Is It Art or Vandalism? Royal Oak Artist Faces Charges

Carl Oxley painted bunnies and friendly monsters on a railroad underpass. Now he’s facing charges in court.

Sandra Svoboda/WDET

Carl Oxley, who is known for his colorful murals and whimsical paintings, is charged with malicious destruction of property for painting bunnies and friendly monsters on a railroad underpass in Royal Oak. His court date is this week.

Here’s his website, Pop Art Monkey.

Oxley, who has murals in Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood and at the Detroit Recycle Here facility near New Center, had numerous shows in the area and nationally nearly a decade ago. But he’s been suffering from debilitating depression, which he discussed at length during a visit to WDET’s studio. 

He’s recently been feeling better and taking walks. On one of those in late May, he says he saw the railroad overpass that was grey and crumbling and he wanted to “make it beautiful.” 

Click on the audio link above to hear WDET’s Ryan Patrick Hooper and Sandra Svoboda discussing the case.

After three days of painting, Royal Oak police responded to a call about him. Oxley said they treated him appropriately, but he was arrested. Royal Oak Police Lt. Keith Spencer said officers are duty-bound to make arrests when people are observed, suspected or reported to be breaking laws.

“Since this was a violation of the local ordinances, our officers, we’re not deciding on what is art or what isn’t art,” Spencer said. “We look at the circumstances of what we’re investigating. In this case, it was somebody else’s property that was being spray painted, then our officers took action in response to that.”

Sandra Svoboda/WDET

Since then, hundreds of people have reached out to support Oxley, preferring public art to plain underpasses, he said. He has sold lawn signs with the bunnies, not to raise funds for a legal defense, but to raise awareness of art and cover the cost of supplies for future projects.

He said he’s genuinely overwhelmed by the response. Here’s part of his conversation with WDET’s Sandra Svoboda about that:

Carl Oxley: For days I was constantly on the verge of tears, I was getting pictures of kids of all ages, standing in front of the mural with their parents or without. Huge smiles. I had achieved something so far greater than me that I didn’t even realize was possible.

Sandra Svoboda: What does it say about the role of art in community?

Carl Oxley: I think it says it’s incredibly important, especially in this climate of politics that we find ourselves in.  Any break from the drudgery is welcomed. People need a reason to smile again. I think I provided that. I don’t know that I knew that was necessary but it certainly was.

Oxley’s court hearing is Tuesday afternoon.


  • Sandra Svoboda

    Recovering Bankruptcy Reporter/Blogger looking forward to chronicling regional revitalization on-air, digitally and through community engagement.