Arts & Entertainment

Artist turns van into Duval Street canvass

Daniel Linehan, in this photo posted on Facebook May 4, has finished covering this side of his GMC van with his drawings, a project he is working on in Key West.
Daniel Linehan, in this photo posted on Facebook May 4, has finished covering this side of his GMC van with his drawings, a project he is working on in Key West.

Daniel Linehan has been doing something lately that's not the easiest thing to do on Key West's Duval Street -- turning heads.

Amid the drinking, dining, shopping and music, Linehan is making art in this open-air, sidewalk-lined studio where he feeds the parking meter as rent.

The ink is black, gold and silver Sharpie marker. The canvas: A light gold GMC Savana van with tinted windows Linehan picked up in Marathon for $6,000.

Parked in the 600 block of Duval Street the other night, Linehan eagerly showed a stranger his work on the van.

One side is already covered with Linehan's intricate, detailed images that include vignettes: A fisherman over here, a piece of the yellow-brick road from Oz over there, a shout out to Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" and Linehan's name over the passenger side's front fender.

"I'm not OCD," said Linehan, 54, a New York City native who has worked as a crane operator and home builder. "I'm tenacious. I set my sights on something and when I start something I finish it."

Linehan said he went to college only after his brother was murdered in 1986. He graduated from St. John's University and then earned a law degree from the City University of New York Law School not to practice law, he said, but to understand the system.

He approaches his art with the same drive.

Affable and gregarious, Linehan welcomes visitors to his Duval Street spot, for which he has bought a city street performer license. Linehan said the people he has met in Key West since he landed here in September from Fort Myers, where he's lived for a decade, have been supportive and kind.

He's so grateful, he will dedicate the driver's side of the van to the island, complete with a rooster, the Southernmost Point buoy, Conch houses and other signature images.

Art isn't something Linehan chose, he says. The drawing came to him after what he calls a near-death experience from December 2011 during a good Samaritan attempt.

Linehan recalls walking with a friend in Fort Myers when they came upon a young woman savagely beating another young woman while a group of men stood guard to ensure the assault wasn't interrupted.

He said he intervened and managed to separate the victim, who had lost consciousness, from her assailant, only to be jumped by four men who beat him so that he required hospitalization and was left with permanent damage in his right eye.

"I don't regret it," Linehan said. "My own mother said, why did you help that girl? It could have been her or my daughter."

The day his eye patch came off, Linehan said he went home and sketched the Last Supper, all in free hand in black ink. He keeps a print in his van, along with a portfolio of his drawings.

"My kids were highly skeptical of me," Linehan said of his sons, 21 and 13, and daughter, 18. "They would hear from friends, 'Your dad is on a park bench doing art.' Today, they are my biggest fans."

At times the work causes him pain. The lanky Linehan, who towers over 6 feet tall, has to stretch out beneath the van like a mechanic to reach the bottom parts.

Linehan has to work at night because during the day the van's metal is too hot to touch from absorbing the sun and tropical heat.

He sprays the marker drawings with sealant and says he isn't worried about it fading or disappearing -- he can always redo it or accept the change.

"If it smears, I'll turn it into the biggest piece of abstract art," Linehan said.