By DAVID GREEN
As a child growing up in inner city Detroit, Tyree Guyton didn’t feel that he had much freedom. The racially-torn city pocked with impoverished neighborhoods didn’t appear to offer a ticket to a better life.
But Guyton found that ticket and it was called Art.
Art was his path to freedom, he told a standing-room-only crowd Thursday night at Stair Public Library. He freed himself through art; he used it as a process of healing.
Guyton said his high school art teacher showed him how art is a reflection of life, and life, as Guyton saw it, was really crazy.
One day he had his epiphany.
“It was like fireworks,” he said. “It felt like my head was on fire. I knew that my purpose in life was to create art.”
He had to choose between two approaches: Art to hang in galleries or art to use as a medicine to heal society.
That was an easy choice for Guyton. He would use art as a way to make changes.
“Art has the power to make a difference,” he said. “It’s important to create bridges to connect people. There’s no limit to what can be done through art.”
For more than two decades, Guyton worked in his home area on Heidelberg Street to create an array of projects such as a house covered with painted dots and another with stuffed animals. A yard of vacuum cleaners. A parade of shoes. A brightly painted city bus.
The response was far from positive from many of his neighbors, but that fit in with his goals.
“I was glad to hear people respond,” he said. “Before that the neighborhood was quiet. I wanted to bring people together and interact.”
The magic of Guyton’s work, said Heidelberg Project executive director Jenenne Whitfield, is the dialogue that the art opens up.
What Guyton calls wacky, whimsical art works to make most visitors happy.
In recent years, Guyton has spent time outside of Detroit working on projects as far away as the Central Desert of Australia.
Guyton noted that people from small towns such as Morenci are hesitant to visit the neighborhoods of Detroit and, conversely, people from his neighborhood would be frightened of driving to Morenci.
He earlier spoke of the dot as a symbolism for life, the tendency of life to repeat again and again.
“Looking around tonight, I see that circle. It’s a medicine to connect people. Traveling around the world, I see how everything is connected. There’s a pattern to life. I see how things work together.”
He’s pleased with the connections created by his Heidelberg Project (“I bring the whole world there”) and he looks forward to making more connections around the planet.
Guyton was asked what he would like to do for a future project.
“If I had my way, I’d love to polka-dot the White House,” he said.
With that change, he added, he would have to rename it the People’s House.
• Community artwork created for Tyree Guyton’s visit will be displayed at the library through May.