Guyton’s best-known venture in artistic healing is The Heidelberg Project, a richly layered installation of paintings, found objects, and recycled materials transforming a blighted collection of abandoned lots and houses on East Side Detroit’s Heidelberg Street into a source of community pride. It was one of 15 projects invited to represent the United States at the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale. The project’s polka-dot houses, gardens, elaborate constructions of stuffed animals, shoes, and discarded appliances make it a leading attraction for Detroit visitors. Guyton sees these artworks as vehicles for a larger transformation. “We can’t heal the land first without stepping in there and healing the minds of the people.”

“I’ve grown up in the church world, been exposed to religion at an early age,” Guyton says, describing his spiritual path. “The last five years, I’ve been studying metaphysics, looking at it from a scientific point of view.” Guyton’s studies began when he was introduced to a course based on the teachings of Dr. Henry Clifford Kinley, founder and dean of the Institute of Divine Metaphysical Research (IDMR) and a former Church of God minister who, in 1931, saw in a vision something he recognized as a universal pattern of divinity and purpose. Today, IDMR-affiliated schools appear in many African American inner-city neighborhoods. “The class blew my mind,” says Guyton, “because [despite] everything that I thought I knew about religion, going to this class really helped me understand that I knew nothing. And one of the things that it taught me is to be quiet and to listen. Once you learn to really listen, you can hear God.”

Guyton’s ongoing series Faces of God was rooted in “trying to understand this entity and reading the Bible and spending a lot of time in the churches, listening, and coming to the realization that God is everything. You have six billion people in the world, and every one of us was created in His image and likeness. That is so powerful. How do you understand that? Who is God really? So I decided to do a body of work to give people my interpretation of what I was able to see.”

When I ask about his motivation, Guyton replies, “Using the proper name, I’d have to say Yahweh, which is God, gave me the backbone, gave me the vision, gave me the courage to go out there.” (A core point of IDMR’s theology is the use of divine names based on the original Hebrew orthography.) He feels certainty in the face of setbacks. “Can you imagine going out there and doing something so radical with the world laughing at you? City government tore down the project twice. I was arrested and put on trial, and people thought I was crazy. But then it came to me: relax, surrender, you’ve got to do what you’ve been put here to do.”

Guyton’s self-account has the flavor of a hero’s journey, wherein strength grows as obstacles are overcome. He explained that the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where he was told in the early 1980s that he didn’t fit in, recently awarded him an honorary Ph.D. A dissertation wasn’t required for that honor, but he intends to write one anyway, during a yearlong residency at the Laurenz Foundation in Basel, Switzerland. “I remember when they told me, ‘We don’t think you’re going to make it here, Tyree,’” he says. “And now it’s ‘You have surpassed what we were able to teach you here, and we’re willing to help you with what you’re trying to do now.’ As I sit here talking to you now, I am fearless. Don’t tell me that I can’t do it. I believe in taking the impossible and making it possible. But it’s not me—I’m just being used.”

Questions of Planetary Reality

Agnes Denes recognizes a deep spirituality in her work that is entirely distinct from religion. “Religion is man-made,” she says, “and spirituality is a little bit above that, I think.” As we speak, she draws clear contrasts between her own view of the spirituality of her art and some of the ways others have described it. For example, given that many of Denes’ works focus on environmental healing, some people have seen it as expressing the sacredness of life on Earth. “I don’t believe in the holiness of the planet,” Denes says. “It’s just a planet. I base my work on science. I never had any spiritual practice except my art. What I know is what I learned from my art. But to say that spirituality infuses all my work, I feel comfortable with that. And it does it on different levels.”