From his tricked-out studio in Wynwood, Frank Hyder has made a worldwide name for himself with his blowup Janis heads, taking them on a cruise tour to such exotic places as Machu Pichu and Russia.
He started his art career in Philadelphia, bought a large rundown property which he fixed up, then moved to Miami, smartly purchasing two condo lofts in the pioneering Wynwood arts district. He started as a painter, then moved into painting on sculptural forms like eggs provided by the Faberge company in a series they sponsored.
“I was intrigued by the egg shape which looked like a face to me, so I started making heads in different materials,” he says sitting in his studio surrounded by his multi-media artwork.
A balloon project came his way, so making a balloon head was a natural next step.
“To add interest I made a face on each side which is classic imagery in art history. I call them Janis intentionally spelled with an I as opposed to a U as in Janus,” he says.
Janus is an ancient Roman religion and myth, the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces.
“If you have two sides to see from it makes you see ‘the other’. It’s also been compared to Shrek,” he laughs. ‘Well people like to compare it to something that is familiar. But to me, it’s a kind of unity.”
After perfecting – and inventing – a way of making the 6-foot heads out of a lightweight plastic and parachute material and designing a mixed media approach to combine printed color with hand-painted details, he then came up with a way to build them into a rolling suitcase that builds in a battery pack, electric outlet, motorized fan, and color-changing LED lights. They weigh about 40 pounds, a genius portable large-scale art.
Hyder’s The Janis Project began in Istanbul Turkey when it caught the eye of Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, who asked Hyder to come along on the cruise, make art in an open studio, and set the heads up at the different stops in a three-month journey. A spontaneous daily placement aboard the luxury Oceania cruise liner and its ports of call, surprised cruisers, and locals with its presence, stimulating dialogs – as well as police presence – in many languages. He hiked up trails with the suitcases on his back in Machu Pichu to get one setup.
The air-filled huge heads range in size from 4-11 feet tall, can reference the Moai of Easter Island, Olmec heads, and Janus, but at the same time the sculptures have their roots in street art and inflatable toys found everywhere from carnivals to car dealerships to the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. The police came out in Seville, Spain, for a lack of permits and the blow-up heads received a definite no from Russian border police in St. Petersburg.
“You don’t want to get in legal trouble in Russia,” Hyder says in all seriousness.
The heads attract serious attention and fill up a gallery exhibit or an outdoor space. They can tether down in case of wind. Several will be on display at the upcoming Kinetic Art Exhibit in Boynton Beach, along with some indoor works that will create an infinity room.
Hyder does more than the heads, he has an impressive body of painted fiberglass works, a large lit-up from behind series is on display in the long hallways of his loft building. He has an exquisite painting series of bright Koi fish against unusual silver and gold backgrounds. The koi reappear as sculptures made of flexible pipes, several of which hang in his studio. He has worked in ceramics and in bronze, and a beautiful portrait series on a lace like paper with floating leaves.
Hyder has participated in more than 200 group shows and over 100 solo exhibitions throughout the Americas, Asia, and Europe, including 10 individual exhibitions in New York City.
He was chairman of Fine Arts and faculty member at the Moore College of Art and Design. His works have been featured in Color in Contemporary Painting, The Art of Watercolor, The Song of the City, and Artist Homes and Studios. His works have been reviewed in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, ArtNews, and Art in America.
“I think these are interesting and timely,” he says of Janis’s heads. “They keep changing meaning as they evolve.”
Frank Hyder is blowing up the art world one head at a time