Artist Hubert Massey adds the finishing touches to his 30- by 30-foot mural “Detroit: Crossroad of Innovation” at its unveiling at Cobo Center Sept. 7.

Artist Hubert Massey adds the finishing touches to his 30- by 30-foot mural “Detroit: Crossroad of Innovation” at its unveiling at Cobo Center Sept. 7.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Cobo Center unveils new fresco mural

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published September 14, 2018

 The new fresco mural at Cobo Center, “Detroit: Crossroad of Innovation,” was created by artist Hubert Massey to portray the themes of innovation and community, which he said are both crucial parts of the city’s history.

The new fresco mural at Cobo Center, “Detroit: Crossroad of Innovation,” was created by artist Hubert Massey to portray the themes of innovation and community, which he said are both crucial parts of the city’s history.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

DETROIT — On Sept. 7, Cobo Center celebrated the completion of a new fresco mural by nationally renowned artist Hubert Massey.

A fresco is a watercolor painting done on wet plaster, generally on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries. Massey is one of only a handful of artists capable of creating a fresco on such a scale and has done similar work at other Detroit institutions such as the College for Creative Studies, Campus Martius Park and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

“For an artist like Hubert Massey, who already has signature pieces around Detroit and the country, to put a piece in this style in this institution is historic and something we should be proud of,” said Lisa Canada, vice president of the Cobo Center Authority and chair of the Cobo Art Foundation. “Ever since our renovations ended in 2013, we have worked hard at the Cobo Art Committee to create a relationship with nationally renowned artists.”

The mural is called “Detroit: Crossroad of Innovation.” It shows the city as a center of creation and seeks to portray the last 300 years of its history from the original Native American residents to the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which is currently under construction. It also contains several Detroit landmarks, such as the Ambassador Bridge, Renaissance Center and Lodge Freeway. 

“It’s a legacy piece that’s for the Detroit community and celebrates that community,” Massey said. “I’m proud to be a part of that narrative and to get to tell that story. … I want this piece to say Detroit is the center of innovation on a global scale.”

It’s the largest of Massey’s pieces that is open to the public and free to view. Massey said he went into fresco painting for a number of reasons, but partially because of inspiration from Diego Rivera, the famed fresco artist who most notably painted the murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts in the 1930s.

“I came to Detroit to be a sign painter, and I did that until the digital age came along and wiped out the need for hand-painted billboards,” Massey said. “About that time, there was a class offered by the two former apprentices to Diego Rivera. I came to learn Rivera also was a sign painter, and I think I was the only person out of 12 students who really stuck with it.”

Although fresco is an uncommon art form, Massey said it is a valuable art style.

“(Frescos) don’t shine or reflect; they carry a long way visually and they last a very long time,” he explained. “It is an old art style. There are ancient cave paintings done on limestone that are frescos, and some of the greatest works of art in history, like the Sistine Chapel, are frescos.”

For the Cobo Center mural, Massey began by making a scale charcoal drawing of the 30- by 30-foot image. After money for the project had been raised by the Cobo Art Foundation, Massey got to work in early 2018.

“We prepared the wall in January, put down three layers of plaster on the wall, and transferred the drawing by perforating the paper with thousands of little holes so the image would pass through them and transfer onto the plaster. Then, I began weeks and weeks of applying paint,” he said.

The work was uniquely Massey’s, but he got inspiration from residents who came from all over the Detroit area.

“We didn’t give him any specific direction, only that we wanted to work in positive stories about Detroit,” said Maureen Devine, the art curator at Cobo Center. “We put together a committee to share stories that Hubert could listen to and talk with. We had people from different communities, different ages and different backgrounds to all come together and share so we could get influence from the whole community.”

Cobo Center officials said they are planning on adding more prestige art for the center, with the next major project being a statue outside its main entrance.

“We want people to feel welcome to come to Cobo and see that art, which is on display in our public areas and free whenever there isn’t a large event going on,” said Devine. “Most of the art is done by local artists, and we are hoping to include even more in the near future. … We hope it inspires people to explore the city.”

Massey said he is humbled by the project and hopeful that it will be meaningful to the millions of people, both local and visiting, who come to Cobo Center.

“It feels awesome; I’m truly humbled to get the opportunity to paint, and it’s a wonderful feeling to have a piece in a place like this,” Massey said. “I wanted it to be something that doesn’t reflect a particular time, but something someone can look at 100 years from now and have it still feel relevant.”