Driving down Warren Avenue East, the 555 Building is an explosion of color popping out of the dilapidated landscape. Like you probably have, I’d seen it multiple times but never stopped. This week, though, I spotted a local artist applying the finishing touches on a set of colorful gumby-like monsters of a rainbow palette, and my curiosity spurred me to action.
The artist, who goes by the name Deco23 explained that the building is home to the so-called “Graffiti” art gallery, which is currently undergoing renovations. The gallery’s former owners, Carl W. Goines, left, and Monte Martinez of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios drew attention and controversy for removing a graffiti artwork by English art-celebrity Banksy from the Packard Plant.
While that controversy brought major attention to the gallery, it also brought an ownership change. The gallery is now owned by Ric Geyer. We were assured that the new owner would want nothing to do with such art removal — he’s all about creating street art. While he isn’t financing the artists directly, he generously allows them to paint away on the walls of his gallery to their hearts content.
Deco23 and the rest of his crew grew up as art guerrillas tagging buildings with reckless abandon for the law. In fact, Deco23 says that many of his fellow artists were involved with far worse activities as youths — stealing and drugs — but were able to leave such acts behind, thanks to their artistic outlet. Today they’re working to essentially beautify the community that raised them through both their prouder and more ignominious moments.
Peeking in Deco23′s trunk starts to give one an idea of just how much craft and technical efforts goes into the artists’ designs. The artist had literally hundreds of cans of spray paint in various colors. He had one bin that had to have close to 50 cans of shades of green alone. Responding to my amazement at the plethora of paint, he remarked, “Yea a lot of my paycheck these days goes to paint.”
But it may be paying off.
Deco23, who works a day job in home construction and repairs, tells me he is starting to get orders for his work. That’s exactly the idea behind the 555 Warren Ave. The building is one of several locations — such as the Dequindre Cut — where local graffiti artists are allowed to legally show off their work and increase their reputation. And that rep can earn them lucrative paychecks — as Banksy illustrates.
Pay-days like Banksy’s are still far away for Deco23, but according to him, “That’s the idea.”
But its clear he’s in it for the art, not just the money. Deco23′s specialty is characters. Many of the characters adorning the building are his work. He generously took me on a guided tour of the building’s exterior. Along its side wall, you can see the work of Typoe, a Toledo, Ohio native whose work has a bubbly, light quality to it.
Going around to the fenced off portion in the back (which will likely be accessible through the art gallery when it opens), I was able to check out a gremlin painted by another one of the crew “Sintex”. Deco23 took me around showing off several other artists’ work.
I’m definitely glad I stopped at the 555 building and that I was at last able to sate my curiosity. If you get a chance, I encourage you to, as well.
This October the crew of artists is putting on an open event to paint more of the walls of the building. We’re in the process of contacting Deco23 via email and will get back to you with the info he sends us. Until then enjoy the shots of the artwork!