By: Jen Russon
March was a busy month for Dennis Friel. Over the course of two weeks, he and members of his art studio team installed a total of six, gigantic murals on the intercostal bridge on Atlantic Boulevard.
Entitled Atlantic Harmony, the murals were commissioned by the city of Pompano Beach, part of a broad improvement project costing $5 million.
Friel’s murals on the bridge will join other enhancements, like new pier parking garage, computerized lighting, and a pedestrian esplanade underneath that connects people to restaurants and shopping. Construction is anticipated through the summer, but Friel’s contribution is complete.
The Coral Springs-based artist said he worked collaboratively with Pompano city commissioners, Currie Sowards Aguila Architects and Burkhardt Construction for more than a year on Atlantic Harmony.
“This project is very close to my heart. The bridge is 283 feet-long and over 50 species of marine life are hand painted on it,” said Friel.
For those who identify with The Salt Life, you could say Friel is living an ultimate version of it. Friel’s murals on the bridge capture a childhood spent fishing, surfing and diving around Broward and down in the Keys. Atlantic Harmony depicts sailfish and tarpon, darting and gliding through seagrass and mangroves. Their flaring gills and fierce expressions leave small wonder Friel’s art is so prominent at international fishing tournaments.
The 45-year-old artist’s clients include Maui Jim, Olukai, Marlin Magazine, Billfish Foundation and fishing tournaments, such as Custom Shootout and the Jimmy Johnson’s Quest for the Ring. He said it took half a lifetime to get here.
Friel started off at the age of 17, hanging his marine art in local Pompano Beach galleries and painting murals for people’s homes and businesses. After training at Ringling and the Ft. Lauderdale Art Institute, he took a job as a graphic designer in the music business; but that whole time, he painted fish on the side.
It was only recently, in 2013, when he was able to turn his freelancing job into a full-time career running an independent art studio – chalk full of not just his own work but his wife’s, Liz Friel, as well.
The couple are raising their two young children in Coral Springs because they wanted to live closer to Friel’s parents. Liz and Dennis make their home at the Country Club – hoping for a day they can move closer to the water.
“I’m not in any hurry to move. Coral Springs is great,” said Friel who shared that when the newly elected Mayor Brook asked him what needed to change in the city, Friel said that he didn’t think anything – aside from property tax and public education.
This is coming from a resident who will be changing a lot in the near future. Dennis Friel Art Studio has grown so rapidly since Pompano Beach hired them to do mural work, they hired additional personnel and are adding more space.
His studio is also busy launching a podcast called “Connected By Water”, and will be featured on a fishing show that airs on The Sportsman Channel soon. But you don’t have to wait for those things to see his work any longer. Now motorists, fisherman and pedestrians alike can appreciate his contribution to Atlantic Boulevard Bridge.
Friel is humble when he discusses the breadth of this project – how many people were involved and what it means to him, personally. He said he thinks Atlantic Harmony is living up to its name.
“A bridge creates connection and builds community between two places, between diverse people. That kind of harmony is represented by the diversity of life found in the Atlantic Ocean as well,” said Friel.
To see more of his work, art lovers and potential clients can follow him on social media @dennisfrielart, or explore the DFAS website.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.