Profile: He’s Delivering a Jolt of Color to the Drabbest of Public Places

Paula Saha | March 18, 2015 | Profiles
Dan Fenelon’s installations and murals transform the Port Authority and other public spaces into multicolored extravaganzas

Credit: Ellen Denuto
Dan Fenelon

Name: Dan Fenelon

Hometown: A Montclair native, he now lives in Morristown

Age: 53

Why you should know him: Even if you have never heard his name, there’s a good chance you have seen Fenelon’s work. When the Dalai Lama came to Newark in 2011, it was Fenelon’s mural design — painted by over 500 Newark schoolchildren on the Broad Street façade of the Integrity House — that graced the cover of the Newark Peace Education Summit programs.

At Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center, Fenelon worked with doctors, patients, and patient families to paint colorful sculptures now on display. And earlier this month, Fenelon worked with schoolchildren from New York City to create a two-month mural installation for the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.

A lifelong dream: Fenelon says he knew as a child that he wanted to be an artist. He studied at the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston and did his first mural at the Dirt Club, a punk-rock venue in Bloomfield in the 1980s.

He got back into the genre many years later with a project on the back wall of Arts Unbound, a nonprofit studio and gallery for seniors and adults with disabilities in Orange. From there, he started answering more and more calls for similar projects. In addition to commissioned works, he works as a graphic designer and illustrator and creates his own paintings and sculpture. He also designs youth clothing under the brand name WaveDog.

Fenelon art at PA

An artist + a truck: Last year, Fenelon signed on as the driver of the Montclair Art Museum Art Truck, a mobile studio in a retrofitted ice cream truck that travels North Jersey offering art projects and lessons. “We go to senior centers, we go to live events … we also serve underserved communities.” Some of the items made with the Art Truck are among those on display at the Port Authority installation.

What he likes about public art: “I was in Grand Rapids, and I was working on a mural project there, and this homeless guy came up to me and said, ‘Every time I’m in a bad mood, I just come over here and see you doing this and it makes me feel good.’ That to me is mission accomplished. Giving somebody some hope in their life.” He said the sculptures at Morristown Medical Center are similarly effective. In the midst of dreary and frigid winter, the organic shapes and bright colors were “like a breath of spring” that lifted spirits.

His style: Fenelon says people have called his work “urban tribal” or “pop tribal. I like street art but I’m not really a street artist. I loved Keith Haring. The iconography, the colors, there’s kind of like a little bit of humor in it … I don’t think it takes itself as seriously as other art forms, and I kind of enjoy that sense of humor.”

Family: Fenelon lives a “simple, elegant lifestyle” with his wife of 15 years, Kadie Dempsey, who does creative placemaking (planning, designing, and managing public spaces) with the Arts Council of the Morris Area.

See his work: Learn more about Fenelon’s work at his website and online gallery.

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