Detroit-based artist Don Thibodeaux has been welding since he was a boy. His father owned a collision shop in Mount Clemens where he spent countless days learning to weld and following in his father’s footsteps.
He said his first piece was a little stick-figure-like warrior when he was five years old.
Now in his early 40s, he has a brass and metal piece that resembles a vanity on display at the Detroit Artists Market as part of its annual Design Show, in what he said is the first time he has exhibited his work at a gallery like this. In the center of his piece is a long dresser-like table with a mirror in the middle and taller shelving units on both sides, all gold and silver in color with welded designs.
Lining the walls of the DAM are more bathroom fixtures of different types: shelves, towel racks and tissue holders, as well as sinks, bureaus, vanities and even a toilet in the corner.
The small gallery, located at 4719 Woodward Ave., was packed with people of all sorts at the “creative black tie” reception Jan. 14.
The white walls of the space are covered with the fixtures and art named simply for what it is. There are 22 artists represented in all and five local fashion designers showed off their latest bathroom-inspired clothes, many made of tissue paper and the like. The pieces incorporate everything from steel and brass to porcelain and ceramic.
Small orange and blue plastic tubes twist and wind together to create a faucet just inside the door. Numerous mirrors with artistic shelving or side panels made of glass that line the south wall make for a convenient place for anyone to check their appearance.
College for Creative Studies graduate William Tyrrell, 29, designed a urinal along with the toilet in the northeast corner of the gallery. It is a salvaged toilet, taken from a building and given a new use through his art. While it was a regular, contemporary toilet, Tyrrell raised the tank and added a pull handle, imitating an old-fashioned one. He also added decals to the base and tank, long, black lines that twist and form designs that resemble graffiti.
“I was trying to go back in craftsmanship and period because I find those are things we’re losing,” Tyrrell said. “Like the old ways, so I figured, ‘Why not go to an old style?’ Aesthetically, it’s more pleasing, it’s more attractive to the eye, so I figured I’d go with something retro.”
While this is Thibodeaux’s first show, he has designed mirrors, bars and other fixtures and furniture for salons and restaurants around the area. He said he heard about the show from DAM board member Dan Graschuck, who saw his oversized tools in his truck when he was designing a fireplace last year.
“I’ve done a few hair salons and bar-type situations and restaurants where I have to make something repeatedly,” Thibodeaux said. “And what I’ll do is I’ll make a mock-up of a general shape … of what the customer wants and I’ll bring what I need there and figure it out with those. The pieces … are basically that, but dressed out.”
This wasn’t the first time Tyrrell, who stands about 5-foot-10 with slightly long, slicked-back brown hair, has designed something with a bathroom theme.
His senior year at CCS was devoted to the same idea. He was prepared when he submitted his ideas and photos for the show last fall. He also has a wooden bureau and sink combination piece in the show.
Tyrrell is originally from Chelsea and moved to Detroit seven years ago to attend CCS. He currently works at The Henry Ford in Dearborn as a restoration specialist.
His goal was to build “a bathroom environment for my demographic,” that is, single, 20-something residents of an industrial city, he said. The city also played a role in his inspiration.
“When nature overtakes industry, like there is happening around here,” he said. “I just wanted to represent that. The material, colors, warm and cold, industry and nature.”