Freshwounds is ecstatic to announce the addition of one of Detroit’s most recognized street art teams – Hygienic Dress League. Writer and fellow Detroit artist Colin Darke reached out to Hygienic Dress League to discuss the progression of their work and impact on art in their city. Check out the interview and their prints now available in the new Gallery.
Detroit Street Art & The Hygienic Dress League
A few months ago I took a tour of “The Z” parking garage in downtown Detroit. A garage is a unique place to find breathtaking artwork, but there it was. My tour was guided by Anthony Curis one of the owners of Library Street Collective, which started the large mural project inside The Z. The gallery teamed up with Detroit’s favorite billionaire Dan Gilbert to turn a parking garage into a street art destination. Through The Z, some of the best street artists from around the world put their imprint on Detroit (stunning work by Triston Eaton, How & Nosm, and Saner, among others).
The Z is only the latest street art destination to grow out of seemingly nowhere in Detroit. Detroit has a lot of buildings, a lot of people that appreciate art, and a lot of areas that can flourish if given a chance—so it was only a matter of time before Detroit started growing its street art scene. Another great example of the growing street art scene is visible to anyone who drives up Grand River Ave in downtown Detroit – now rightly known as the Grand River Creative Corridor (“GRCC”). The GRCC creates a tunnel of murals through an area that was once neglected. There are 15 buildings with over 100 murals through a now fascinating stretch of Grand River. These murals highlight artists from Detroit, Ohio, California, Germany, France, and New Zealand. The project and its execution was the brainchild of businessman Derek Weaver. Derek initiated the project before he was even 21. This goes to show you that a good idea can get a lot of momentum in Detroit. The low barriers for entry into Detroit’s art scene is another reason world-class street art has found its way to Detroit.
I personally first noticed the growing street art scene when I moved back to Metro Detroit in 2008. There were a series of professional looking installations popping up under the label of the Hygienic Dress League. These pieces were different from what I was used to seeing in Detroit. There were murals in Detroit, but not as polished and not as in-line with the oblique message-based works I had seen elsewhere. The work makes you stop and take notice and question what you are seeing and what message the artists are trying to convey. The works initiate meaningful dialogue through fascinating symbols ranging from a well-dress couple with gasmasks on to pigeons. Is this a commentary on corporate America? Or advertising? Or the commercial aspect of street art?
Well, even though I have been a fan of their work for a while, I only recently sat down with the art couple that started the Hygienic Dress League: Steve and Dorota Coy. They came to Detroit in 2007 (Steve is originally from Metro Detroit, so he came back to Detroit), and they immediately started taking their turn at cultivating Detroit’s cityscape through imagery that reflects their unique and compelling vision. And Detroit is a better place because of HDL and their ilk.
Colin Darke: Why create Street Art?
The Hygienic Dress League: Street art, at the moment, seems to be the most democratic and inclusive art movement as anyone can participate with very low barriers. Street art gets in your face, it forces discussion, and causes controversy at times – all of which is positive and necessary in a progressing society.
We are drawn to it in particular as it is one of the rawest, and in most cases, an un-curated forms of art that anyone can participate in, as the institutional art world often falls victim to commodification, elitism, censorship, and exclusivity.
CD: What is Detroit’s street art scene like?
HDL: It always has been and continues to be a place of flourishing creativity. Places of hardship often give rise to creativity and innovation out of necessity and inspiration to become better or solve problems. In most cases people help each other, feed off each other’s creativity and embrace what makes Detroit so interesting.
We do have a current dialogue that, I believe, is present in a lot of other places which is the idea of local versus global. Some artists have declared a “No fly zone.” As a travelling artist, I think it is important to have a balance of both. Some organizations only support outside artists. I think we need to find a balance of promoting locals and accepting those who come in. it is important that local artists are supported but I also do not believe we should have a closed door policy. Allowing artists to come in promotes a healthy conversation and diversifies the work.
CD: How has Detroit’s art scene / street art scene changed over the past five years?
HDL: As the popularity of street art grows worldwide – Detroit’s street art scene broadens as well. Pre – 2007 I did not see too much work in the form of street art, it was all mostly graffiti.
Street art is quickly becoming a popular and accepted form of art and what was once a counter culture is quickly shifting into pop-culture. We have large corporations now supporting street artists and murals in the city. –You con the art world and then the world cons you.
What was once a pure form of art and bringing freedom of expression open to the public, actually forced into the public, but you now have works being stolen and put up on auction and sold. The HDL is the corporation; we have already jumped ahead to the commercial world.
CD: Is the Detroit community receptive?
HDL: There is always a contingency of people anywhere that are adverse to change. In Detroit, however, I have found an amazing number of people who really appreciate the effort of street artists to make their city more unique. One of my favorite parts of working on the street is the dialogue I get to have with people passing by. In most cases people are excited to see images being made and are excited to talk with the creator about the work and its meaning.
CD: What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
HDL: We hope they view it with a sense of curiosity; we want them to wonder what it is about. We want to reward the curious – as if leaving a trail of breadcrumbs until they start to become fascinated with the unfolding narrative. We hope to continue to find new ways to create public work that surprises people.
Large format prints of Hygienic Dress League’s work can now be shopped at their Freshwounds gallery
Check out more of Colin’s art exhibitions and writings here: www.colindarke.com