Artist Kobie Solomon's new mural was supposed to be completed in less than two months. He's been working on it for two and a half, and is still putting the finishing touches on it.
"There were points in the painting where I could have made the end result a little bit less, and got done sooner," he says. "But you know, I kind of felt like everybody would be cheated, including myself, if I didn't go all out."
Solomon says the piece, located on the Morrie restaurant in Royal Oak, is "probably the most technically complicated mural I've ever done in the public eye." Depicting a playful treehouse scene, the mural includes multiple rock 'n' roll references and trompe l'oeil forced-perspective illusions, and it wraps around two walls while also spilling out onto the ground and even incorporating a nearby Dumpster.
It's a departure from some of Solomon's more widely known works, which includes the chimera on the Russell Industrial Center and a tiger on Detroit's HopCat. Part of that, Solomon says, comes from the fact that he is returning from a two-year break from mural projects. "I was getting burnt out," he says. "I disappeared into my studio and focused on process and technique, and not shortchanging the work itself — like getting into doing the work, the love of the process, not, 'I gotta do this thing to keep the lights on.'"
But another factor was the mural's next-door neighbors — the children at the St. Paul Lutheran School. "That was one of the prime incentives for me in deciding to take this on. It was the kids," Solomon says. "I remember being in all kinds of daycares when I was little, being in schools that don't have playgrounds. I didn't want those kids looking at a gray wall. ... I wanted to make something for them."
The mural depicts an elaborate tree fort scene featuring kid versions of rock 'n' roll icons, many of which are Detroit-centric, including Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Bootsy Collins, Nina Simone, Alice Cooper, Prince, Madonna, Jack White, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Elvis, "Big Momma" Thornton, Aretha Franklin, Kraftwerk, and Syd Barrett.
You have to look for clues to figure out who's who — Jack White is painting a white stripe; Syd Barrett is moving a brick telekinetically; Elvis is ripping off of "Big Momma." "There's a lot of jokes and interplay," Solomon says. He says he still wants to add Ted Nugent, but his plan is for Iggy Pop to be shooting him with a slingshot. ("That's what you get if you're an outspoken bigot," he says.)
A College for Creative Studies alumnus, Solomon studied illustration. But his background is in graffiti, which he says he started doing as a child. "I was a notoriously bad student, grade-wise," he says. "Back then I was just a vandal."
But Solomon says he was able to combine his graffiti background with what he learned in art school to create his style. "The more I learned about the graffiti process, the more I saw it could be fused into the illustrative process, that I could do gigantic murals," he says. "It became a viable way to pay the bills. That's the irony — I went to school to do the right thing, to get a degree, to get a good job ... but I got more notoriety doing street art than from school."
The Morrie is located at 511 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-216-1112; themorrie.com.