Industrial Beauty: How a Factory Worker Turned Muralist Creates Sustainable Art

By Sean J.

Most people don’t think of automotive plants as being a hotbed of artistic activity. But if a true artist can see the beauty in anything, they don’t make artists any truer than Tony Roko.

Starting off as a line worker at the Michigan Assembly Plant, an 18-year-old Tony kept a notebook with sketches he would work on during his down time at the factory. It didn’t take long before a manager saw him working on a draft of his latest creation and asked the burgeoning artist to participate in a beautification project at the plant.

Art supplies were not exactly common at the factory, so Tony needed to be resourceful.

“I looked at all the industrial materials in the plant and visualized them as a canvas,” said Tony.

Discarded pallets, paint chips and old enamels were repurposed to create a piece of art that was both representative of the environment, but also strong enough to survive within it. It’s an inspiration that Tony draws from still to this day, as he creates works that are meant to pay tribute to the hard-working men and women of the assembly line and capture the style and essence of the unique culture.

“Today I use old car parts, metals and scrap materials to create beautiful pieces, and those sustainable materials work just as well as what can be found in traditional art stores,” said Tony.

Sustainability is at the core of each of Tony’s process. One of his earliest works, a sustainable mural named “Plant Life,” is a 10-foot by 10-foot creation composed of foraged remnants of the former Michigan Truck Plant.

A lot of what he does now is on a much smaller scale, continuing work at the Michigan Assembly Plant as a safety icon painter where he creates original safety cues, markings and safety messaging.

Big or small, his works of art have garnered national attention and have been displayed and sold in galleries and shows across the United States. You can even see a permanent display at the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing.

In addition to being Ford Motor Company’s resident artist, Tony now spends his time trying to ignite that same artistic passion in a new generation. He volunteers at Spain Middle/Elementary School in Detroit showing students how to make beautiful works of art out of materials that others have thrown away.

“Ford allows me the opportunity to express myself and use my talents to create works of art that the employees love, while giving life to old materials that would otherwise be thrown away,” said Tony

Does Ford inspire your artistic side? Share the muse with other Ford Social fans by submitting a story or photo !

You can also click here to learn more about Tony’s story and see how Ford provided an opportunity to put his artistic talents to good use.
Amy Ledesma 12/20/2013
Fantastic. Im an amatuer artist myself and I use what I have or find .Very cool.
edward 12/12/2013
I have worked in a large factory not unlike that of this artist.Many of the people there were talented;but,for their families chose to concentrate on their jobs.This gentleman was most fortunate in having his talent recognized and put to good use.Kudos to Ford.
James H 10/16/2013
It is inspiring to see that the higher-ups at Ford saw his potential and gave him the opportunity to use his art to inspire those around him. The fact that he now inspires students in school is a bonus for all society. 
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