Detroit Graffiti artist Antonio "Shades" Agee has been rocking the cans of Krylon for so long that no tagging laws existed when he began 20 years ago (it's a felony now — malicious destruction of property). "When I was bombing [spray painting] I was the first guy out there," Agee says. "I just wanted to get out there and beautify the city." He couldn't have imagined then that his passion would lead him to commissions, being in museums and working on movie sets.
When Agee didn't graduate from high school his entrepreneurial father George (who ran the legendary House of Mystique store in Detroit's Haight-Ashbury on Plum Street in the '60s; John Sinclair is Antonio's godfather) stressed the importance of making a business of his art. Fortunately, Agee's business skills matched his creative ones, a talent he inherited in part from his dad and his hometown. "If I wasn't from Detroit I wouldn't have my hustle."
Early on, graffiti legend and Clash collaborator Futura 2000 took Agee under his wing.
"I just picked his brain all the time," Agee says. "How do you do this? How do you do that?" Now, Agee has taught kids about graffiti in Detroit and at the Neutral Zone, a teen center in Ann Arbor. He also did graffiti for the set of 8 Mile and has two works in the DIA's permanent collection. He's working on an installation for a dorm at Michigan State.
Agee works from his Corktown loft. By day he works in the sunlight streaming in through his large windows, by night he works in the glare of Michigan Avenue's streetlights.
When asked why he thinks Detroit has such a great creative community, he gives one of the best answers yet: "Detroit is weird — we don't have a lot of distractions. All we do is woodshed, we don't have anything else to do. We know how to grind in the D, we know how to work."
Dig Antonio "Shades" Agee's work at www.shades313.com.