RōKō made a decision to begin to create "from the heart" and to paint what he felt was true to him, as he had as a child. Combining this attitude with 20 years of painting experience with Ford Motor Company, his creative expression exploded ....
Antoni Roko Ivezaj grew up as the only American-born child in his family, which immigrated to Detroit from Montenegro (part of the former Yugoslavia). Between the violence of the riots and the indulgence of Woodstock, his parents feared the American culture that they didn't understand and continued to raise him in a close-knit Montenegrin community. Television and music became his window to the American pop culture, from which he was strongly discouraged against. It was the bold aesthetics of the 70's and beautiful imagery of the multi-cultural characters that caught his eye. Street savvy subjects with urban swagger began turning up in RōKō's drawings at a very young age.
At the age of 18, like many others in the motor city, he was hired by Ford Motor Company to work on the assembly line. It was a job that would change his life forever. During his breaks, he would fill a sketchbook, often drawing the "characters" within his surrounding factory environment. After a year of working the line, the United Auto Workers/Ford management took notice of RōKō's raw artistic abilities. Overnight he was assigned to paint murals on half-century old factory walls in an effort to boost company morale amongst the "blue collar" workers. A tall order considering RōKō didn’t have any prior experience with painting. "It was like a concrete and steel jungle," he explains. "I had no idea what materials to use, but I did know there was no paint in a tube that would hold up to the harsh plant environment." He began experimenting with industrial and automotive enamels in an effort to come up with a durable solution. RōKō's images began turning up throughout the Ford system and his “Detroit Fairytale” had begun. From gritty walls to grand openings, he continued sharpening his skills as a painter, but he missed the feverish and creative nature of his childhood drawings.
He began to experiment again, this time painting on a variety of discarded industrial materials readily found in the plant, including such items as various scrap metals, reclaimed wood pallets and even old automobile hoods. RōKō’s passion for creating art, coupled with a strong desire to utilize and thereby repurpose traditional industrial materials resulted in the creation of a unique balance between grit and glamour.
In a short period of time, RōKō quickly emerged as one of the Motor City's most sought after artists. His work can be seen as part of the permanent collections at the Motown Museum, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the Michigan State Capital building. He has been commissioned by Coca-Cola/Vitamin Water, Charles H. Wright Museum, Vibe and Uptown Magazine to create original pieces. RōKō recently spoke at the Michigan State University Museum as part of a joint art and labor studies program. Most recently, Tony has been featured in Ford Motor Company’s, “Go Further” international ad campaign.
From the floors of the factory to museum walls, that same Motor City spirit can still be found in his work today.