Giorgio Gikas, President of Venus Bronze Works, Inc., and a sculptor conservator talks about the process of making the RoboCop statue. Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News
Sculptor Giorgio Gikas plans to finish the long awaited statue over the winter and says it’s found a ‘very nice’ home
Detroit — Perhaps more than anyone, Giorgio Gikas is counting down the days until the long anticipated RoboCop statue leaves his studio to be installed in Detroit.
“I thought it was a fun project to get involved in. At the time,” he corrected himself, “I thought it was a fun project.”
Gikas, 61, is among Detroit’s premier sculptor conservators. Over the last three years, he poured his time, and a lot of his own money, into creating what will be an 11-foot, 3,500-pound bronze statue of the superhero cyborg from the 1987 flick “RoboCop.” Set in a futuristic Detroit, RoboCop is the city’s superhero cyborg, saving civilians from evil and crime.
The idea for the statue originated in 2011. Among other setbacks the past six years, Gikas’ year-and-a-half battle with colon cancer delayed progress (he’s now cancer-free). He’s also spent time restoring other pieces for the Detroit Institute of Arts, Flint Institute of Arts and local cemeteries, including, recently, the Spirit of Detroit statue.
“I have to continue making a living,” said Gikas, shrugging his tattooed arms.
Yet Gikas predicts RoboCop will be finished by late spring and delivered to its outdoor site in Detroit. Though he seems itching to spill the beans — he acknowledged the site is not Hart Plaza — Gikas wants RoboCop’s organizers to have the joy of revealing the statue’s home when plans are set in stone.
“(It will be) somewhere downtown around the cultural center,” he assured, smiling. “Somewhere very nice, too.”
Sculpting a career
The 20-some bronze body parts scattered on tables in Gikas’ Detroit studio are, in part, thanks to a man who tweeted at Mayor Dave Bing in 2011, pitching an idea.
“@mayordavebing Philadelphia has a statue of Rocky & Robocop would kick Rocky’s butt. He’s a GREAT ambassador for Detroit.”
Bing tweeted back there were no plans to build a RoboCop statue. So Detroiters Brandon Walley and Jerry Paffendorf took matters in their own hands.
“We thought it was crazy enough to work. ...We started the Kickstarter, and it just kind of went viral from there,” said Walley, a 41-year-old Detroit filmmaker who managed the project through the arts organization Imagination Station.
The Kickstarter campaign raised $67,436 from over 2,700 backers worldwide. Gikas has been paid $65,000 and pledged $5,000 to the project, but says he’s donated much more.
At times, he had two employees working on RoboCop, 40 hours a week each.
“Put that through three-some years now, and you see how much this project really has cost me,” he said.
Though Gikas says the project has been “a pain in my butt, besides the colon cancer,” sculpting is a passion and talent that runs through his blood.
Gikas grew up in Athens, Greece, where his grandfather owned a foundry for building naval propellers. His uncle studied sculpture and later turned the space into an art casting foundry.
“The rest of the family started working in the foundry, and that’s where we learned to make sculptures and statues,” Gikas said.
Another uncle took his skills to the United States, where he started a foundry in Cincinnati. At 17, Gikas and a cousin traveled to America to help the uncle clean statues at places such as Gettysburg.
After joining the U.S. Army and becoming a U.S. citizen, Gikas spent a year honing his technique in what he lovingly calls “the most famous art foundry in the world” — Roman Bronze Works in New York City.
During that time, relatives who had settled in Detroit called, sharing an opportunity to join them: “Somebody messed up sculptures at Grand Circus Park by sandblasting them,” he said.
“I came back and went to the city of Detroit, and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been doing this all my life. Give me a chance.’ They told me to get interviewed by the DIA, and if they think I’m qualified, then I get the job,” Gikas said. “So I went and the next thing I know, I got the job.”
Gikas said restoring the Alger Memorial Fountain and statues of mayors Hazen Pingree and William Cotter Maybury in Grand Circus Park were his favorite projects.
DIA Director of Conservation John Steel said Gikas is the only outdoor sculpture conservator in Michigan who does “museum quality” work. Steel, who’s known Gikas over 25 years, said he’s restored many pieces for the DIA, including “The Thinker” and Monument to Joe Louis (aka “The Fist”), which the DIA owns.
“If we didn’t have Giorgio, we would have to use colleagues who are in either Ohio or Chicago,” said Steel, also DIA vice president of exhibition, collection and information strategies. “We’d have to go much farther afield to get an expert. We are very lucky.”
‘A cultural symbol’
Glancing over the 5-foot-plus legs and head engraved “COP POLICE” (he still has to add “ROBO”), Gikas emphasized his creation is not “fine art;” it’s more of a cultural symbol “that represents an era in Detroit: the bad, the good, the ugly.”
“I hope the young kids enjoy it,” he added.
RoboCop won’t carry a weapon. He’ll also have a nonagressive stance, like the Rocky statue, which — along with the “Rocky Steps” — is one of Philadelphia’s most popular attractions.
“Rocky isn’t seen knocking anybody down or punching anybody out,” said Visit Philadelphia CEO Meryl Levitz. “The beloved thing about Rocky is not only is he a sympathetic character — and, of course, RoboCop was, too, in many ways and was beleaguered just like Rocky was — but the actual statue is one of victory.”
In March, RoboCop was snuck into a rendering of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy’s plan for Franklin Street, causing speculation the statue would be placed on the east riverfront. Yet a spokesman for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Chicago-based company that produced the rendering, told The Detroit News that RoboCop’s inclusion was simply “a joke.”
“Our renderers have a lively sense of humor,” Skidmore’s Finn MacLeod said.
So the speculation will continue — at least for a few more months. Walley said he plans to throw a “big Robo party” to which they’ll invite Kickstarter supporters, “RoboCop” movie stars and even Bing.
“We’ve heard from people around the world that they want to make the pilgrimage to Detroit to see it,” Walley said. “So we really see it as a great tourist (attraction).”