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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dale Stephanos on finding his life as an artist

Dale+Stephanos+paintings+of+jazz+singers
Dale Stephanos’ paintings of jazz singers

Going to school is about getting a job, but everyone here at the University of Massachusetts Boston understands that this is the point in time to find what careers are truly interesting. Some people find their calling when they get to college, some go their whole lives without ever finding something that inspires them, and others just take a few tries to find their niche. For Dale Stephanos it took a wrong turn in career paths to show him the one he knew he wanted all along, but just didn’t know how to make a living off of it. That is the same for most dreams — trying to make them into a living. At least that is for the lucky ones who actually know what they want which is half the battle.
Dale Stephanos’ first job was at the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services. It is the kind of job that is not for everyone and is a calling for those who do it. For Stephanos, he already had a calling, he just didn’t know how to get there; not while he hated his current job and didn’t know how someone could have a job they actually loved.
“I knew I couldn’t show up to a job I hated. To me it looked like hell. I knew I didn’t want that. I’ve always drawn pictures. I didn’t know how to make a living as an artist,” said Stephanos.
Sometimes, all it takes is finding the job you hate to eliminate that path in order to make room for that destined vocation.
Easier said than done, but the message for artists trying to break into the scene is that it takes persistence. Stephanos committed to sending his ideas to local newspapers every day during his early twenties. There’s an added pressure that everyone feels at one point in life, the push to move from inconsistent employment to getting something more stable.
Walking through Quincy Market one day provided the solution to the age old conundrum as Stephanos happened across the career he would gain experience from for the next ten years. It started with a little curiosity at the man drawing caricatures that handed Stephanos a sharpie and said “Draw me.” Those two words set him off on a journey to every state, but as Stephanos recalls it to be “the real America, not the top shelf.” This version of America involved over a thousand bar mitzvahs of which he can only remember the first distinctly. Drawing caricatures according to Dale “is more than just learning to draw, it involves engaging shy people.” Sometimes people were shy, and sometimes touring as an artist means meeting the guy who invented the internet, Tim Burners-Lee.
Stephanos is an artist, despite not being quite certain that the title fits. It started at age of five like most dreams do, even if they’re unrealized. Paul Szep was an inspirational cartoonist for Dale growing up, back when the Boston Globe had a morning and an evening paper. Back when families would all have dinner together and talk about politics — all of which lead him into the realm of creating political cartoons. Stephanos took his work to publications like Mad Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Herald, and The New Yorker. People are paying Dale to take those dinner table discussions of politics and combine them with his passion for painting. Dale Stephanos waved a hand at the gallery of his paintings and said, “These all have ideas behind them. These aren’t just pictures.” For Stephanos this isn’t just a hobby: but it means something.
For the people who finally find what they want to do it seems completely unfair to have that taken away or threatened. Back in August this year Dale Stephanos was hit by a car while cycling, leaving him with broken bones and a severely injured hand. There was frustration, and a humored indignation in Stephanos’ words, “If I had paused just for a second before leaving the house that morning I never would have been hit.” Stephanos is able to recall in perfect detail from the way he saw the car coming and how with the help of adrenaline had time to analyze his anger at the car for not stopping — the hope that he might make it, but it will be close — then the reality when the car clips the back wheel that “this is going to suck.”
During the recovery process when his hand was in a cast Dale was working on a Willie Nelson painting for which he had to tape the utensils to his cast to draw. It seemed like the determination that is prevalent in all of his work, but Stephanos candidly rejected the notion in place of what it really was, “It was fear.” For anyone that wants to see what that kind of fear can create, to see that Willie Nelson portrait in person, there is a gallery at Thayer Academy in Braintree holding this piece among many others to honor Dale’s work now through Dec. 17.