Art + Design

Art of the Month: Detroit Edition

By Nicholas Williams

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NOT MAD Art Director Nicholas Williams, a current University of Michigan student in the Penny Stamps School of Art & Design and a Detroit native, talked with and documented five emerging Detroit artists working in the ever-evolving (for better or for worse) home of Motown.

Photos of the artists by Nicholas Williams, except the image of Ellen Rutt. Artwork courtesy of the respective artists. 













Anthony Lee, 23, is a painter and illustrator who came to Detroit after growing up in the suburbs surrounding the city. He moved after graduation, attracted to the people, their soul and the liveliness of the city. Anthony, who was included in the Cycle 8 show at the Redbull House of Art, produces illustrative paintings depicting a post apocalyptic world populated by a variety of different robots searching for a new way of life. The work’s sense of loss and abandoned industrial imagery echoes the feeling of parts of the city, as does the sense of new hope and self-determination in finding solutions. When asked what he liked about the city, and why he is invested Anthony said without pause, “Many artists understand each other, because we all know we can’t really get far without one another,” after a moment adding, “If you can make it here, it not only says something about you as an artist, but you are also giving back to the same water you drink from.”














Leander Johnson, 18, is a self publisher and documenter living in Detroit. Printed media runs in his blood —  his parents founded the Eastern Market-based Salt and Cedar letterpress studio and he recently received a Knight Foundation grant for his yearlong publishing project, 12 Zines. Leander had been homeschooled for his last two years of high school, which he says “was an easier way for me to work solely on my own projects.” His printing processes range from simple laser printed booklets with small letterpress elements to more elaborate zines with perforated edges that allow the reader to tear out pages to use as postcards. 12 Zines is currently in its fifth installment; Leander is publishing one a month and each looks at stories from Detroit on a humble day-to-day level. Leander’s next issue is to be a poster broadside print concerning the 1967 Algiers Motel Incident, which occurred in Detroit during the racially charged 12th Street riots. Commenting on how the lineage of print media is rooted in responding to and disseminating information about events, Leader explains how his ultimate goal is to bring light to the overlooked and complex histories of a city which speaks mainly about it’s Midtown revival. He wishes to honor these seemingly lost moments, as well as spark a conversation about the humble moments of the everyday Detroit.

You can follow Leander’s work on his blog Maryon Park.















Matty Franklin, 25, is a photographer turned furniture maker who has called Detroit home for the last seven years. His basement studio is located near Eastern Market and he has worked as a freelance photographer since he stopped going to high school. Matty’s photographs earned him a large Internet following around 2009, and he was the photographer for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s campaign. Lately, he has been on a hiatus, spending a large amount of time working in his basement studio making furniture from detritus found in Detroit. Pallet wood, strange mirrors and cement become intricately inlaid tables, shelves, and entertainment centers. He says he began creating the pieces as a new “creative outlet, developing and learning new skills outside of my photography.”  When asked about the direction of Detroit ‘s art scene Matty had a few reservations: “its good for people who are trying to sell, you can throw Detroit on anything, literally take a shit and brand it shit from Detroit, its ridiculous.” He misses the feeling of the old “warehouse days, with hundreds of people, and cops raiding them all the time, that shit was cool, but is rare now.” He also recognizes that he has mellowed out from growing up. “Now I am just down here cutting wood, or making photographs or dancing around.”

His work can be seen at his website.















Rachelle Baker, 23, is an illustrator and musician who has lived in Detroit for the last six years. When she first moved in she said her “mom sort of freaked out. She remembered the old days of Cass Corridor (which as been “rebranded” as midtown) and I had to tell her, mom it’s different here now you don’t have to worry.” It was here she met her partner and music collaborator Nick Morrow with whom she started the band Little Animal. Rachelle’s own work stems out of portraiture. She is moved by and creates work and music driven by encounters and experiences with those around her. When she draws, she wishes to channel the energy and the feeling of whoever her subject is so that one might look at the picture and know who that person is. Her latest work has been photo based printmaking, which plays with ideas of being haunted by the people around you, even if they are people you love. Reflecting on the art scene Rachelle said how when she first moved in things seemed slower, but anything really good was basically DIY. “Galleries like Detroit Artist Market used to basically just show mom art, but now they are putting up shows for younger and more interesting artists,” a theme that she says is happening throughout the city, driven by the influx and activities of younger free spirits. However with that larger interest in the city Rachelle says that there is also dark side, as more businesses come in, they change the feeling of events and absorb young artists; for example, openings that used to be mostly DIY are becoming overshadowed by corporate powerhouses. “House shows simply seemed more sincere,” she commented, “and they are still happening all the time, though the energy is shifting.”

Music from Little Animal can be found here.















Ellen Rutt, 25, is a painter and designer. She moved to Detroit on a whim after college and fell in love with the city. Ellen’s work has been included in the Red Bull House of Art, and she has painted murals in the Dequindre Cut. Her work is an inquiry into the area between digital and analogue making. Images from the computer undergo collage and are put onto wood, and painted with stencils. She is currently working on a collaborative project with Alan Sedghi, known as Humons, due to come out this summer exploring the similarities in making between visual art and music. Each artist uses repetition, and analogue mixed with digital methods of making in their respective crafts, and will be comparing both musical loops and layers used in digital art making.


For submissions, questions or comments, email Nicholas Williams at