Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Guyton, Tyree

Artist Tyree Guyton is an American Neo-Expressionist best known for creating Detroit’s Heidelberg Project. Guyton extensively uses found objects in his work, including bicycles, old shoes, baby dolls, and other discarded items. Faces, shoes, clocks, and colorful polka dots often appear as recurring elements in his work. Pieces by Guyton are found in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, and more.

Guyton was born in Detroit in 1955 and grew up on Heidelberg Street. He served in the U.S. Army, worked as a firefighter, and worked in auto assembly plants before entering art school. He attended Marygrove College, Wayne State University, and College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. Guyton studied under Detroit artist Charles McGee, and considers him a major influence.

In 1986, Guyton and his grandfather began cleaning up vacant lots on Heidelberg Street. Using the discarded items they collected, and with the help of the neighborhood children, Guyton and his grandfather transformed abandoned houses and vacant lots into massive pieces of art. Guyton also integrated the street, sidewalks, and trees into an enormous work of art, calling it all the “Heidelberg Project.” The Project initially received unfavorable reviews and the City of Detroit ordered him to remove his installations. The City on several occasions demolished examples of his artistic housescapes.

Guyton persevered and has since received many awards including the Spirit of Detroit Award in 1989, the Michiganian of the Year Award in 1991, and the Award for Artistic Excellence by the City of Detroit in 2007. Guyton has served as artist in residence and taught at various institutions, including Harvard University, University of Michigan, Ohio State University and Wayne State University.

In 1999, Guyton was the subject of an Emmy Award winning HBO Films documentary, “Come Unto Me: The Faces of Tyree Guyton.” Unfortunately, a series of unsolved arson fires between 2013 and 2015 destroyed 12 of his artistic houses on Heidelberg Street. Guyton announced in 2016 that he will be dismantling the Heidelberg Project, and move onto a new phase which he calls “Heidelberg 3.0.”