Thursday, March 22, 2018

Skip Dyrda, Muralist and More, Tells His Story

I know it sounds obvious for an artist to say this, but . . . I create. That's what I do. Sure, the bulk of my work is painting murals, but that's not my only creative outlet. In fact, just today I took a silver dinner fork and turned it into a stylish cat. It's a gift for a friend. 

All this started with my mom, who was very creative in a crafty kind away . . . you know, refrigerator magnets, Christmas ornaments, that kind of stuff. My own creativity started with building plastic models of mostly racecars from the track located just a few miles from where I grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania. At one point, in the late 60s to late 70s, I began creating pen and ink drawings of the same racecars and even sold them all over the Northeastern United States. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Florida in the early 90s that I really got into all kinds of creativity.  It was after I was hired to work in a local art factory. It was there that my eyes were opened to what could be created in the art world. I started out doing screen-printing and airbrushing and then later I worked on paintings using all sorts of media . . . watercolors, acrylics, oil paints, and pen and ink. We even created steel plate etchings and handmade papers. After two years, I went out on my own. First I assisted a local sculptor in addition to creating hundreds paintings for cruise ships. It was around that time that I discovered the decorative arts. 

I had been sharing an art studio with a friend who did work for local interior designers. When she would decline a job she thought too difficult, they would hire me to paint the custom canvas floor cloths and murals. Over the last 20 years or so, I have painted hundreds of murals, canvas floor cloths and paintings for private collectors and businesses. But I have found that my true love is painting outdoor murals. Specifically, murals we all know as ‘public art’. When I am painting outside, whether I am on a lift, on a ladder or on the ground, and public can watch and interact, it’s almost like being on stage. I discovered that the interaction with the public is one of my favorite parts about painting murals.

The other thing I like to do is paint site-specific murals so I can make sure it’s more than just a pretty picture on a wall. I prefer that the work has some sort of meaning, a reason for being there. And I'm also looking for reactions from the viewer, hopefully, a “wow” reaction. Additionally I like to try to entice the viewer into doing a 'double take', noticing something they did not see at first glance. I believe someone once said, ”The devil is in the details”.

For the last 2 years, I've been working with the Punta Gorda Historic Mural Society on several murals. The first was inside the fire station there, where I painted two large murals. I'm currently in the finishing stages of another, this one outside, called “Ladies Remembered”. This fall, I'll be working under a bridge over the Peace River along the Harbor Walk, working on a mural that will sort of look like you can view aquatic life through the base of the bridge.

And in between all that, I keep creating, whether it's making something out of a silver fork, my photography or graphic design. It's what I do.

Oh, and one more thing. Look for the red string. It's in almost all my work, it's my 'mark'. I've been including that for about twenty years.

This is Week 11 of Artists Tell Their Stories. To connect with Skip and see more of his work, please visit the following links:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jane Hickey Caminos, Activist Artist, Tells Her Story

I’m a Brooklyn born Jersey Girl who wanted to become a famous artist, or maybe a Rockette, before I was five. Walls were my canvas, crayons my brushes. Sound familiar? I liked to draw funny things because they were easier than realistic ones. My people stood in tall grass with their hands in their pockets. Uh huh. I planned on a career working for Walt Disney.

Fear  36x18

I was about as political as a kneaded gum eraser. Whomever my father voted for, so did my mother. That’s the way it was in the 50s. The assassination, followed by Vietnam, forced more emotion into the 60s. It was a perfect time to go off to art school. I went to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with long-ish blonde hair grown for the occasion. I was going to be a beatnik with an apartment painted black; I’d walk down Benefit Street snapping my fingers. Black turtleneck, black tights, and the required black beret. Beatniks morphed into hippies, so I added beads.

Saint Malala  28x29

‘Nam crashed a lot of dreams in the late 60s. Boys from high school were stepping on mines, and art school guys were starving them-selves as thin as skeletons to shock the draft into stamping them 4F. Beatniks turned into Hippies and then into Peaceniks overnight. Artists took to the street in protest with everyone else except we had better signs. 

There weren’t enough kids left to draft so a lottery was introduced. Low numbers went to war, high numbers did not, unless their grades were bad. I became as political as any other young woman, afraid her boyfriend would be swept away.

Grenade  24x30

We worried through the ‘Hell No We Won’t Go’ years, sought God via acid trips, got married because those were the rules. Some of us became photographers who documented all the efforts, others painted out their angst. I was humiliated because I wound up knocking out cherubic greeting cards, on the bottom rung of the ladder of cool. And as many of my generation discovered, mining for a Heart of Gold or not, things weren’t working out the way we were promised.

