What inspires people to do amazing things? In Detroit, a city that looks like Dresden after the bombs, a young artist named Tyree Guyton has been transforming the slum where he lives into an explosive world of color. There are brightly painted dolls, shoes, bicycles and toys climbing up gnarly winter trees. There is a crucified bicycle ringed with lights to which a dolorous path paved with lost shoes winds its way, an urban Golgotha.
And there is a grave there too where are interred the souls of two houses that Tyree and his girl Karen transformed. Two houses that the city of Detroit tore down in the middle of the night. Yes, Detroit fears Tyree and art. It tore down his houses, and it curtailed hours at the Art Museum. Meanwhile, crack houses and burnt-out hulks full of rats keep unmolested vigil over the industrial nightmare.
There are shoes on Tyree's road, too, hundreds of shoes. "They are lost people," Tyree explains, "people looking for home, for food, for love." And there are even more now. Michigan cut thousands of people off welfare rolls. And the day after I talked to Tyree, GM announced plans for 27,000 layoffs by 1995.
Tyree remains undaunted: He'll keep going. It's his mission to transform bleakness into color and feeling. He lives in a little house with Karen and with Grampa. Grampa is well past 80. He keeps warm by the gas jets on the kitchen stove, seated at a table piled high with his drawings which he keeps making as we speak, one after another. And he philosophizes as he works, quoting the prophets in the Bible.
A neighborhood kid, about 9, drops in and, wordlessly, starts making drawings too. He's made a dragon-man with fire in his eyes. "Do you like it?" he asks me. I do. Tyree pats him on the head . "We've got a lotta kids here after school," he explains. I see the bright fire dragons of a lot of kids keeping them from becoming lost shoes on Detroit's roads to nowhere.
A licensed driver, Andrei Codrescu is discovering America in an old red Cadillac with tailfins.