Big news out of the Cass Corridor this week: noted artist and longtime resident Robert Sestok is opening City Sculpture, his new sculpture park, on Friday night — and it’s located just a stone’s throw from the El Moore.
Bob knows a thing or two about the Cass Corridor (as Keith Owens discovered when he profiled him in this blog last winter). The 68 year old Detroit artist has lived and worked in the neighborhood since 1967, when he moved into the old convention hall that once stretched from Woodward to Cass between Canfield and Prentis. He moved all around the neighborhood after that, living and working with a number of the artists retrospectively associated with the Cass Corridor art movement, until he bought and renovated a house near 4th and Alexandrine in 1982. He has lived there since, and worked in the adjacent studio that friends helped him build in 1985.
Cass Corridor art is known for its post-industrial urban grit, and Bob’s is certainly no exception. In a conversation we had this week, he describes his initial inclination to repurpose cast-off materials into his art, a tendency that has continued to significantly shape his work:
In 1976 — at that time, there was no recycling — you would walk down any street in Detroit and you’d see pop cans, bottles, everywhere you went. They’d just be on the curb and it was really kind of unsightly. I worked at Faygo on the assembly line at the time, running the bottle machine and the can machine, thousands of cans and bottles going by every hour, and then later, I’d see those same bottles and cans on the street as trash. But when I saw the shiny metal glowing in the sun, it attracted my eye like a fishing lure. So I made these paintings for a show at the Feigenson Gallery at the Fisher Building out of cans and bottles. I punched holes in the cans and strung them on wire and attached them to a chicken wire frame that I put on papier–mâché. They were reliefs made out of scraps of paper and metal and wire, and you stood back and looked at them and it would look like a pile of trash on the ground. That was my first attempt at identifying “recycled materials” before recycling really happened.
In 1980, Bob learned to weld, a turning point in his career that opened up the possibility of incorporating larger-scale reclaimed materials, like steel, into his work. (The thirty or so sculptures that fill City Sculpture, mostly abstract and some as tall as 12 feet, are fashioned primarily out of reclaimed steel.) His first pieces of scrap steel came from James Duffy, an industrialist as well as a friend and patron to many Cass Corridor artists. Later, Bob began patronizing numerous scrap yards around the region, an experience he likens to “going to the art supply store. It’s incredible, all the varieties of stuff that people discard and throw away.”
At the El Moore (and the Green Garage before it), we’ve strived to thoughtfully incorporate as many reclaimed materials as we could during construction. Those materials have truly come to define the aesthetic — and the ethic — of both buildings. Our approach is based on the material abundance of Detroit, and on the idea that we do not always have to seek out new materials when so much of beauty and value is all around us, sometimes hiding in plain sight. Our neighbor Bob’s work reminds us that this approach, this spirit, has a long and storied history here, and that it takes many different forms.
The opening of City Sculpture is a milestone for the neighborhood (it’s sure to be a big draw for guests of the El Moore’s lodge), as well as for Bob. When I ask him how preparations are coming for Friday’s reception, he tells me that his biggest challenges are going to have to do with parking: securing it near the sculpture park and managing it throughout the evening. But, he says, he has friends and neighbors to help him, and together, they’ll figure it out. He then says something that, I think, speaks volumes about his approach to both life and art: “That’s the thing I like about the city: you can always find a way to make it work.”
The grand opening of City Sculpture is this Friday, July 10th, from 5:00-10:00 pm. City Sculpture is located at 955 Alexandrine, just east of the Lodge freeway.