Featured Artist Tony Mack

Tony Mack and his art car "Hustle Hard"
“My real name is Cody Urban. Tony Mack in my artist name. I’m from Stratford. This is my home.”

Three months out of Stratford High School, Cody Urban — now known as Tony Mack, the artist of Colors Beyond Me — picked up and left Stratford. He went to the Bay Area of California, and points north of there. A woman he met hired him to work on her property, to take care of the house. Another man hired him to dig dirt.

“I didn’t know no one. Just took clothes and went to walk around and be free,” he said.

It was through these odd jobs that he met Mendocino, Calif.-based surface ornamentation artist Larry Fuente.
Tony Mack Fish

“I met him and I didn’t even know who he was. He would give me rides to the grocery store and stuff. He told me he made money gluing things onto stuff.”

Eventually Mack saved enough money for a bike. And then a 1974 lime green Dodge Dart Swinger. He started working on his first art car. He’d go to the beach and collect shells and sea glass and whatever else was free. He’s come home with backpacks of it.

One day he ran into Fuente at the store and showed him what he was working on. After that day, Mack said, “I was one of his kids. I would be at his family functions.”

Mack entered his first parade following Fuente. “He was my glue-ru.”


Mack returned to his home state because, he said, he felt in certain parts of the country, there are people who are willing to see and experience things differently. When he drove his “Hustle Hard” car art onto Paradise Green at the 2015 Artists & Artisans show, it turned every head.

“Why would you  want to be anywhere else?” he said. “With my work, I go out and try to make the change. And you will see people around that car who would not normally talk to each other. And they are together, sharing something.”

Tony Mack is a member of the Coastal Arts Guild of CT. 
See more of Tony Mack’s work at Colors Beyond Me. 

Brian Jennings: Composer, Thinker, Sculptor

Brian Jennings in his thinking place.
Brian Jennings in his thinking place.

Brian Jennings is a sculptor and composer who has lived and worked in Stratford his entire life. Born in 1937, he started playing piano in the late 1940s and has several of his compositions listed in the Library of Congress, including “Refrains of Childhood Not Forgotten.” He has recorded two CDs, “Reverie” and “Reflections.”

In the last decade, he has taken up sculpture after taking classes at the Creative Arts Workshop. He works primarily in marble, in the neoclassical style. He’s lived at his home on Academy Hill since 1971.

CAGCT: Why did you choose to sculpt images of your family?

BJ: I don’t know. I suppose I know them better than anyone else. And I love little children. My mother didn’t like this image of herself. It made her look older than she was. It wasn’t very complimentary. It was really more a commentary on aging. She does have more wrinkles here than she deserves.

"Mother" by Brian Jennings
“Mother”

CAGCT: What did you do before you took up art full-time?

BJ: I worked for Oronoque Orchards for 21 years. I made the pie dough, which they shipped all around the country. They wanted me to be a manager, you know, to do things like figure out how much shortening to order and such, but I said no. I was too creative for that. It was hard work too.

CAGCT: What are you working on right now?

BJ: I’ve got my typing that is keeping me busy. I’ve been writing like a fiend. I write in dialogues – you know, Platonic dialogues? It’s on any subject I happen to think of – death, God, time – but all in dialogues. I’ve got hundreds of pages of it.

 

CAGCT: Your family is all musical. Your father, George Lawyer Jennings, played the cello for the New Haven Symphony, and your grandmother, Katherine Jennings, played the trombone and the piano. Your sons record and teach music at the Acoustic Refuge in Easton. Now you’ve been working on writing and sculpting these past few years. Do you feel these creative outlets are all linked for you?

BJ: I don’t know if they are linked. They are all parts of my nature, I suppose.

CAGCT: You lost your wife, Barbara Jennings, a painter, several years back. You still have many of her paintings. Do want to keep her works, or share them, perhaps sell them?

BJ: I did give away some of them. I didn’t like to surrender any of them, even the ones on the walls. Here you can see these still have price tags on them.