Time Has Come  14x16

Stomping Toward Feminism

No famous painter dwelling in Greenwich Village, just a mortified RISD BFA churning out “cuter neuters” as we called them in the Game of Cards. The only artistic trick I picked up was how to be neat. I longed to make a fortune as a fancy pants magazine illustrator like Bernie Fuchs. Madison Avenue, a real life Mad Men four-martini lunch, that was me. Except it wasn’t. Not in Newtonville living in a two family.

I watched from above (as those of us blessed with fertile imaginations can easily do) as the whole construct imploded. I was numb, eroded, and left standing in line with everyone else in a casting call for “Who Will You Be Now?”  

Rage    16x20

The seventies were a decade of shifting identities. Due to circumstances beyond my control, my new persona was that of a militant feminist complete with feigned loss of humor, taking on androgyny as a costume, which was boring but the boots were good. My ‘Nam era’ leftist stance easily slid into Take Back the Night marches for women’s rights. It was then that I made a commitment to paint women. Only women. Not beautiful, nubile model types but the women nobody bothered honoring; aunts, neighbors, grandmas at weddings. I told their stories, in a usually humorous manner and always with affection. Political art without stridency.

World Upside Down   22x26

By the late 80s I was encouraged by my life partner, Chris, to exhibit. It’s one thing to put commercial work out there, the kind you may produce to make a living, but the stuff that arrives from the soul, is another matter. Some of you must agree!
Picked   24x30

A Reputation?

A number of years passed, my health dipped down and moreso: in becoming disabled, a newfound empathy for those in worse shape than I kept me in balance. So I kept painting women, groups, trios, duos, stand alone's, surrounded by convenient props . . . fruits, pasta, fish . . . whatever  could fill up that white space in the background. Exhibits were well attended. People bought. Sometimes. ‘Jane Caminos: Narrative Painter of Women’ had found a gimmick.

Three in One   24x30

2012 Changed Everything 

One evening, half asleep with PBS dutifully tuned in: a documentary about women’s rights was showing, specifically detailing the gang rape of 23 year old Jyoti Singh by 5 men in Delhi. She was cast aside, and died from sepsis two weeks later. Tears of rage came as a surprise, as did finding my fists were clenched. I’m not an emotive personality but here was a story that cycloned a fury complete with yelling at the flat screen.

A Leader Emerges   24x30

That night in the NJ rental house I vowed to devote the remainder of my painting life to exposing violence against women across all cultures by telling their stories as I found them. On Women Bound was born on the easel the following morning. I became an activist artist.

At first the promise to work for change sounded simple: I made a list of terrible things that I knew were happening to women, mostly those living in third world countries. YouTube and Google yielded videos, images and articles from periodicals around the globe. Events out there were worse, much worse, than my white bread upbringing had imagined, the scope of the project ahead grew in size but also in importance. How much should I show on the canvas? Did I want to shock or tell these stories without the blood and guts, which to some ways of thinking could be construed as exploitive? What would you do? After all, if the ultimate goal of On Women Bound was to help (in my small way) victims become the victorious, what would that entail?

Three Each Hour   22x26

There have been subjects, such as the cultural rite of passage, FGM, Female Genital Mutilation, that have been wrenching to depict. I’ve painted fear of rape instead of actual rape, although one in three women will be raped in their lifetime. I’ve yet been unable to handle stoning, breast ironing, or beheading. Trafficking explodes as a worldwide money maker for villains of all stripes, even in suburban America, where we don’t believe blonde daughters will be kidnapped on their way to school. They are.

Sometimes goodness helps to balance evil, such as providing micro loans to impoverished women, or women taking to the streets to protest rape, or corporate takeovers of mining that otherwise would be supporting whole villages, or bravely forming barricades to block weapons of war from moving forward. I’ve included these stories of defiance to see-saw the acid wrecked faces, murdered female infants, and child brides.

Do you think I’m preaching to the choir?  Will exhibiting paintings of women’s troubles ignite a dialogue among those who see the work, as I hope?  Can I reach the “right people” and assuming I do, what then will these right people do about it?  Discuss in shocked voices over a nice Pinot how terrible things are in Africa? And so? Change happens step by step, at least I hope it does.

Awareness is the first step, so that’s what I do and I hope that someone out there will choose to share On Women Bound with a bigger audience than I can reach alone. It has long been the responsibility of artists to work toward making positive change where possible, and as hokey as that may sound, it carries historical weight. The list is long and glorious.

Manna from Heaven   24x30

I worried that taking on the role of Activist Artist might peg me as the humorless leftist I once played at being, leaving me responding to like types, but instead, through social media, I’ve renewed contacts and discovered hundreds of supporters who let me know when I’ve hit the nail, gone too far, or have made no impact at all.

