By Robin Erb
Detroit Free Press.
What they’re selling at Detroit’s Rebel Nell — in whorls and loops of brilliant color buffed to a shine and hooked onto delicate silver chains — are acts of defiance.
It is art from decay. The refusal to be defined by the wreckage that can surround us.
“You might think it’s trash, but then I’ll find prizes, a treasure on the inside,” said 36-year-old Patricia, who asked that her last name not be used.
The “trash” is sheets of Detroit’s graffiti — most of it so heavily layered that it has peeled and fallen from crumbling facades.
Scavenged from alleyways and weedy lots, these nondescript sheets of paint are brought to this third-floor workshop in Detroit’s Grand River Creative Corridor, a mash-mash of color and graffiti and an incubator for Detroit artists.
Using heaters and cutters and polishing devices, the women tease out from these sometimes grimy sheets of graffiti a shocking kaleidoscope of color.
It’s a process that underscores an informal mission statement here: Never judge by outer layers.
Sometimes the most electrifying sheet of graffiti, when subjected to scrutiny back in the shop, holds little more than bland colors on the inside. Nothing really, said attorney and Rebel Nell cofounderAmy Peterson.
But other times?
“Look at this piece,” she said, slipping a thick sheet of paint layers from others. The surface is nondescript, but the rough edges expose a startling stratum of greens and blues and orange.
“There must be a hundred layers here,” she says. “That’s where the magic is.”
Rebel Nell took shape over time as Peterson walked Elbie, an English-French bulldog mix. She often stopped to talk with residents of a homeless shelter near her home.
From the women, the stories were often the same: “A lot were coming from difficult relationships or situations,” she said.