A public mural in downtown Detroit honoring the late Charles McGee, a Detroit native who was a mainstay in the city’s cultural fabric as an artist and educator, will be on display through this weekend at the corner of Washington Boulevard and West Grand River Avenue.
The art installation depicts McGee’s 2011 artwork, “Play Patterns II,” which, as he described it, “speaks passionately for the strength inherent in the equation of togetherness of all things in cosmic order.” It’s mounted on a wall of the Stevens Building, 1258 Washington Blvd., in a partnership of the Library Street Collective and Orange Barrel Media.
The legendary Detroit artist was best known for large-scale, mixed-media pieces that grace indoor and outdoor spaces in metro Detroit, including the Library Street Collective-commissioned work “Unity,” McGee’s largest mural, on the side of the 28Grand building downtown, as well as “United We Stand” at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
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McGee suffered a stroke in 2011 while working on “Play Patterns II,” one of his largest three-dimensional pieces.
After leaving the hospital, he enlisted the help of assistants to complete the piece, and it became one of the most iconic works of his career.
“The piece represents my father’s work and legacy,” said his daughter, April McGee-Flournoy. “It inspires us as a family to strive for unity in a collective effort to honor who Charles McGee was, and his tenacity to overcome challenges with the hope we will live a life that brings inspiration to the world, and our community. My hope is that the billboard sends a message that we all are essential, and must work in concert together, in unity, to fulfill our purpose in this world.”
McGee died in February 2022 at 96 after a career that spanned nearly eight decades.
“It’s been an honor working with Charles McGee and the entire McGee family throughout the years to further integrate his longtime community-driven art practice into the city of Detroit — from murals to various public installations and, notably, the Charles McGee Legacy Park set to open in early summer of 2023 in the city’s East Village neighborhood,” said Anthony Curis, founder and partner of the Library Street Collective.
“What drew us to “Play Patterns II” for this latest project was the imagery’s capacity to encompass different stylistic points in Charles’ expansive career, in his early days having focused on realistic figurism and gradually shifting into the realm of pure abstraction with compositions informed by line and color in his later days. The colorful nature of the work was equally important for the lightness and joy we hope it will inspire amongst all that encounter the billboard.”
Orange Barrel Media, an operator of outdoor signage across the country that partnered with the Library Street Collective for this project, noted in a news release that the display of McGee’s work demonstrates how the intersection of outdoor media and art enlivens public spaces.
McGee told the Free Press in July 2016, “My work is about the power of togetherness.”
Brendel Hightower is an assistant editor at the Detroit Free Press. Contact her at email@example.com. To subscribe, go to freep.com/specialoffer.
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