CAGCT: You’ve got quite an extensive set of gym equipment in your basement. What is the story?

Brian Jennings BJ: When I was five years old, I had a ruptured appendix. I almost died. I can still see an image of myself taken away in the front yard on a stretcher. It’s always stuck with me. I think ever since then, since my recovery, I got interested in keeping fit.

I’m a great believer in inversion. I read somewhere once that the creatures that live the longest lives are the ones that have their heads lower than their bodies. So on any given day you might come by and I’ll be hanging around upside down.

Picasso said: ‘Youth has no age.’ And I believe that. Whoever said it was a good for you to age is wrong. I see these guys who retire and they sit around and get a big stomach. The older you are the more interests you need.

I did it naturally. The day is not long enough for everything I want to do. So many people are bored. I am never bored.

Brian Jennings’ phone number is probably listed in the White Pages. Or you may be lucky to meet him in person at a Guild meeting. He is not online (except here).  

Featured Artist: Sculptor Dave McNeil

sculptor Dave McNeilStratford metal sculptor Dave McNeil studied at the The Sculpture Barn under the guidance of master sculptor David Boyajian.

In 2010, he began showing his work in various galleries and exhibitions in New York and Connecticut. His materials of choice are stainless steel, recycled steel, and stone.

He started out studying painting and illustration at Paier College of Art and received a BA from Southern Connecticut State University in 1989, working his way through various media, including acrylics, oils and pencil. His primary focus was portraiture. He worked for 10 years as police sketch artist.

In addition to commission metal art, he also works in law enforcement.

CAGCT: Dave, you lead a kind of ‘Batman’ life: police officer by day, sculptor by night. How do the two sides of Dave coexist?

DMc: The two sides never seem to meet. Opportunities to blend the two are very rare. The only time I was able to combine the two world was when I worked as a sketch artist. Artistically, I was doing portrait work at the time so I could combine the two.

Working as a sketch artist taught me how to draw the human face accurately. That was in the mid 90’s and the last time I was able to combine my artistic world with my day job. With sculpture there are no opportunities to combine the two, which is fine with me. I prefer my artistic side and my work side to be divorced from each other. I don’t have a problem separating the two. The subject of art never seems to come up when I am working in law enforcement.

Metal art by Dave McNeil
Metal art by Dave McNeil

CAGCT: Your work is often LARGE pieces of heavy metal. Why not work with something more portable, like, say, feathers?

DMc: I work with metal and stone because I like the permanence of it. The idea that something will be around long after I am. Who knows where one of my sculptures will end up 100 years from now? It could end up in the scrap yard or it could take its place in a park or a garden. Somebody may wonder who created it and look up my name. They might find only this article but I hope there is more to come.

I took up sculpture a little late in life, about six years ago, and I am still learning.

CAGCT: Your ‘business’ is custom metal art, created on commission. What do you work on, for fun, between commissions?

DMc: Between commissions I like to challenge myself by attempting a complicated form and duplicate it.

An example of this would be the fish sculpture I did. I never made a fish before so I wanted to see if I could make it look like it was swimming.

I tried to capture the fluid motion of the fish as it turned in the water. That expanded to the idea of a school of fish swimming together and how the form of the school swimming would look suspended in the air instead of water. I really learn a lot by challenging myself this way. I learn the possibilities hidden in the metal.

CAGCT: What part of the metal art sculpting process do you find most tedious, and the most fun?

DMc: The most tedious part is cleaning up after myself. I make a bit of a mess during the creative process. It doesn’t matter if I am painting or sculpting. Making a mess is also the fun part. I like the whole creative process. Coming up with the initial idea and then having that idea grow into something greater never gets old.

Metal fish art by Dave McNeilCAGCT: What do your neighbors think of your work?

DMc: My neighbors don’t see much of my work because I work out of my brother’s barn. It is made of cement block so I can’t burn it down when the sparks fly. I did some work in my driveway when I started. It was noisy and I found that with enough heat an asphalt driveway will catch on fire.


To learn more about Dave McNeil’s work, visit his website