Life In Detroit: Yvette Rock

Yvette Rock Live Coal Gallery
I’m creative by nature but I’m not an artist. For that reason I greatly admire those whose inherent abilities I’d love to possess. Yvette Rock is one such talented Detroit artist.  Not only does Yvette create breathtaking and thought-provoking pieces of art, she also promotes the work of other artists in the community at her gallery, Live Coal.

This month Live Coal is celebrating its one year anniversary.  The gallery is located in the lower level of Yvette’s Woodbridge duplex and was bursting with visitors Tuesday night.  Danny and I were able to get a sneak peek of the exhibit opening today, Pattern-Makers featuring works by M. Saffell Gardner and Gilda Snowden. I don’t usually connect to abstract pieces but the works on display are stunning and I was impressed. Between greeting visitors, selling art and dealing with her adorable assistant (her daughter, Arise), Yvette was able to find time to sit down and answer a few questions about life in Detroit and life as an artist.

You have lived in many different places but have chosen to make Detroit your home. What keeps you in the city?

I’m called to be here. I love the creativity I see in the city. I love the life here. When I was in grad school I visited the city for the first time. What I like to tell people is that I saw this building – 3550 Cass – and once I saw that I thought, “I think I love Detroit.” You can come and stay here for a few months and say, “Okay that was a nice adventure” and then go. But it stuck with me. I made it my home.

Detroit has changed a lot in recent years. What changes stand out to you?


I think real things are happening. I think a lot of improvements of the past have been facades of improvement – sometimes literally – but I think there is genuine restoration going on.  From grassroots movements, creative thinkers and concerned citizens.  I think the difference is that people are becoming less apathetic.  Although from my perspective apathy is the biggest of – what I call plagues.  Apathy is the biggest one to combat but I see people actually wanting to make a difference, being concerned, and not letting things slide.

You are raising kids in the city.  This is a scary thought for a lot of people.  How do you respond to detractors?


I’m not going to dictate where anybody should live. They should live where they think is best for them. But for me – for my kids to say, “We love Detroit,” regularly – that’s enough for me.  Photographing the city and our life in the city – that’s part of who they are.  I have no worries or concerns raising my family here. It’s natural.

What do you like to do in Detroit?


I’m a big gallery hopper. So that’s one of the things I like to do personally.  I love Belle Isle.  Walking around the city.  I drive around and explore the city.  I’ve been here 13 years and I am barely getting to know the city.  It would take my lifetime and I’d still be scratching the surface. 

You operate Live Coal from inside your home.  It’s a big commitment. What inspired you to take that step? 

The idea started a couple years ago. Well 10 years ago, when I was like, “One day I’ll have a store front.” That evolved into me starting an after school program.  Then about two years ago the idea of having an art space came to mind, then came the name and as soon as I came up with the name I immediately went to register it with the City of Detroit. I didn’t know what it was going to be or if I was going to do something but I was like, “Ok I’m going to register whatever this thing is.” Then I had a lot of different ideas of what it might be and I slowly developed it into this business plan.  No grants, no funding. You start by writing letters to some friends, “Hey I’m starting a gallery do you want to support this.” Really it’s been a number of friends who have become members and that helps us.  

Artists are popularly pointed to as indicators of an area’s recovery.  Locally, I think of the discussion to make Capitol Park an artist colony in order to help rejuvenate the city.  What role do you feel art plays in a community?


I think it gives people a new way of looking at things they’ve looked at all their life.  They’ve looked at the same problem or the same thing over and over and over again and come up with the same answer. I think there is something about the artists’ perspective that either makes you upset or it excites you but it causes you to think.  I think art brings new perspective and a lot of color into a situation.  I think that’s what we’re doing here. I have a vision to collect work done by Detroit youth.  Starting a museum that showcases their work. Also artists that don’t really have a chance to show their work. I’ve shown a lot of artists where this is their first place to exhibit and I love that.  

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about your Plagues of Detroit series.  What have you completed and what are you currently working on?


I’ve done five. I’m working on the 6th one – literally – today, the plague of racism.  I’ve done the plague of violence, plague of poverty, plague of addiction, plague of arson and fire and plague of illiteracy.  There are going to be 10.  


[So far] there have been different comments. There have been a lot of people who don’t want artists to depict Detroit as the ruin city, who feel like it’s just another photograph. But you know what? Yes, I take pictures of abandoned buildings, of the streets, of the brokenness.  I think there is nothing wrong with documenting the history of the city or what’s going on in the city. The difference for me is that I’m not isolating it to just the problem. It’s a story I’m telling and if you’re patient with me you’ll see the whole story.

Plague of Poverty by Yvette Rock

Art is powerful – especially this message.  How would you like people to respond to your series?


I want people to think about their own lives, their own neighborhood. Not just Detroit. God knows this is not only a Detroit thing. They are societal plagues all over the world. So people thinking, “How can I do something about this,” or, “How can my neighborhood do something about this,” or just appreciating it for what it is.  Artists make art. We can’t dictate the response to it.  I would be making this work even if nobody saw it. 


Hopefully it does impact people. These are real people I’m depicting. I interview people that I photograph. I talk to them. I ask them, “Are you willing to be part of the story that I’m telling?” People say yes, “I’m struggling with addiction, go ahead and tell this story.” They’re not hiding. They know the full thing that I’m trying to do. I’m thankful to meet them and get the chance to tell their story.


Yvette Rock Live Coal Gallery

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