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SPOTLIGHT: Don Kilpatrick III, Artist of “Spirit Murals” at Little Caesars Arena

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Local artist Don Kilpatrick III is behind the “Spirit Murals” on the north face of Little Caesars Arena. The mural showcases legendary Detroit entertainers and athletes Aretha Franklin, Joe Louis, Eminem, Isiah Thomas and Gordie Howe to sports fans, concertgoers and passersby along Woodward Avenue.

Kilpatrick was especially touched while painting Joe Louis. The boxing champion, he said, has a universal story that everyone can relate to. “When I painted his portrait, I felt that everything had aligned,” he said.

Earlier this year, American Illustration accepted the painting among several thousand entries for “The Archive,” an esteemed juried collection of some of the finest illustrators in the world.

The original paintings were less than a foot wide by a foot tall and will be hung in the Olympia Entertainment offices on Woodward Avenue. 

Creative Director at Olympia Entertainment and College for Creative Studies alumnus Bryan Durren approached Kilpatrick about the mural project, which he conceived and art directed. Durren observed recent work Kilpatrick had shared on Instagram as he sought out works for the arena.

“I was excited about that vote of confidence in my work, doing what I love to do,” Kilpatrick said. “I love painting portraiture. I love painting people.”

Kilpatrick moved to Detroit in 2007 to work for the Illustration program at CCS and now considers the city his adopted home. “I love this city as if I was born here,” Kilpatrick said. “I moved to Detroit at a very pivotal movement, and I feel like I got in on the ground floor of something amazing.”

The Salt Lake City native used casein paint to create the images in a range of colors using gestural strokes that communicate movement and texture. The portraits were later enlarged and enhanced with a monochromatic tint.

His painting of Aretha Franklin has been especially popular on Instagram since the late soul singer’s passing in August 2018. In two well-liked images, a rainbow hovers above the Comerica Park display showcasing Kilpatrick’s Franklin portrait, while another displays the image on the Fox Theatre marquee.

To Kilpatrick, the “Spirit Murals” represent the arena as a place of inclusion, along with sports, cultural experiences, diversity, manufacturing and music. “Everybody participates in this great, new arena,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m truly humbled and honored to be a part of that project.”

He also works with woodcuts, which will be featured prominently at his upcoming gallery show at the M Contemporary Art in Ferndale in 2019.

About The District Detroit

The District Detroit is a dynamic urban destination in the heart of Detroit. One that includes something for everyone—a dense neighborhood experience with a variety of developments alongside Detroit’s premier sports and entertainment venues. Connecting downtown Detroit to growing nearby neighborhoods such as Midtown, Corktown and Brush Park, The District Detroit is having a dramatic economic impact on Detroit and is a driving catalyst of the city’s remarkable resurgence. The District Detroit represents $1.4 billion in new investment to Detroit including the new Little Caesars Arena, Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University and Little Caesars world headquarters campus expansion. Additionally, new office, residential and retail spaces will continue to add momentum to Detroit’s amazing comeback for years to come.