studies.

I’ve long sensed a connection between the Heidelberg Project and spontaneous and make-shift memorials.  You frequently see these set up in spots where people were killed in automobile accidents.  In the exhibit, I included some of my photos of the memorials in lower Manhattan in 2002.

One series in the early 1990’s involved hundreds of shoes in the street.  On Heidelberg Street, cars would drive over the shoes.  This was a strange sensation.  Once, I was part of a crew who went with the project to a dumpster at a shoe warehouse.  We shoveled out shoes into the back of a pickup truck.  Later, we helped throw some of them back into the street.


Shoes on Heidelberg Street, November 1991

In 2011, Mr. Guyton brought back the shoe collection for an installation called Street Folk for Art Detroit X.

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The “Street Folk” installation, 2011.

There’s a history of using shoes as symbols of gun violence and to protest against gun violence.  It was a nationwide movement here in the United States.  This seemed to reach its peak in the 1990’s.  Yet I’ve found other examples of this in the 2000’s.

Also, the Heidelberg Project always seemed to be sympathetic toward the homeless people.  Using the cast-off and disregarded houses and objects had a connection with the cast-off and disregarded people.

Placing art onto abandoned houses calls attention to them.  Sometimes, it was done as a form of direct action.  They wanted a dangerous house to be torn down.  Houses were being used for criminal activity.  When they were turned into art houses, the crime would usually move somewhere else.  They didn’t want the attention.

Now, many houses that they didn’t want torn down have been torn down and/or torched.

The Heidelberg Project has always had an activist side to it.  This seems less true now, yet this may not be so.


On the Rooftop, circa 1990


Back in the 1990’s, I wrote ten or twelve statements and manifestos in support of the project.  Some were handwritten, while others were done on a manual typewriter.  I’d photocopy them and distribute them.  I also signed and helped to fact-check a long statement of support from the Surrealist movement.

Writing these blog posts brings me back to those days, some twenty or twenty-five years ago.

The Heidelberg Project continues and I wish them well.  It’s often attacked, smeared and misunderstood.  This is a good place to find out the latest news about it:

It’s very difficult to keep something like this going.  The city government seems hostile or, at best, ambivalent toward the project.  It’s a major tourist attraction but maybe “it sends the wrong message.”

I’ll keep watching and keep visiting.


The Fun House, shortly before it was destroyed, 1991.





Sam Mackey and the Heidelberg Project

July 31, 2017

Sam Mackey is a true art hero.  He produced a large and astonishing group of drawings, largely in his last years.  He inspired and encouraged his grandson, Tyree Guyton as regards to the Heidelberg Project and his other artwork.

I got to know him a little in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  He’d always get up and greet any visitors to the project.

My friend, the late Jacques Karamanoukian, helped to get Mackey’s work into the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland and into the Musée de la Création Franche in Bègles, France.  Sam Mackey and Tyree Guyton’s work are in collections and museums all over the world.

In the early 1990’s, I spent a lot of time helping out at the Heidelberg Project.  At some point Tyree gave me one of his own works.  I was also allowed to take a Sam Mackey drawing.  I chose one with good drawings on both sides of the paper.  I’ll share them both here and in the Summer exhibit  at Detroit Mercy.  This exhibit is still on display through August 22.

I used to watch Mr. Mackey while he drew.  It was instructive and interesting to watch him at work.  He had a lot of ideas and personality.  He always was friendly and had interesting things to say.

When I interviewed Tyree and Karen Guyton in 1992, Grandpa Mackey was often there, drawing or resting.  Once, he was falling asleep while sitting up, drawing and Tyree was worried he might fall.  Grandpa Mackey said “My paper fell asleep.”

Verso, the other side of the paper.

Quotes from Sam Mackey

From the August 17, 1988 Detroit News article by Joy Hakanson Colby:

“He’s the one who started this whole commotion.”

“I stick with him and he sticks with me.” (on Tyree)

“I gave Tyree a brush when he was 9 and he helped me paint.  He’s good because he always takes a second look and always gives it a second thought.”

“You take nothing and make something.  That brings people together.”

“It’s an awful deep world.”

From an April 2, 1989 Detroit Free Press Magazine article by Duane Noriyuki:

“This is the younger generation, and they’re weaker and wiser. He’s one of the wise ones. God gave him five senses and he uses them the way he’s supposed to.  … I wanted to be president when I was 9 years old, but I knew there wasn’t a chance.  Still, that’s what I wanted to do.  Tyree wants to paint.”

From a September 1989 interview with Detroit Free Press’s Neil Shine:

“All these things were alive once.  People throw things away when they can’t see the beauty in them anymore.  But we have to still look at it the same as when it was part of some people’s life. You don’t have to be smart to understand that.

You get old, and you’re soon forgotten.  People forget all you’ve done, everything you’ve been.  They forget you’ve had any kind of experience, forget you were once a young boy. But if you’re old, you can never be a baby again; you can’t stay a baby all your life.”


More information:

Tyree Guyton: Sam Mackey was my grand-dad, my best friend. He gave me a paintbrush when I was 9. It was reciprocal. He gave me so much love and affection. He also gave me attention. He and I would hang out together when he was in his 80s and 90s. We would go to art shows, fly to NY for our shows.

The Life and Times of the Heidelberg Project, a Summer 2017 Exhibition

June 20, 2017

The Heidelberg Project, circa 1991.

