Detroit Artist Desiree Kelly Explores Her Creative Evolution in New Exhibition

Blending mixed media, graphic design and oil paint to create collage-like images, Désirée Kelly documents her decade-long career in “Then & Now: A Retrospective of Portraits” currently on display at the Detroit Public Library’s main branch.


Mural by Desiree Kelly / photo by Meta Stange, WDET
Mural by Desiree Kelly / photo by Meta Stange, WDET

That personality-exuding mural of Aretha Franklin peering over her dark-framed shades with a slight smirk spotted when strolling through the Eastern Market, that’s the work of Detroit visual artist Désirée Kelly.

Her unique mix of street art and graffiti with traditional oil paintings brings each subject to life in her vivid portraits of public figures. 

In her latest installation, “Then & Now: A Retrospective of Portraits”, the Detroit artist takes viewers on a visual journey through her extensive art-making career while curating a narrative that fuses her interests and that of her subjects. 

Désirée Kelly
Désirée Kelly

“I’m trying to express people’s personalities in each piece, so it incorporates a lot of different textures and mediums [including fabrics and found objects],” Désirée says in an interview with Ryan Patrick Hooper. “It’s not just focused on traditional oil paintings. I try to incorporate different things, a lot of historic and iconic figures, basically telling their story within each piece.” 

Click the player above to hear CultureShift’s Ryan Patrick Hooper in conversation with Désirée Kelly discussing “Then & Now.”

The exhibit is on display in the gallery at the Detroit Public Library’s main branch on Woodward through March 2, 2020.