Thrillist recently linked up with Detroit artist Scott Hocking (famed for, among other things, chronicling the city’s “bad” graffiti) for a tour of Detroit’s best street art, graffiti, ghost signs, and murals. Knowing the city like he does, we convinced the artist to show us what he considers to be the BEST wall ink in town.
Hocking took us on a trip through time and space (Honda Elements are the new Deloreans) with stops at his favorite pieces: some incredible and eye-catching, some aging and meaningful, and some so bad they are good. Afterwards, Thrillist sat down with Hocking at Supino Pizzeria for a pointed interview, and a few laughs.
So, what the hell did you take me to? Was it street art? Was it graffiti? Was it murals?
Yeah, we took a couple of drives around Detroit, tried to cover some of my favorite spots while navigating through favorite routes and neighborhoods. It’s such a sprawling city, it’s impossible to show you everything in six hours -- and I have a real hard time picking favorites -- but I think we saw a nice mix of old and new, off-the-beaten-track wall art: a mix of graffiti, murals, street art, ghost signs, paintings, all of the above.
All the kids the world over have hard-ons for "street art" these days. What sets Detroit's apart?
Well, I guess what sets Detroit apart is the city itself. Detroit is a unique place, and it’s experiencing a real renaissance in some areas, while other areas feel like they did since I was a child -- and I'm old! The layers of old and new, the juxtaposition between neighborhoods, the divisions across freeways and railroads: you can really see cycles of nature and time in Detroit. There are brand-spanking -new murals by world-famous graffiti artists, and down the street a demo'd building reveals a ghost sign painted 100 years ago. I think of Detroit as a city always in transition, and that kind of transformative energy draws people in -- and gives artists giant hard-ons.
We saw everything from ghost signs, to African-American history murals, to newly commissioned pieces. What's the common theme here?
The common theme is me and my inability to narrow in and choose a select few favorites. I love so many different pieces all over the city -- and the city is so huge -- and I love them for different reasons. Of course, there were dozens of works that I didn't get to show you -- like interior and walking-tour locations -- it would have taken us a couple more days. Shit, we never made it out of the Eastside during our first trip. But the common theme for me is usually my interest in history, and wanting to connect our time with the past. I'm especially interested in hidden history, and works on the verge of extinction, about to be lost. I've been documenting old murals and what I'd call urban folk art throughout the city for years in a photo series called Signs, as well as poorly scrawled underdog tags in a series called Bad Graffiti -- and one of my main interests is that I know these things have a time limit, an expiration date. Most of the photos in both series show murals, signage, and graffiti that is now gone. So, yeah, the common theme here is Detroit, always in transition, and me, trying to bridge all those juxtapositions of space and time. No biggie.
The following is a sample of some of the best art lining the streets of the Motor City. For detailed information on some of the projects seen in these photos, visit Murals in the Market, The Alley Project, Grand River Creative Corridor, Power House Productions, and Lincoln Street Art Park.