The Life and Times of the Heidelberg Project, a Summer Exhibition at the Detroit Mercy Library

For the fourth Summer, we are displaying an exhibit connected with Detroit’s cultural history.  It will be on display at the University of Detroit Mercy Library, on the McNichols and Livernois campus.  Hours are 9am to 6pm Monday through Thursday and 9am to 5pm on Fridays.  It will be on display from June 15 to August 22.


The Baby Doll House, detail. Circa 1989.

The Heidelberg Project started in 1986 and is still ongoing.  Originally, the project consisted of abandoned houses that were turned into art structures.  They were covered in found objects and painted.  The effect was to create impossible, magical houses, like something you’d see in a dream.  There were also installations in vacant lots, in the street and affixed to trees.

The project has often been under attack.  It’s destroyed, then it returns, in a new form.  It was created by Tyree Guyton, along with his wife Karen and his grandfather Sam Mackey.  In 1991 the Coleman Young administration tore down four of the art-houses in one day.

This exhibit includes a roughly chronological history of the project.  This consists of photographs, flyers, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, editorials, letters to the editor, original artwork and other unique material.  There’s an emphasis on the first half, from 1986 to 2001.  Yet the last fifteen years won’t be neglected entirely.

The Fun House, 1991.

Also, this exhibition will try to put the project in context.  How does it relate to Detroit, to its nearby neighborhood, to the Detroit art community, to art history and to the current international art world?

Many people were influenced and inspired by the project.  The project connected with the city, the theatre and poetry scenes and other communities.  In its own way, it often took on social issues and urban problems.

Other related Detroit street art projects will also be given some attention, but the main focus will be the Heidelberg Project.

There were people who influenced Tyree Guyton and his work.  Foremost among these was his grandfather, the artist Sam Mackey.  Then there were also some artists who taught him at art school.  These included Charles McGee, Allie McGhee and Carl Angevine.  Another inspiration was the street artist Rosetta Archie.

Since 1993, Jenenne Whitfield has been the project’s executive director.  She’s worked hard to keep it going and growing.  They have a staff and a board of directors.

The project has often been controversial.  Some love it while others don’t.  There are people who don’t believe that it’s really art.  Yet it’s a major tourist attraction for Detroit.  People come from all over the world to see it.  Throughout its history, it’s had a lot to say about Detroit and about the nature of art itself.

I’ve been going there since 1986.  I helped out as best I could.  I saved copies of a lot of material, and I’m always taking photographs. In 1992, I did an extensive interview with Tyree Guyton.  Sometimes others were present, mainly Sam Mackey and Karen, his wife at the time.  I’ll make some use of that as well.

The exhibition attempts to explore where the Heidelberg Project has gone and what it’s accomplished.  We’ll soon see where it goes next.

Tyree Guyton, 1992.

If you click on the photos, you can enlarge them, then backspace to get back to this page.

web links to some related information.

The Heidelberg Project, July 2013.

“I’ll tell you—I believe that the Heidelberg Project is not dead.  I believe it’s going to revive.  I believe that something greater will truly manifest from all this chaos that has happened.  I keep hearing something—here—and it keeps telling me to look beyond.  And already I’ve begun to think of new ideas—new things I want to do.  Another project must come out of it—something great.”  Tyree Guyton, early 1992

The Bread and Puppets Theatre, May 2017

May 31, 2017

At the Carrie Morris performance space on May 19th.

I’ve seen performances by the Bread and Puppets Theatre several times over the years.

I was glad to see them return to Detroit for a 5-day stand.  They involved the local community into their shows and worked in responses to local issues and problems.

The May 19th performance was an Insurrection Mass with a Funeral March for a Rotten Idea.  It took place at CMAP in Detroit.

It was a bit cold out and there was some rain.  The weather wasn’t bad though.  There was a large and responsive audience. It was an excellent performance, well done, moving and sometimes funny.

In front of the Detroit Institute of Arts, May 20.

The next day, May 20th, they staged the Whatforward Circus! on lawn at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This was especially strange and magical.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt really glad to be there.

A few bits were repeated from the CMAP show, yet a lot of it was different. Again, they used a good group of local performers as part of the troupe. The  dancing horses returned.  They seemed to chase each other, going around and around.  There was also a tiger hunt.

Then a conductor with a baton led a group of Disgruntled Harmonists. First he conducted a group of the performers onstage. Later, he conducted the audience, breaking it into sections. We had fun shouting out howls or hoots of displeasure and disgust.

Like the night before, it ended with a sort of funeral/ celebration parade. This included a flag and a circular ribbon banner that kept moving.  As the show ended, and they served bread, it soon started raining.  It was nice of the rain to wait for the show to finish.

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I also caught part of the Sunday May 21st show.  Due to stormy weather, it was held indoors at the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Rivera Court.  It was similar to the May 20th show. It was harder to see over people’s heads. Also the sound had more echo.  It was hard to make out all of the words.

As I was leaving, I heard a patron say “I don’t see why they have to add all the politics! Why can’t they let entertainment be entertainment and let politics be politics.”

To that I say:

Why do so many politicians these days have to have so much entertainment in their politics?  Why can’t they take real life more seriously?  The White House and Capital Hill aren’t supposed to constitute a Reality TV Program.

If they start leaving entertainment out of the politics, maybe we’ll start leaving more of the politics out of our entertainment.

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The Bread and Puppets Theatre:

The May 17-19th performances were here:

The May 20-21st performances were here:

More information:

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