149 W C Bevan

Born Medina, Ohio, 1986; Studies at Memphis College of Art; Lives in Detroit

Hobo hieroglyphs and graffiti conversations of indeterminate age flashing by on successive railroad cars. Buildings, streetscapes, and the signature architectural details of long-past designers. The sun, rising in the east and setting in the west. Past histories, big and small, hinted at by countless physical marks or archived records. Every W C Bevan mural begins with one foot in its local environment and the other in the artist’s eclectic but highly coherent worldview. 

Bevan believes that every object possesses a quality he terms “vibration.” To a degree, this is a scientific fact; everything we see and hear arrives in the form of waves. But Bevan is likely referring not just to this sensory information but also to some other unmeasurable, auratic quality. Tuning his work to these vibrations, both physical and psychological, is a methodology that allows him to create murals in highly diverse settings while maintaining an instantly recognizable graphic style.  

The two-part mural Automatic Transmission (2017) occupies both the east and west-facing walls of a large parking structure in the New Center area. The east wall faces the former General Motors Research building, and the mural on it is a stylized homage to the components of an automatic automotive transmission. The mural also acts to reconcile the brutally utilitarian car park with a sight line up Second Avenue that leads to the art deco masterpiece of the Fisher Building. The west wall is very different in temperament. Its central feature is a face that is reminiscent of the mysterious Green Man sculptures, pre-Christian symbols related to cycles of rebirth that adorn cathedrals and other buildings in Europe. In Bevan’s mural, the face looks out across a lonely lot to watch the setting sun each evening. The face is benign and perhaps even protective as it watches over the occasional dog walker, graffiti artist, or general itinerant who might wander towards the train tracks that stretch into the distance.

Interspersed with the identifiable elements in Bevan’s murals are rhythmic patterns of simple stenciled forms. Bevan credits True Meridian, a 2015 mural painted prominently on the side of the former printshop, Salt and Cedar, in Eastern Market, as a formative piece in this style’s development. Created a short while after he arrived in Detroit, it was inspired by “the history of typography and everything in that culture.” The resulting mural focuses not on text but on more basic elements such as dots, dashes, and parentheses—all features that he would go on to “improvise with stencils” on walls around the city. 

But the origin of this aesthetic might be earlier still. Before moving to Detroit in 2015, Bevan played drums and keyboards in various bands for a decade. Prior to that, he did a couple of, mostly unsatisfying, years at art college. But during that period, he created a series of extraordinary musical score-like drawings, such as Vibrational Sequences (2008), that seem to anticipate both the style and the metaphysics of his later murals.

And going back even further, Bevan describes sitting, as a child, in the car on the Cleveland flats, waiting for his folk musician father to finish his set, and watching the trains roll past. As time passed, he started watching the graffiti and messages on the freight cars, eventually having the epiphany that this was real art and that there was a whole mysterious, exciting world out there. Trains are important to Bevan; he’s hopped a few in his time. A remarkable collaborative mural from 2016 at the Lincoln Art Park shows him painting not the train but the world beneath the tracks. 

On the same campus, a recycling building is the location of Recycle Here (2015/2020). The mural’s frieze features a chain of hands enacting the “take a penny, leave a penny” ethos of recycling/re-use. Underneath are two slightly sinister jester-like figures that suggest that the inhabitants of Bevan’s otherworldly dimensions might not be entirely benign.

Good Nature (2017) on Michigan Avenue has a more optimistic, ascendent quality. The building it adorns is on the verge of collapse, but nature will always emerge from the rubble. At the apex above the tree, two linear patterns converge to form the international anarchy symbol. If every object or being radiates its own vibration, then there is no inherent hierarchy in the world, and as Bevan’s murals suggest, it is up to all of us to figure out how to coexist.

Steve Panton February 2021

Copyright Essay’d