When it comes to art, Kyle Danley likes to think BIG. Known in the art community as Wetiko, the 33-year-old recently created a stunning mural for our flagship store in Flint, Michigan. We spoke to Wetiko about his inspiration, his career as a muralist and what it’s like to live in a psychedelic school bus (yes, you heard that right).
Tell us about the Common Citizen mural—it’s beautiful, by the way. What inspired you?
There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on with any piece. For this particular wall, I came up with a bunch of different concepts. We wanted the story of Detroit, the Common Citizen brand, a happy diverse group of faces, the skyline and buildings, and some recognizable Detroit things and landmarks.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of painting with a specific fabric. Everything I’ve been doing in the studio is with these stripes and the flow of folded and wrinkled fabric. With this particular mural, I wanted to continue with that theme, so the whole color pattern has the flowing fabric and colorful lines with the portraits on top of it.
How long did it take you, from start to finish?
It took me four days total. I had some complications because it was portraiture and I really wanted to project the imagery. I showed up the first night, right before sunset, to project my image. But the store has such solid, LED lights that are brighter than the sun, so I wasn't able to project my image that night—I could just barely make out the lines of the fabric!
So the next day, I asked if there was a way to get the lights turned off. Thankfully they could, so I showed up another night and worked from 9 pm to 4 am with the projection, mapping out the portraits and the buildings. Then I slept on site in my bus, woke up the next morning, and worked a 14-hour day to finish the mural.
I had to do it with scaffolding, which is what really wears me down, climbing up and down scaffolding all day. Thankfully we had beautiful weather, so it was pretty smooth. When I’m on site, I love it. The whole process was very enjoyable. Overall, it was fun and I was happy with the outcome.
How did first hear about Common Citizen?
They've been on my radar for a little while. I know there’s a lot of art and creativity happening in the marijuana industry, especially in states where it’s become legal. I wanted to tap into that market so I’ve followed them from the beginning stages, coming to Michigan and talking about the brand.
Describe your art style.
I do a lot of different styles, as you can see from my website. Some are more graffiti driven, there are some that are more contemporary; I even do abstract oil and acrylic painting in the studio. All my paintings tend to have a lot of texture and bright colors. I can pretty much mimic any style and have fun with it. Bold, colourful contemporary street art is what defines my work at the moment.
So… why murals?
I have been a painter my whole life. I went to CPS, the art college here in Detroit, back in 2003 and 2004. Detroit was still very lawless and rough, and you could get away with a lot — and that includes graffiti and street art. Police didn't really crack down on it that hard, so a lot of us would go out at night and paint the streets and apply what we were learning in college on larger surfaces. I got comfortable using the spray paint can and doing large bodies of work. As my studio painting evolved and was inspired by street art, I had the desire to go large with the paintings.
What is it that you like about doing bigger paintings and murals in particular?
I like murals because they make community and cities a bit more beautiful. I think bringing art into public spaces is really important. The vastness of it, standing in front of a 3,000-square-foot painting, is pretty spectacular.
It must feel great when you finish!
Yeah! And people are really into it. There are certain people who go to museums and galleries to view art in that setting, but I think everybody can take in murals, whether they know if they’re into art or not. I’m on the Eastern Market and I’m on the sixth floor. I look down at all the murals in the market and I watch people all day look at them, take selfies at them. The photography and the creative buzz that comes from having a mural on a wall is pretty cool. I think it inspires a lot of other things to take place. It’s becoming a big boom. You can now do tours, you can get on a bike and go around the city and see some of the famous murals around the city.
How do you generally get clients?
As far as Detroit goes, everything has been word of mouth, but all my other murals—and I’ve done murals from D.C. to Seattle—all those come strictly from my website, from people browsing and liking my work and requesting for me to come out.
All of last year, I travelled the country in a short school bus. That made it really easy to be like, “Oh yeah, a job in Seattle? I’ll definitely come out there,” and just drive out in the bus, paint, and live that lifestyle.
That sounds pretty awesome.
It was spectacular. I think I’ll be doing it again soon—I came home to Detroit for Christmas and I knew I was going to be here for at least a couple of months. Detroit winters aren't great for living in a school bus and I didn't want to use the resources of my family here, so I decided to get a studio and focus on painting in Detroit. But come August 1st, I’m getting back on the bus and I’m going to keep travelling.
Wetiko’s schoolbus, Agatha.
Do you still drive it around Detroit? Can people spot your bus?
The bus is still my commuter vehicle so I drive it all around. I pull up to corporate business meetings to do a mural in this bright, technicolor school bus. It's kind of shocking for clients—but not at the same time.
Does the bus have a name?
My bus? Her name is Agatha.
Love it. So where are you going this summer?
I’m not totally certain as of right now. If I’m busy in Detroit I’m just going to stick around for a little bit and then hit the road once it starts to cool off. But I’ve been all over the country. It’s where the work is, wherever I have the desire to go. I’m also a rock climber, so I tend to go to climbing communities and spend time there. If it’s the east-side community I’m in Kentucky, Tennessee. If I’m out west, there’s some great climbing in Las Vegas, Utah. It’s a big country, it’s vast; I don't really have any plans other than getting back on the road and seeing what happens. Now that I have the body of work and the website, I can prove that I know what I’m doing. And a lot of people are pretty hyped to get some painting done and make things happen on the road.