New Joe Louis mural in Detroit fuses artist's two passions

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Sports weren't just a past-time for Michigan-born artist TYP as a kid. They were life.

The artist, whose real name is Troy Murray, was an avid hockey player who dreamed of one day playing in the NHL. And yet art was always on the perimeter, too. He was constantly drawing and sketching as a child.

His mom and teachers pushed him to pursue art more "but I loved sports. I didn't want anything to do with art," said TYP.

But after a difficult years-long battle with drugs and alcohol, TYP eventually did find his way to art again and it's been his full-time career since 2018. Now, the self-taught multidisciplinary artist is fusing both of his passions, sports and art, with a mural he's painting now in downtown Detroit of one of the city's biggest sports figures, Joe Louis.

TYP is painting a large mural of the Brown Bomber inside a parking structure near where the former Joe Louis Arena stood on Jefferson in downtown Detroit, keeping the boxer's presence in the area even thought the arena is gone. To get to paint such an iconic figure near a place that meant so much to him as a hockey-obsessed kid is an honor, said TYP.

Vivid purple, pinks and blues will be in TYP's mural of Joe Louis.

"What that building gave me as a child — all of my best memories as a kid are at the Joe Louis. This is the perfect job," said TYP, 31, who started painting this week and hopes to wrap up the mural in about 10 days.

The 60-foot mural, which has been in the works for several years and won't be visible to the outside but will be to those who park inside the parking structure, will feature vibrant colors such as purple, pink and blue. Woven into the mural are several iconic Detroit brands such as General Motors, hidden in Louis's glove and shorts.

"It's going to be a really special piece and I'm super excited to be the one was chosen to do it," said TYP, who splits his time between Birmingham and Los Angeles, where he has his studio.

TYP grew up in Clarkston and Birmingham. But by the time he was 14, he says he was headed down a bad path with drugs and alcohol. In and out of rehab with several arrests, he made a decision to change at 21, also finding his faith. But he needed something to fill his time. That's when he found art again.

"In the beginning it was just something to keep me busy. I really started drawing again to give me something to turn my brain off," said TYP.

But people started asking him create pieces and eventually it became his full-time job.

He often fabricates the surfaces on which he paints, sometimes using three-dimensional elements, and doesn't shy away from unconventional choices such as concrete, resin, even preserved moss.

For a piece featuring famed rapper Biggie Smalls, he fused dozens of cassette tapes together, which became his painting surface. 

Artist TYP, a multidisciplinary artist born and raised in Michigan whose real name is Troy Murray, created a surface made from cassette tapes and concrete and then painted a portrait  of famed rapper Biggie Smalls.

Fabricating his own surfaces, "it felt like me. It felt like a really unique voice to me," said TYP, who did have a gallery in Birmingham at one point but closed it.

His work often reflects his passions, which includes sports and music. And he also tries to create pieces that tie into his story, which includes his sobriety and his faith.

"I'm always trying to balance those out," he said. "I like making a good amount of pieces that are based around my story and my experiences but also a good amount around iconic piece who've inspired me throughout the years."

Eventually, TYP would like to have a gallery presence in both Los Angeles and Metro Detroit. But for now, he's just enjoying painting one of the city's biggest sport heroes and continuing his legacy.

"It's just really cool to be a part of keeping that alive," he said.