Presenting “The Building Stage (Detroit)”

It’s officially completed. “The Building Stage” is  the culmination of a year of research and development. It’s the largest and the most detailed painting I’ve ever produced, measuring 4-foot by 2-foot .

The idea to produce the piece came from my seeing a print ad for one of the Big Three car companies, in which several buildings from the downtown Detroit skyline were featured. The  Chrysler House and First National buildings were among the 1920’s-era structures in that ad and both are a part of “The Building Stage”.

The real challenge of this piece was finding the layout that struck the right balance between the musicians and buildings.  To find the building perspective I was looking for, photos, videos and even Google Earth were utilized to gain the best vantage point of the architectural structures. The musician side of the equation was the more difficult part of this effort. I spent many hours sketching layouts. Developing a sketch that provided the right spatial differences was a top priority and was taking some time. At various points, I’d think I had one I could work with, but then return to the same sketch and feel like something wasn’t quite right.

I was looking through a folder of sketches one morning and found a rough thumbnail I created in 2012. Not only did I immediately know that it was the right one, but I had scribbled the words “The Building Stage” right next to it.  Interestingly, there were no buildings in the sketch. I had to modify the composition of the concept slightly to add other players, like the drummer and bassist who were not included, at which point, I formally began work on the project.

To begin, I had an outline of the buildings scaled up and printed at a larger scale on paper, then I transposed every line and every window of each building onto the canvas by hand. It was quite tedious, but necessary. With this phase done, I moved on to developing the player layout, using the sketch as a reference, but hand-drawing each figure.

At the point of painting, the challenge was closely matching the colors of the respective buildings. Incidentally, I learned the names, and a good bit of the history, of everyone of the structures depicted in the piece, and a number not depicted. I mix my paint in cups, and at some point, almost every element of the painting had a corresponding cup with its name on it.  The Penobscot Building, another 20’s era building on the far right top of the painting, was the most challenging to mix because of the way the limestone used in that facade looked under different lighting conditions. At times, it can look more grey, at others, more brown and everywhere in between.

The musician and their instruments were fairly routine to paint, but the color of the double bass underwent a few color changes to arrive at its final destination. Finding a place to insert a sliver of the Detroit river waterfront, the Dodge Fountain and Transcending sculptures and the street below was a challenge, but I was able to create a bit of space slightly below the saxophonist.

This painting was a challenging and great privilege to produce. It was a great learning and creative experience.