RYAN PATRICK HOOPER

Stretching The Canvas

Inside the House of Art with Tylonn J. Sawyer

In Detroit the Red Bull House of Art is forging a new idea of what a gallery can be, carving out a new storyline in a city that has never been culturally bankrupt.

For Tylonn J. Sawyer, it started within the walls of the gallery. There he was given the opportunity to engineer his way back into the craft he fell in love with. After years of producing less than 2 paintings a year, Sawyer painted 12 large-scale portraits in less than 3 months.

Building a new way out

Sawyer took a look at what he had created. “It was an intense level of stress, but I had adopted this all or nothing mentality,” he says.

After years of being the architect of his own misery, Sawyer realized he held the blueprint to his own salvation — both personally and artistically. He knows that without his ups and (more importantly) his downs, he wouldn’t be where he is today — painting, teaching, creating, living. And without Detroit’s rich history, Red Bull House of Art wouldn’t have a foundation to build upon.

Because no matter what you might hear, Detroit is far from a blank canvas. To say otherwise is an idea that Sawyer and the House of Art are rebelling against with each opening.

Lost in the headlines and stigma is a cultural cache constantly replenishing itself with homegrown talent. The city’s art scene overflows from the canvas into the streets, where an independent Detroit is starting to learn more about itself by learning from the past. How does a community and city rife with financial follies ‘move forward’ in hopes of starting anew? How does an artist find their inspiration again after forgetting just how good it felt to create without limitations?

It’s the look people give you when you tell them, “I’m moving to Detroit for the cheap rent and a feeling on the ground that I just can’t define.”
Video Tylonn J. Sawyer

Steeped in history

From the progressive design work of early automobile titans to the architects that painted the skyline with the world’s most beautiful Art Deco skyscrapers, art and design are the elements that helped turn Detroit into a 20th century mecca. They’ve also been the first to be forgotten.

It’s a city with such a cultural pedigree that it’s easy to skip over the decades of gospel, generation-defining Motown, the thumping pulse of homegrown techno and distorted, churning guitars that Detroit has produced over the years.

”No matter what you might hear, Detroit is not a blank canvas.”

As the House of Art proves

Inside the House of Art Detroit
A city doesn’t stretch new canvas over years of cultural innovation. It learns to frame it within a context of an established city — one figuring out how to manage the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in the history of the United States. And because the character of a city is defined by its citizens, it starts under the streetlights.

By taking on the renovation of a Prohibtion-era brewery in historic Eastern Market — a neighborhood that embodies the constant hustle of Detroit — House of Art has embraced the legacy building stock without neglecting history. By celebrating Detroit’s culturally rich past, there becomes plenty of opportunity for those treading their own path in the Motor City.

And an opportunity to help artists like Sawyer find their way back.