Iconic Detroit mural artist cements his legacy with retrospective exhibit

David Rubello’s “Color, Space, Continuum” is now on display through December 11 at the Stamelos Gallery at the University of Michigan Dearborn.

"Color Cubes," a geometric illustration of twelve vibrantly colored cubes overlapping one another, framed on a white wall alongside another red, yellow and pale blue illustration.

On the left, "Color Cubes" by David Rubello (1973). Acrylic on canvas, on display at the Stamelos Gallery Center.

At 87 years old, David Rubello is still growing and learning as an artist.

He’s a giant in Detroit’s art scene, yet his work doesn’t look like what we know of Detroit art. There isn’t grit or trash turned into treasure or a sizzling commentary on the end of industry. Instead, it’s clean lines and simple shapes and really stunning color — color that Rubello mixes himself, and he says he’s still trying to get right.

Even after six decades of working as an artist, you’ve probably seen his work without realizing it. And when one of his downtown murals was covered up a few years ago by an advertisement for a convenience store, the public outrage showed how treasured his work was by Detroiters even if they didn’t know his name.

historic image of David Rubello's "Color Cubes" mural on the side of a building in Detroit. The mural features a geometric illustration of twelve vibrantly colored cubes overlapping one another.
Historic image of David Rubello’s “Color Cubes” mural in Detroit, painted in 1973.

Now, a retrospective of Rubello’s work is looking to cement his legacy. It’s called Color, Space, Continuum, and it’s now on display through December 11 at the Stamelos Gallery at the University of Michigan Dearborn.

Rubello joined CultureShift to talk about his career with Matthew Piper, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Essay’d, an online arts journal. The two have formed a friendship over the years, and our conversation started with David who talked about that urge to still create, even at the age of 87 years old.

“When I get out of bed, the first thing I do is go down to the lower level and start painting. I do it every day. It’s almost like a salvation.” — David Rubello, artist

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Author

  • Ryan Patrick Hooper

    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.