Nicole McDonald


If you’ve spent any time around Woodbridge, you’ve seen Nicole Macdonald. In fact, you may not have seen her, but you may have seen extensions of her through the numerous murals and paintings featured throughout the community. Chances are, you’ve seen her work in other parts of Detroit as well.

She specializes in landscape painting and large-scale murals, a few of which are nearly ready for their new homes in various places around the city.

Nicole was born and raised in Detroit. She’s lived all her life in the city. I met up with her at her place of residence on West Willis. We talked between a backyard area and a large studio space where she worked on a few new large-scale portraits.

TL: What have you been doing in Woodbridge?

NM: In Woodbridge I’ve been making large-scale paintings. They generally feature something relevant to the city of Detroit — something political with a whimsical or unpredictable aspect. We just put up two more on Trumbull and Hancock. Those are twelve feet by four feet. A very vertical shape which is a challenge to work with, but it fills the odd spaces on the sides of buildings and homes. Trumbull and Hancock there’s the Capitol Park Underwater, and across the street, Commonwealth Serenade, featuring the Hanwell Apartments with Pete Seeger. Now, we’re looking at a number of other sites in the Woodbridge area.

TL: Talk about the portrait series you’re working on now.


The larger portrait series I’ve been working on the past couple of years — we did the first installation in November 2014 on Grand River and McGraw (one block west of I-94). It’s a three story warehouse with empty windows. There’s sixteen windows, all nine feet by seven feet. The name of the project is the Detroit Portrait Series and I tried to represent Detroiters past and present who made a significant contribution or sacrifice to the city. Different backgrounds, different ethnicities, and occupations are represented in the series.

Larry and I are working on Woodbridge site for the portrait series that will feature Detroit writers, poets and publishers with a political edge. The site of this installation is boarded up liquor store on the corner of I-94 and Trumbull — it’s a nice location in terms of being an entry point into Woodbridge. There’s three sides to the building — the side facing Trumbull will feature the writers, and on the side that faces the freeway we will at some point erect musicians and songwriters. We hope to have the writer chapter installed by the end of the summer.


TL:Who are some of the poets you’re going to feature?

NM: The lineup is: Terry Blackhawk, Bill Harris, Lolita Hernandez, Naomi Long Madgett, Robert Hayden, Dudley Randall. Phillip Levine, who recently passed. And Sixto Rodriguez, who lives just down the street.

TL: Talk about the role Woodbridge Co. has played not only in bringing art to the area, but in revitalizing the neighborhood.

NM: I think Larry has an interest in art and the positive role it can play in people’s lives. Color and form is stimulating on a visceral level, but he is also interested in stimulating conversation with probing subject matter, as well as showcasing the history of Detroit. The Detroit Portrait Series is about the importance of giving recognition to our elders in the community — and Larry is a good advocate of that. He has developed so many houses in Woodbridge, I think he sees it as his calling to not only restore the neighborhood architecturally, but also to foster good community.

TL: Are you able to sustain yourself through your art?

NM: There were a number of years when I worked for the Detroit Film Center, a non-profit that was downtown. We were on Washington Blvd., that’s when I was most active. Not only was that sustaining my existence financially — being a paid employee of a non-profit, but also I learned a lot about film-making and I got involved in film. With that comes freelance. So, there’s freelance graphic art work, freelance film, and I’m also a paralegal.

TL: Are you working on anything else, outside of the portrait series?

NM: Trumbull and Hancock, I’m painting two doors on the lower part of one house, two doors on the lower part of a house across the street. The doors are separated by brick but it’s going to be one image spread between the two. One will feature John Lee Hooker on 12th street. When he lived in Detroit, he frequently played on Hastings Street in Black Bottom so this painting will see him there. On the other side will be Mississippi John Hurt. He never lived here but he’s one of my favorite blues singers so I’m going to have him playing in front of the Dalley in the Alley just as a kind of joke, but, a wish.

TL: What is it about Woodbridge? When people talk about it, there’s something glowing. Why is that?

NM: The architecture is awesome. I think that is what really attracted me to it. I lived in Woodbridge Farms years ago, with slightly older houses, fewer houses per block, and when I would walk down Commonwealth or Avery there was a kind of delight, a curiosity, an interest in the homes. I think I would feel the same way if I was walking through Boston-Edison or Indian Village, except that in Woodbridge it’s much denser. As a result of that, people know each other more. You have more exposure to your neighbors. You can’t help it. If you’re on the front porch and they’re on the front porch, you’re right there.

Also, some of the more historic neighborhoods are further from the university area. Woodbridge is so close. Corktown and a number of other neighborhoods are delightful too in that way, but it’s not right there.

TL: You’re the first traditional artist I’ve interviewed for this series so I want to get into that a little. Galapagos (New York Art Space) is moving to Detroit. People have always talked about Detroit as having a unique sense of art. I also hear from people coming from outside of Detroit saying that the city is kind of lost — there are so many voices but none of them are very strong or very loud. But to me that’s indicative of any place that’s having a renaissance. Talk about the role art is playing in what’s happening in Detroit right now.

NM: I’ve always been immersed in the art world. It’s hard for me to be like I see the movement and how art is related. I guess I just see a lot of more normal city things taking shape in Detroit. With that comes good and not so good, depending who you ask. With infrastructure comes opportunity and more oversight. I like the one, but not so much the other.

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