Images that are grand and seemingly molded directly into the architecture of the very building it inhabited, this is the murals, paintings, granite petrography, terrazzo floor design and fresco of African-American Artist Hubert Massey. It was such an adventure riding around the Metro Detroit area looking at the different artistry that is the Massey experience.
I was introduced to Hubert Massey through John Mason of Mason in da Morning Radio Show. Mason was sponsoring a poetry contest on Mother Nature, with the twist that it has to be base on the mural at the Flint Institute of Art done by Hubert Massey. I didn’t win; I was 1st runner-up which included $50, a limo bus ride from Detroit to Flint for me and my entourage for a tour of the museum, to read my poem and to meet Mr. Massey. So, it is only fitting that I start at The Flint Institute of Art with the Mural of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. This fresco is an 848 square feet painting that can be seen through the front windows of the museum even when the museum is closed. It is a painting of Mother Nature in the tradition of that mother image “black woman”, Madea, in the early blues era and some religions Ma. She is standing and holding in her right hand the plant of life and in her left the planet earth. Her hair is braided close to her scalp and is loose near the end with clouds flowing out of them into the sky. Mind you this mural is done to the side and over three wide doorways the museum refreshment and gift shops. Then in the middle of one of the doorway, you see strong black hands gripping an axel where molten metal spills into a mold beneath. Stem rises from the mold and travels over lily pads floating in the water and if you look at the drops of water on the lily pad and the water, you can see reflections of the sky (a cycle). Of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water Massey states that the message is that man has a responsibility of maintaining the balance of the elements. The hands symbolize the hard work and strength of the community, while the drops of water on the lily pad signify the DNA of life. “We are all connected as human beings”. Up close during the day it is pastels, at night when closed and the lights are displaying it, it is brilliance of color.
Hubert Massey whom I believe is a Flint native, graduated from Grand Valley State University in 1981 with a Bachelors of Arts. Prior to his graduation from Grand Valley he was selected by the university to study art at the University of London-Slade Institute of Fine Arts where he credits his realization of the importance of marriage between art and architecture. He said that he began to see how art should be intertwined with the architectural project at inception rather than an afterthought when a project is near its completion. Which I have seen has been a constant throughout all the projects I had the pleasure of seeing.
Many students visited the Charles H. Wright African-American Museum for their project, I have been a member there for three years not including this year and two years at the DIA, and have walked across the terrazzo floor in the Rotunda Room which is the first room you enter when entering the museum. It is the doom with the echo. The floor is a circle and made up of the different shades of Africans and African-Americans entitled Genealogy. Genealogy depicts the struggle of Africans and African-Americans throughout history and is a main focal point in the architecture of the museum.
One of my favorites of the Massey art was in Greek town at the Athenaeum Hotel. Massey mural entitled Death of Laocoon and his two sons Antiphas and Thymbraeus which was done in 1989, using art restoration and conservation techniques used by the “old masters”. Massey’s mural in the hotel lobby is massive six-hundred plus square feet two large panels and connector, depicting the Greek story of Laocoon. I wasn’t able to get inside of the IRS building or the Detroit Athlete Club, but was able to retrieve photo of his work in the building via internet. I also didn’t get the image of the mural that was located inside of Trappers Alley and it wasn’t available on the internet, but thanks to Professor Chatman I was introduced to one of Massey’s work which is a massive mosaic quilt on back of The Center for Creative Studies building on Brush Street entitled “The Patterns of Detroit”. The Pattern incorporates twenty-seven community groups and two-hundred young people. Surrounding Massey massive mosaic quilt is seventeen detailed blocks representing seventeen organizations, all with different designs with a central theme of art and community. Like with the artist of the film Praise Song, Romare Bearden and Charles White, Hubert Massey honors the black woman too, both with Earth, Wind Fire and Water, the Patterns of Detroit main figure is of a black woman. Massey’s vibrant image depicts a mother and child surrounded by important neighborhood landmarks, and the mother is binding together patterns representing the cultures of Detroit. The fabric winds through the central image and spills out onto the horizontal panels, transforming the parking structure into a massive quilt.
Hubert Massey artist statement says a lot about his dedication and commitment to his craft; an artist should strive to understand his or her media. This includes understanding its origin and chemical making in order to utilize the full potential of the media. In doing so, an artist will never be technically bound by the media, but boundless and it shows in all Massey’s work that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.