Conceived In Detroit  -  Born In Chicago

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DETROIT, MI.  2008: 

My name is Julius Dorsey. My exploration into the arts began at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, (SAIC). One summer break I headed to Detroit. It had been way too long since I had paid a visit to my grandmother. Never one who could sit still, a couple days in I was itching to work. I found the gray skies on this particular Saturday afternoon intriguing. I decided to search the neighborhood for inspiration.  At the time my studio practice was about abandoned and disheveled urban landscapes. I often took photographs of subjects that fascinated me for future possible paintings. I grabbed my 35 mm camera and hopped in the car.


As I drove down the street, I was shocked at the state of the houses. Charred wood siding, busted-out windows, front doors flung open, their entrances obscured by piles of old clothes. Instead of bicycles and skateboards, garbage and debris lined the streets. I’d never seen anything like it. The streets looked like they had just been fire bombed.


The battered economy had taken its toll. The housing crisis had broken the automotive backbone of the city. The Big 3 had reported double digit declines in sales. Negotiations were underway with unions to cut salaries and healthcare responsibilities. Where was the Detroit I knew as a kid? The place I came for summer family reunions at Belle Isle and had stood in the cold in for hours on Woodward Avenue watching Thanksgiving parade floats?


I was witnessing the casualties of a crumbling economy; a city on the brink of bankruptcy.   Tens of thousands of abandoned homes gave way to the return of “Devil’s Night” – a long standing tradition of abandoned house burning the night before Halloween.   With a strained budget, Firefighters couldn’t respond until it was too late. The streets were burned and abandoned.  I was shocked at how much things had changed.


I cruised past the basketball courts where I used to play pickup games as a kid, and made a sharp right off Woodward Avenue down an unknown side street. Once I would have expected to hear the dribble of a basketball, the cheers, the hollering of the game, and excited kids up and down the block. Instead, there wasn’t a soul in sight. The only sound was the occasional whoosh of a car on the freeway who seemed to be racing by, as if they too, couldn’t wait to escape the wasteland.


How could this have happened? How could people let this happen?


I clutched my 35mm camera and set my sites on an abandoned building. I closed in on the window and prepared to snap a picture. The curtain twitched. Standing inside, staring out the window was a little girl. She watched me with a blank expression. I lowered the camera in astonishment. People still lived here? Children lived here?


Suddenly my surroundings had taken on a totally different meaning.  The crumbling building morphed from lifeless monuments of a failed economy to symbols of new life and resiliency. I would use this in my art work. I would build something to stand for unconventional beauty and the dichotomy between growth and destruction. I didn’t know what. But I knew I had to do something, create something.


I returned to Chicago full of excitement. I wanted to share my ideas. I wanted people to know the impact Detroit had on me. But life took over. School, work, family. Before I knew it, my visit had become a distant memory. I too, forgot about Detroit.


Four years later, the idea resurrected through an unexpected medium. Fire. I decided I would attempt to create something new through a means of destruction….Chicago Fire Furniture was born.


Like the little girl peering out her window in Detroit, I am peering into the link between beauty and decay. I want to challenge the conventional notions of beauty. Blur the lines between functional commodities and works of art. Where there is decay, there is growth. Where there is dark, there is light. Where there is destruction, there is resurrection.