Part two of a series on Detroit’s graffiti: caricatures and distinct images
In part one of this series, I gave a brief history of modern graffiti and where I’ve spotted it while bicycling across the City of Detroit. I wrote that it could be found on just about any imaginable surface in a variety of styles and colors. Styles that include clearly identifiable images, graceful lettering, distinct messages and simple quick hitting one-color tags that some would call the most prevalent type of wall writings to be found. In this entry, the second in a series, I offer a look at some of the many caricatures and distinct images that I’ve come across on my travels.
One of the most famous graffiti images over the years in Detroit has been the turtle image. As some of you may remember, this mysterious tag seemed to be-spray painted everywhere: billboards, buildings along commercial strips, freeway overpasses, delivery trucks and many other surfaces. The image started appearing in the mid-to-late 1990s and spread quickly across the city through early 2000s. During that period, no one knew who created the turtle tag or its significance in the community. The Wayne County Prosecutor at that time vowed to send him or her to prison if caught. The threat drove the creator underground until he was identified in 2004 as a former Warren resident now living in Hamtramck. Because the creator of the turtle icon was never caught in the act of creating it, he was never prosecuted and has since retired from tagging.
Although simply designed tags like the turtle can be found throughout most neighborhoods in Detroit, larger more elaborate caricature pieces or intricate images are not quite as widespread. In fact, they can be somewhat secluded and hard to find. This makes sense considering the complexity, use of color and the sheer size of the many pieces I’ve looked at on my two-wheeled travels. Another reason for the seclusion could be the legal issues involved should a writer get caught trespassing and putting up a large, time-consuming piece on private property.
The array and design elements of the graffiti caricatures in Detroit are remarkable. Some have a sinister, creepy look, while others are mysterious in appearance. A few are subtle in design whereas others, with their bright colors and contorted facial features, reminded me of cartoon characters or a character found in a video game. Designs created with stencils (a quick way to put up somewhat complicated pieces) with their crisp, clean lines are part of the mix as well.
I find them all quite interesting. Take a look.