Tyree Guyton made his first trip to Australia in April 2004 at the
invitation of performance artist and native Detroiter, Aku Kadogo,
his goal was to develop ideas for a collaborative public art project
in Sydney. Guyton did indeed develop an innovative plan for a public
installation of shoes, polka-dots, clothing, and other objects in
Sydney. He and Kadogo also garnered endorsement for the project from
the Mayor of Sydney and financial support from the City of Sydney
and from the U.S. Embassy. As a result, Guyton will return to Australia
in late-September to begin installation of "Singing for That
Country," creating an echo of Detroit's Heidelberg Project among
the rolling hills and along the winding paths of the spacious Sydney
Little could Guyton realize, however, that his trip to Australia would
significantly shift the path of his own art work. Internationally-known
for his neighborhood-based Heidelberg Project and polka-dots painted
on abandoned structures in Detroit, Guyton had come to a point of
"feeling stuck," of knowing that he "needed to go deeper"
but not knowing how to do this. His trip to Australia provided an
answer to his question.
In Sydney, Guyton saw many examples of Australian aboriginal art,
and Kadogo introduced him to many artists, including an aboriginal
tribal leader and maker of boomerangs. Guyton was entranced. "I
saw something so beautiful in the people themselves - so in tune with
nature and with the spirit world. The experience said to me that I
needed to go deep inside myself. And I knew that I needed to come
back to Australia."
And go back, he did. Guyton returned to Australia for three weeks
in July at his own expense, accompanied during the first week by Heidelberg
Project Executive Director, Jenenne Whitfield. Guyton spent the final
two weeks of his July visit alone - living in isolation in a small
room in the simple apartment of Kadogo's ex-husband. "There was
no radio or TV - just art and books. Jimbo had aboriginal paintings;
they became my TV and radio. I was in this room for two weeks - just
painting and reading. I got up very early - 6:00 a.m. - and I just
painted. I started very early, in the silence."
Guyton continued painting his signature polka dots, his dots began
to resonate with the complex dot patterns of the aboriginal art which
surrounded him. Guyton began to impose firm black lines in his fields
of dots, pathways echoing the lines and elemental structures of the
aboriginal paintings. At that time, Guyton had little understanding
for the meaning and sacred symbols represented in the dots and lines
of the aboriginal paintings, but he sensed innately the spirituality
and "connections" expressed in these aboriginal works.
Isolated from outside distractions, Guyton's mind began to flood with
visions of his own personal connections - connections with mentors,
connections with ancestors - and he began to look deeply into his
own soul. He recalled the advice of his teacher, Charles McGee, who
- twenty years ago - counseled him to lock himself in a room for two
weeks and do nothing but paint. He recalled how his Grandpa Sam Mackey
took delight in a jumble of colored jelly beans and how his Grandpa,
when approaching the end of his life, made drawing after drawing all
through the night with an energy and urgency that seemed to flow from
the center of his being. Guyton's personal recollections and feelings
seemed to be echoed in the shimmering dots and meandering lines of
the aboriginal paintings which surrounded him, and he began to sense
a new direction in his own work.
realized then that everything is connected." Guyton had always
considered his multi-colored polka-dots representative of the varied
people and cultures of the earth. In Australia, however, Guyton was
astonished to find parallels between his polka-dots, Grandpa Mackey's
figure drawings, and the shapes and forms in aboriginal paintings.
The patterns of contemporary aboriginal paintings have been a part
of aboriginal culture for centuries and represent to aboriginal people
a deep and fundamental reality called "Dreamtime," the transcendent
spiritual, natural, and moral order of the cosmos. Although aboriginal
paintings contain multiple layers of meaning with the most sacred
messages legible only to the initiated, lines typically denote pathways
and circles suggest points of significance, gathering and nurturing.
Guyton's new works are filled with firm circles and bold black lines
-- gathering places and pathways - organically positioned on a flickering
surface of colored polka-dots. Although cast-aside objects embedded
and obscured in the thickly painted surfaces recall Guyton's persistent
attention to the overlooked details of daily urban life, his new paintings
seem to transcend individual experience in a new and intense effort
to reach a higher level, a level of a universal spirit that embraces
and embodies all people.
Guyton himself is very excited about the new direction of his art
and says he trusts the spirit he feels within himself. "I know
what I want to do now. I've got to paint! This is only the beginning
of what's inside of me, what's wanting to get out. I'm excited about
it. I want to paint. I have to paint." It will be interesting
indeed to see where this new path leads.
The first works in Guyton's new series painted since his first trip
to Australia are currently on display at the Batista Gallery, 756
Livernois, Ferndale, Michigan where the exhibition, "Singing
for Our Countries," continues through late-October.
Exhibition of New Works
September 18 - October 15
Ferndale, Michigan 48220