Now that the Atlantic Boulevard Intracoastal Bridge mural project is complete, I’ve been able to step back and really appreciate the gravity of this project. I’ve been humbled by the incredible amount of responses I’ve received not only from friends and family, but also from the people of Pompano Beach and fans across social media as well.
Since the installation date this past summer I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the studio and this project featured on the highly popular television fishing show, Unfathomed with Capt. George Gozdz, in several publications such as Florida Sport Fishing Magazine, Pompano! Magazine and the New Pelican. As well the City of Pompano Beach’s Chamber of Commerce has recognized our Connected By Water® studio by honoring us with their 2019 Art & Culture Award due to the great success of the project. While the accolades are nice and encouraging, they aren’t what makes this one of the most special projects I have ever completed.
To understand what this location means to me you would have to go back decades to when I was a child getting dropped off at this beach with childhood friends. Learning how to surf, fish, dive and partake in just about every other beach activity a native child of South Florida was fortunate enough to grow up doing. You would have to know that in that marina I was a kid telling captains and anglers that I would paint them whatever fish we caught that day if they would take me fishing. You see we didn’t come from a ton of money. So, I had to get on the water any way I could.
When this kid got the chance to go Cardinal Gibbons High School near the beach in Fort Lauderdale, I still preferred to hang out with the Pompano crowd. They were more my style. Silver Thatch and 2nd Street was where we surfed. We’d catch pompano and snook off the beach when it wasn’t breaking (which was often). We played, we fought, we laughed, loved and cried. We came of age here.
One day when I was about 17, I walked into this little marine art gallery called the Wildfish Collection. Its location? Right at the marina at the foot of this bridge. Then a naive and aspiring marine life artist, Reed and Mary Alice Blair took one look at me from head to toe and smiled. Mary Alice asked surprisingly in her Floridian Southern drawl, “You really did these?” “Yep! That’s my stuff.” I replied. And just like Santa Claus (with a wink and a smile) Reed said, “We’ll find a spot for ya buddy.” He rattled my hat crooked and walked to the back of the store to put away some old marlin lures.
They could have easily said no, and I could have easily been discouraged by it. But they said yes. Their actions are a big reason why I always give young talent the time of day when asking me for guidance or advice. You never know who are influencing (or discouraging). It was at that very moment when I realized being a professional artist was possible. They treated me like a king (and still do). I sold my first fish paintings there and they invited me to all their parties. I met the IGFA and the Billfish Foundation through them and they really helped get me off the ground. My professional creative career would take a diverted music-business-path for a bit after art school, but I never stopped painting fish. So, when it all came back full circle there was Reed and Mary Alice waiting for me with open arms at the bridge’s opening ceremony. After quitting my bread-winning day job six years before that point it all began to make sense to me.
It wasn’t money I was pursuing or even recognition. It was meaning. This project is special to me because this place is home. My work is on display and one of the most special places in the world to me. Its on display for friends that I grew up with to see. It’s on display for a town and its people to say, “Hey I know that guy or I fished with that guy.” Some people have called it Dennis’ bridge. Although I disagree; it’s the people of Pompano Beach’s bridge and the reaction we have received tells me that we did it right. This project allowed me to give back to a place that made me who I am. To me, that has the deepest meaning. It makes me proud.
But in the end, they say it’s all about family. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have always been surrounded by people that have genuinely loved and supported me and this visual mission I’ve been on. A mission that has spanned my entire life. The list of friends, coworkers and associates along the way that have contributed their support is simply too long to name. Although I try to recognize them as often as I can… none have given more effort to this cause than my family. The sacrifices they have made have been lifelong and daily. I love them. I truly love them. This one. This project ultimately is for them. I hope you feel I made you proud…. Because you deserve it.