On my two-wheeled rides across the city of Detroit, I see buildings painted in interesting ways. Many are quite crude in their design and execution. Some are not, and have well-identified images of liquor bottles, fruit, vegetables or jumping fish. Others advertise check-cashing and money order services using large, colorful letters. I’ve also ridden past buildings with detailed paintings of trains and cars, as well as appliances, mattresses and other household items. There is also quite a variety of colorful graffiti, quirky sayings and bold graphics, such as contrasting lines and arrows that decorate many buildings. All are designed to grab the attention of those passing by.
While cycling along Harper Avenue on Detroit’s east side, I spotted a single story commercial building nestled close to the sidewalk. It had an unusual, eye-catching sophisticated paint job. The overall structure was painted bright white and it featured clean, vertical and horizontal black lines. The various lines created a series of boxes in an assortment of shapes and sizes. Six of the 50 or so boxes were filled in with simple, primary paint colors. Looking at the building, I thought to myself, “This paint job reminds me a famous painting.”
After thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that the building’s simplistic paint job is based on the work of a Dutch painter named Piet Mondrian. Mondrian became famous in the 1920s for his stark white paintings incorporating simple black lines and colored boxes, most notably one produced in 1921 titled Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue.
Whoever designed the graphic look and painted the low, wide horizontal building in this fashion had an excellent grasp of art history and picked the perfect palette. I never would have anticipated seeing a building painted in this artistic style while riding my bike on a desolate stretch of Harper Avenue in Detroit.