It’s with your help that I’m assured I’m not working alone, although there are days at the easel when Alone is all there is: Jane hunched over with the Three-0 brush talking with a suffering woman in India who has lost her ten-year-old daughter to kidnappers. How can a middle aged white woman, an only child with none of her own, relate to this sadness? I stroke her cheek, her fingers, choosing colors for her clothing I think she might like. Art as comfort.

Because I’ve been fortunate to have found a voice for change doesn’t mean you have to, but look at the mess we’re in. I never in a million nights dreamed I’d see a TV show that would change my life’s focus.

Warning   24x30

Yes, I still produce paintings from the original narrative series of beloved women. It’s ‘painting happy’, a necessary break from On Women Bound and its inherent pain. My reference files fill a back up drive and two boot boxes, and just when I think I’ve got enough horrors to overwhelm my Mac, the news brings another tragedy, followed by another and we understand that every war brings genocide and a generation of children who will never understand the delight of laughter.

This is Week 10 of 2018 Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Jane’s story today. To connect with Jane and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Frank Linn, Chef, Tells His Story

Growing up, we lived on 10 acres land on which we raised chickens, had a large vegetable garden and a small orchard. We grew our own food, canned food for the winter, and created meals from things grown from the garden. My dad and I also enjoyed hunting and fishing together. One of my earliest memoires in the kitchen is of me with one of my mom’s old cookbooks, attempting to prepare Hassenpfeffer, a German rabbit stew, with a rabbit I hunted when I was 14. Food was always a major factor in my life. My parents cooked all the time, we made cookies together around the holidays and we always sat down and ate meals as a whole family. My grandmother also cooked quite a bit and she owned a small catering company with one of her best friends. She would bring home leftover Italian wedding soup, which was one of her specialties. The food was always fantastic. Growing up food meant happiness. These are the memoires I have whenever I eat a meal today.

Frank and his dad, Frank Sr., after a successful day of fishing!

Throughout my late teens and early 20s, I imagined what it was like to work as a line cook in a high end restaurant but because I had no experience and no culinary degree, the only way to get my foot in the door was to start out as a dishwasher. I wasn’t really interested in taking what seemed like the long, slow rode to being a chef. So instead, I tried every other possible career path available to me at the time: document courier, arborist, exterior/interior painter, among other things. Painting houses became a serious interest and a business at one point. I apprenticed under a master painter and he taught me about the importance of technique and detail. I enjoyed the craft so much, as it became more than just painting and making a buck. I realized later that what I really enjoyed was the art of technique.

Frank’s view from a tree as an arborist

Cooking was still a part of my life and I was constantly trying my hand at creating delicious and healthy meals for friends at the time. It wasn’t until I was in a relationship with one person in particular who really dialed in on the fact that I liked cooking and that I was pretty good at it. She saw that it could be a potential career for me. After some serious thought, I decided to enroll in culinary school. It seemed like a complete 180 in my career path but, when I look back on it, it was obviously the right direction.

Frank at home, before culinary school, preparing a meal for friends and family

I graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland in 2000 and worked my way around the culinary world in the DC area as a line cook, catering chef, culinary instructor, and as a private chef. I learned that I really enjoyed cooking for others and teaching others how to cook. The inspiration for my food has always been that feeling of friends, family, and love. However, technique is what drives me to create the best dishes I can.

Frank receiving his culinary degree from L’Academie de Cuisine

Frank teaching knife skills classes at Sur La Table

In 2014, I opened my first restaurant and I applied all the rules and life skills I learned throughout my many careers. I hone my craft everyday by teaching my staff the importance of consistency and the art of culinary technique. The reason I get total enjoyment out of the career path I’ve chosen, or maybe was chosen for me, is because I love feeding and nurturing people and most of all love seeing smiling faces. Feeding people nourishes my soul.

Frank’s Pizza Artwork

This is Week 9 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Frank’s story today. To connect with Frank and have some of his scrumptious pizza, please visit the following links:

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Judith Peck, Painter, Tells Her Story

I first started to use wooden cradled boards as a support in addition to the primed linen that most painters use, years ago.  I realized it opened up more possibilities and I began to carve into and apply other materials to the rigid surface. 

The Winding Path

Urban Dream


I’ve always been inspired to paint the strength that humanity often shows when responding to societal challenges. The first “broken painting” I did was a very personal piece. I painted it around 1987. It was about two of my grandparents leaving behind their former life and coming to America and safety, each as orphans. I used the plaster shards to represent the broken world they left behind but always carried with them.

Black & White


The Seed of Change

This is Week 8 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Judith’s story today. To connect with Judith and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Pulled Over