Detroit-based artist finds true calling in 'First Semester'

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

In high school and college, basketball took up a ton of Denzel Palm's time. But once he was out in the work world? Not so much.

"I was looking for something more," said Palm, 27, "a way to offer more of myself to others." So he took up painting -- Palm's self-taught -- and will host his first solo show in Eastern Market Wednesday through Saturday.

"Turns out I have a knack for this," he says of his paintings. "It's been an exciting journey of about two years. I got good at it, and people started buying my pieces."

Detroiter Denzel Palm is a self-taught artist, hosting his first show in Eastern Market Wed.-Sat.

"First Semester" will comprise 40 different canvases and six Palm-designed T-shirts. "There’s kind of a '90s vibe" to the work, he said, "with a lot of pop culture," including references to everything from the late hip-hop artist Mac Miller to Donald Duck.

The latter sounds particularly intriguing.

"It's a mug shot of him holding a sign, 'Donald Duck,'" Palm said. "He apparently had a really wild night out and got arrested."

The artist, who by day is a college-talent recruiter for Rock Central in the Rock Family of Companies, mostly works in acrylic and crayon, which he melts onto the canvases. He's into it: He bought 500 crayons.

"I got crayons and started messing," Palm said, "melting them with a blow drier, so it kind of gives it this wave-y look. Sometimes I spin the crayon to get a splatter effect."

That's how he creates the base, which he then paints over with acrylic.

A bit like superstar artist Kehinde Wiley, perhaps -- he did President Barack Obama's official portrait -- Palm puts a lot of thought and time into what's behind his subject. Some of his striking portraits are painted over a jigsaw-puzzle background. Indeed, in some cases, the jigsaw tracks across the subject's face as well.

Artist Denzel Palm's portraits are often painted over jigsaw-puzzle backgrounds.

"There’s nothing too significant about the puzzles," Palm said, dismissing any thoughts of a deeper meaning. "I just started putting colors together, and it fits well."

The Brother Rice and Western Michigan University graduate describes his portraits as "more like cartoons," though you may think they rise beyond that in quality and technique.

"I do public figures, people that make music or pop culture," he said. "There are references to movies like SpongeBob, Boondocks, Pac-Man and 'Sesame Street.'"

Overall, Palm called his art "Colorful, fun and neutral. It’s nothing political. Some is inappropriate, if you will. It’s childish. It’ll make you look and make you smile."

Prices for his paintings range from $100-$1,200, though most top out at about $600. His aim, he says, was to keep things relatively affordable.

"I wanted nice affordable art," Palm said. "People my age want something nice, but paintings can be very expensive."

"First Semester" will also feature artist Denzel Palm's self-designed t-shirts.

 Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and the artist will be there throughout. The gallery space, by the way, is right next to Supino's Pizza in Eastern Market.

'First Semester'

1353 Fisher Fwy. East, Detroit - in Eastern Market

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

(313) 815-6410

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy     

Cartoons, hip hop artists, Star Wars – I got the Simpsons, Where’s Waldo, Donald Duck – from sneakers to cartoons – love flowers, everyth very very colorful