Dequindre Cut art adds to movement of legal graffiti
Graffiti artist Fel3000ft, 40, was asked to do a piece along the Dequindre Cut Greenway, adding to the movement of legal graffiti art in metro Detroit. "It's quite an honor for me to do this for the city," he said. / Photos by DIANE WEISS/Detroit Free Press
Fel3000ft first picked up a paint can at age 11. Now, he has a trove as he works on the mural last week.
A graffiti artist who has spent the last 29 years painting in Detroit returned to the area of a former abandoned railroad line this month for the first time in a decade with his paint cans.
The difference between then and now: He was invited this time.
Fel3000ft, as he's known professionally, completed a piece Tuesday that is reminiscent of Detroit in what is now home to the Dequindre Cut Greenway.
"It's quite an honor to be asked to be here," said Fel3000ft, who picked up his first paint can at age 11. "And it's quite an honor for me to do this for the city."
Graffiti art is part of what makes Detroit unique, said Marc Pasco, a spokesman for the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, which is responsible for maintenance of the Dequindre Cut Greenway.
The graffiti along the greenway -- a recreational path used by walkers, runners and bicyclists -- incorporates the look and feel of the city, Pasco said.
"I don't think there is any denying that some of these graffiti artists are very talented at what they do," he said.
Graffiti artists including Fel3000ft and another known as Malt were asked to produce the pieces painted this month in the Dequindre Cut -- adding to the movement of legal graffiti art in metro Detroit.
"More of this art (is) being done above ground instead of underground," said Jesse Cory, co-founder of gallery 323East in Royal Oak.
Though illegal graffiti is still a part of Detroit, the amount of legal graffiti work has exploded in the last 10 years, Cory said. Many artists come to Detroit from around the world to be part of it.
There is strict code, Fel3000ft said, including no painting on thriving businesses, religious buildings or occupied homes.
"There is a different set of rules to this than there is to just being somebody who ruins people's property," he said, stressing that what graffiti artists do is different from gang graffiti.
At 40, Fel3000ft is one of the oldest members of the area's graffiti art community. His name was once Fel, but he got into an argument with another artist who went by the same name.
He said he argued he had the name first and told the other artist that if he didn't change his name, that artist would know what it was like to fall 3,000 feet.
"I liked it so much, I kept it," he said.
Fel3000ft is now considered a Detroit legend and teacher by others in the community. "He's sort of considered like the godfather of Detroit graffiti," said Mike Han, founder of Street Culture Mash.
Han's company hires people to do graffiti work, and Fel3000ft -- who said he only paints legally now -- was the first person to get the call for the job at the Dequindre Cut. The Cut is a below-street-level path that runs parallel to St. Aubin Street, between Gratiot Avenue and Atwater, near the RiverWalk.
Fel3000ft came up with the idea for the piece, which has a spaceship theme, after watching a documentary on how stars are formed. He said it reminded him of Detroit. "A star is born through immense pressure, and we have had our fair share," he wrote next to the piece. "That beacon of light you see in the dark is our fair city rising from the night sky."
The self-taught graffiti artist, who also works as a tattoo artist, brought more than 100 cans of spray paint, ladders and music that helps him loosen up. He spent four days at the underpass off Gratiot near St. Aubin -- sometimes painting from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
"To do this was important," he said. "I've been an advocate for trying to bring back the city through the arts."
Many of the pieces are never touched by others. The reason: It's considered disrespectful to mark or tag a piece if you can't do it better yourself.
"If you can't do anything just as good or better, then you better leave it alone because the rest of the guys in the graffiti community are going to frown upon it," Fel3000ft said.
His unnamed piece joins Malt's work. Malt also used to paint in the area back when it was overgrown, home to wild dogs and abandoned cars. "It was a totally different world down here years ago," he said.
Other graffiti commissioned when the greenway opened in 2009 lines parts of the path, as well as some that has been illegally painted in the area.
Detroiters James Tolbert, 63, and Ricky Kochom, 53, ride bicycles two to three times a week on the 1.35-mile path and said they enjoy seeing the work, as long as it isn't profane.
"I like the graffiti. It gives it character," Tolbert said.
"Some of it's a shame they do it here instead of in a gallery," Kochom said.
Fel3000ft said he has watched people's mind-set about graffiti -- considered by many to be vandalism -- change over the years. "They're starting to realize that it's a valid art form," he said.
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