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    Detroit Mural Restoration Seems a Fitting Tribute for this Local Artist

    In 1974, an untitled Detroit mural depicting geometric shapes was completed on the side of 234 W. Larned. For 45 years, that mural has intrigued passersby. However, in recent years the colors of the installation have faded from its location outside of the Detroit Foundation Hotel, which prompted the owners of the property to re-invest $45,000, a week of time, and up to 20 gallons of paint into restoring the piece to its former glory.

    The artist behind the work is Charles McGee, and the revitalization of his mural seems to be a fitting tribute to his decades-long career.

    Why Is This Good For Detroit Artists?

    Before we discuss the impact McGee has had on our city, we’d like to talk briefly about how this restoration can be seen as a great sign for the city of Detroit.

    Over the past several years, stories about public art have made their way into the news. Recently, a Detroit mural of a whale was saved from being covered up by an ad city after officials voted to preserve the piece. Inversely, in an ongoing case, Mercedes has pursued legal action in order to use images of murals captured in their advertisements without paying the artists who created them.

    Public art allows a city to create and express its identity. It can also help boost tourism and encourage commerce by giving people free destinations to visit. The Detroit Foundation Hotel’s move to restore a piece of art adorning their building shows that locals want to keep Detroit murals in the city and protect the ones that already exist, which, for us, is reassuring.

    Downtown Detroit

    Image by Jess via Flickr

    About the Untitled Detroit Mural

    McGee’s piece on Larned is roughly 60’ by 40’ in size, occupying the top-left corner of the building’s east-facing façade. It was originally created during a large public art initiative during the ‘70s that resulted in the creation of over a dozen similar murals throughout the city by different artists. However, many pieces created during that time have been covered up by advertisements or removed entirely from their original locations.

    The current general manager of the Detroit Foundation Hotel told the Free Press that money wasn’t a concern during the restoration process. For the hotel, it seems to be more about taking pride in being the hosts of this special Detroit mural:

    “It’s about maintaining what was here before us and bringing back to life this beautiful piece … We think it’s a really big part of the building, so we want to preserve it.” -Bob Lambert, General Manager of the Detroit Foundation Hotel

    As far as the restoration process goes, McGee has met with the two artists undertaking the project and signed off on their plans for colors and technique. This endorsement will ensure that the piece is still an extension of the original artist’s intent.

    Chipped paint Detroit mural

    Image by Alexandre Dulaunoy via Flickr

    McGee’s Legacy

    In the summer of 2017, McGee was honored with an exhibit at the Library Street Collective. This display of his work through the years coincided with a profile in the New Yorker (written by an instructor at the Center for Creative Studies) and the unveiling of a new piece of his, Unity. This latest work is similar to the untitled Detroit mural on Larned in that it is large enough to be displayed on the side of a building. In this case, Unity occupies 5,900 square feet (118’ by 50’) of a building at W. Grand River Ave.

    McGee’s exhibition took visitors through his 70+ year long career, highlighting his recurring themes of nature and the black experience. He showcased paintings, drawings, and 3D pieces that the exhibit’s host identified as “avant-garde three-dimensional and multimedia pieces” rather than sculptures.

    Locally, pieces of his have been displayed at the DIA, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Broadway Station of the People Mover, and Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. Throughout his career, his work has also been shown at the Whitney in New York and the Smithsonian in D.C.

    Featured image by Erich Ferdinand via Flickr
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