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Student finds artistic ‘icing on cake’ through different mediums, avenues of expression

Artist adorns masks during performances, sells paintings, set to release graphic novel in fall

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Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:10 pm, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

You’ve seen her around campus — a large, decorative mask sitting on the head of someone wearing all-black and sneakers. She, or he, makes appearances at art festivals, exhibits and whenever requested.

“I am a she. The mask is a he, or is actually gender-neutral. People love the character,” the artist explained. The character’s name is “Danger,” but her name is Kelly Guillory. At 30 years old, Guillory has found her niche in the industrial design program at

Wayne State. When she isn’t studying for her BFA, she sells acrylic and oil paintings. Her latest work was on display at the Dirty Show this past February, with a solo show at Bottom Line

Cafe a month before. She is known for her wild, gestural drawings that create accurate and lively portraits of her subjects, as well as her work with oversized papier-mâché masks.

Guillory got her start wearing a costumed mask at Dally in the Alley in 2012. On a lark, and for a lack of finding any nearby Mardi Gras parades in Detroit, she created a mask in the form of a large sugar skull and wore it to Dally for fun. When she did, she

received an incredible response from those who saw her. Guillory got inquiries on how to make one, requests about the “character” she was portraying and was stopped multiple times for pictures.

Despite wanting it to be a one-time thing, she was encouraged

to keep wearing it, and showed up the following month for the Detroit Design Festival in the same attire.

“The mask (was) originally created because of my creole heritage, but it became performance art,” she said.

“I’ve gotten advice on how to appear in character, mainly from Satori Circus. He’s such a pro at performance art, so really part of that inspiration also comes from him. He encouraged me to go with my instinct on anything I do.”

Himself once a WSU student, Satori Circus is an ArtPrize-winning performance artist who is known for his absurdist and artistic attire. He combines music, performance and theatre for engaging performances on stage.

Speaking of Dally in the Alley, Guillory is also the youngest known illustrator for the art festival. In 1995, she entered a contest to illustrate the festival’s official annual poster and

won. Guillory was only 12 years old then; her illustration remains on the site, a mirage of hands holding up monuments and buildings important to the city of Detroit, including the Renaissance Center.

“I didn’t know when I was a kid that I would come back and become an artist years later. I was just entering a contest back then, and I liked to draw,” Guillory said.

She would go on to sell oil paintings at Artrages Gallery starting in 2010. In 2012, she was recruited by Wedge Detroit, a local design collective, to help create the longest hopscotch in the world, the very last square placed at WSU’s Gullen Mall.

Guidance also comes from Blackstone Launchpad, which Guillory

credits with helping her to become more business-minded as an artist.

She joined forces with them to create a seminar, “The Art of Business,” which took place March 18 and taught creative disciplines about the financial aspects of their business, including how to keep taxes. Guillory wants to help other artists stay successful through careful planning and budgeting for their projects.

Performance art and painting aren’t the only things she does. Guillory is also working on her first graphic novel as a part of the writer-illustrator team Ashur Collective. Slated to be completed this fall, the comic illustrates the lives of two men who, through a split inheritance, are forced to run a mafia together, or lose their profits to money-hungry rivals. The best way to think of it, she says, is to think of “The Sopranos” meets “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

“My best friend and I got the idea about two guys who don’t get along, they’re at each other’s throats, but if they don’t keep the business running, they’re going to end up dead quickly,” said Guillory, who is both a co-writer and illustrator for the project. “Plus, there’s supernatural elements. We’re excited. It’s inspired by pulp fiction movies we’ve seen as kids. I don’t care if we have a small audience; we just want to have a good time publishing it.”

When asked about the future, Guillory said she isn’t sure what’s coming. “All I know is, there’s art,” she adds. “The art department at Wayne has taught me so much about developing my skills in painting. And now I’m learning how to take those skills and apply them to the discipline of design. I’m probably going to join a small firm after this and keep doing what I love on the side. If I can publish a small run of comics while working at a firm, I consider that successful. I’ll have everything I want then.”

You can view her work, plus art prints and shirts she has for sale, at ashurcollective.com.

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