Made in Michigan: Detroit artist has a captivating career


A life of hope to make art a career has come true for Detroit artist Desiree Kelly. She is known for her portraits which uniquely combine traditional oil painting techniques with certain aspects of “street art”. His art is now featured in permanent collections, on murals located across the country, in commissioned works and in special collaborations with national companies.

“It’s kind of a mixture of everything,” Kelly said when asked about her art. “Historical, immersive, a different kind of experience, a different way of interpreting portraits. It’s not just about the person, it’s also about their life and character.

Desiree Kelly is one of the artists who Founders Brewing Company highlights through its Crafted in Michigan campaign. Over the next few weeks, we’ll bring you the stories of the local businesses and artists behind Made in Michigan, by presenting the people behind these places and creations and by sharing their inspiration behind it all.

Check out our interview with Kelly below and scroll down to see some examples of her art.

Detroit-based artist Desiree Kelly.Courtesy photo, used with permission.

“I have always been involved in all aspects of the arts,” Kelly said. She attended art-focused schools in both elementary and middle school, and studied graphic design at Wayne State University in Detroit. “It’s something that I have always continued to do, to paint. I took portraits because there is something so interesting about people.

Kelly chose to tell people’s stories through her unique style, creating portraits that incorporate phrases, artifacts, and other imagery in addition to the image of the real person. “I’m a bit of a history buff, but I’m half lazy, so I like to get the information there, visually. So it was my idea, to incorporate the historical elements, the political figures, the public figures, the people I choose to represent in my work, ”explained Kelly.

She uses bright colors and sometimes unexpected fun additions to draw people into her work. Brightly colored paint is a Kelly signature, and her bold portraits stand out against their backgrounds, whether large murals on buildings or smaller-scale paintings hung in local restaurants. .

Made in Michigan: Desiree Kelly

Portrait of Aretha Franklin by artist Desiree Kelly in Detroit’s Eastern Market.Courtesy photo, used with permission.

Small portraits of Kelly are much more intimate and very often incredibly personal, while murals are more about beautifying a space that many will enjoy and creating an experience around the room.

His work with national brands also offered a different opportunity, not only to work with large companies, but also to help them connect with the community. “It really depends on who I’m collaborating with. If I do something with a bigger brand, their whole idea would be how to connect with the region they are trying to market to. My job there is to try to be the connector, especially with the big brands. “

A collaboration has been with Foot Locker, which has opened a new flagship store on the east side of Detroit with the help of Kelly. The store, called ‘Power Store’, was the first of its kind and opened in 2019. Kelly not only painted a large exterior mural on the front of the building, but also contributed to several murals inside. , works of art for the interior of the dressing room. rooms, and designed Detroit-inspired clothing that was sold in the store.

“It was really interesting when they decided to do this ‘Power Store’ in Detroit,” Kelly said. “I had been working with them for a little over two years at that time, doing smaller things, like indoor exhibitions. It started with something smaller to make it look and then randomly they were like, “We have this store, and you’re going to do all of this.” “

“It was a really cool project. I have to design a lot of clothes with them, and all over the store, I have to put art everywhere, ”Kelly said of her partnership with Foot Locker. “They were completely open to my creative judgment and just wanted me to put my style on everything and have that Detroit feel.”

Made in Michigan: Desiree Kelly

A portrait of Biggie Smalls by artist Desiree Kelly.Courtesy photo, used with permission.

Kelly’s art continues to evolve. Lately, she has added more artifacts and mixed media to her portraits, creating more three-dimensional pieces than some of her previous portraits. She recently worked on a portrait of the late Kobe Bryant that incorporated thousands of buttons, tiny jerseys, replica championship rings, as well as numerous newspaper clippings about the lives of famous basketball players. “He tells about his progress, his lifespan, from the start. It’s a fun project as an artist because I don’t just paint. It’s a challenge.”

“The more I dive into this art, I want to experience so many different things, add so many different things, explore and delve deeper into my art,” Kelly said. “At this point, I’m like, what about doing things that are less painted? And yet, always create that portrait. How can you tell a story with objects and artifacts, and kind of create a person out of objects? Kelly sometimes likes to “ hide ” objects in her portraits, elements that reflect the subject of the painting, and which bring more context and history to the piece.

Made in Michigan: Desiree Kelly

A close-up of a piece artist Desiree Kelly made of Kobe Bryant.Courtesy photo, used with permission.

Made in Michigan: Desiree Kelly

Another close-up of Kobe Bryant’s play by artist Desiree Kelly.Courtesy photo, used with permission.

The city of Detroit is a major source of inspiration for the artist. “I like to say that I a m Detroit, ”Kelly said. “All that comes out of my head and my fingers is Detroit. Walking to school every day, seeing things demolished and remodeled, separating everything, it made me want to preserve history more.

His art adorns several iconic places in the city, including a huge wall fresco by Aretha Franklin located in the historic Oriental Market and large portraits outside the Algiers Theater.

Made in Michigan: Desiree Kelly

Murals of the Algiers Theater by the artist Desiree Kelly.Courtesy photo, used with permission.

Making art has always been a passion for Kelly, and now it’s her career too. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s for the community,” Kelly said. “It’s a creative way of thinking about people, every day.”

Made in Michigan: Desiree Kelly

A portrait of Joe Lewis by Desiree Kelly.Courtesy photo, used with permission.

Desiree Kelly

You can see Kelly’s work at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building, dPoP !, Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles, Eastern Market, and the historic Alger Theater in Detroit. It is also part of the permanent collections of the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and the Flint Institute of Arts. Some of its commissioned work partners include The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Converse, Jack Daniels, Pandora, Kroger, City of Royal Oak (MI), Beaumont Health, Atwater Brewery, FootLocker INC and PUMA.

Made in Michigan: Desiree Kelly

“The OG’s: Grandma and Auntie” by artist Desiree Kelly.Courtesy photo, used with permission.

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