Now this engineer/artist is working on a three-dimensional canvas — over water

Photo by Ron Leir/ The artist shows off his favorite work, “Campo Viejo.”


By Ron Leir


Even as a youngster, Felix Fuster had a fascination for forms and shapes and how they appeared on paper.

Today, Fuster is fixated on the appearance of things in three dimensions as the project engineer for the state Department of Transportation’s Rt. 7 Wittpenn Bridge replacement project.

The existing vertical lift bridge, which dates from 1930, spans the Hackensack River and links Kearny and Jersey City. A new bridge is being built just north of the old one.

In a storefront office on Harrison Ave., just a short ride from the project site, Fuster and his staff review blueprints and, from there, make daily site visits to check on the progress of the estimated $700 million job.

But it’s also in that office where the visitor will be treated to an appreciation for the veteran civil engineer’s artistic side – a remarkable wall-to-wall display of Fuster’s paintings.

Completely unschooled in the art, Fuster has produced a remarkable variety of portraits, landscapes and seascapes, ranging in size from a square-rigged sailing ship on the ocean, represented in several square inches, to a striking flamenco dancer, captured on an 8-foot by 4-foot canvas.

Some “superhero” comic book/movie characters, like Batman, are represented. “Those I did for my grandkids,” he said.

His collection, amassed over a period of years, was overflowing at his Roselle home, where he paints on a screened deck, so he arranged to hang many of them at the office, clearly enhancing the workplace, as evidenced by supportive co-workers.

“Since I was a kid, at age eight or nine, I was always doing art work,” recalled Fuster. “I liked to draw faces, mostly. I used ink, pencil, pastels.”

He credits his art teacher at Thomas Jefferson Boys’ High School in Elizabeth – where he grew up in the Italian section known as Peterstown – with recognizing his aptitude for sketching and encouraging him to advance his skill through formal study after graduation.

Photo courtesy Felix Fuster/ “Otono” depicts an autumn forest scene.



So he applied – and was accepted – to New York University to pursue liberal arts but after his practical-minded dad discouraged him from that course of action, Fuster shifted his career goal and enrolled at the former Newark College of Engineering, earning a civil engineering degree in 1981.

Fuster’s first job was at the World Trade Center, with Ebasco Geo-Technical Services, where he worked six months before leaving for a management position with Proctor & Gamble in Puerto Rico. After a six-month stay, he returned to the U.S. and accepted a trainee position with the DOT. He’s been with the state ever since.

But he never gave up his love for the arts and has never stopped painting.

“I like acrylics,” Fuster said. “It dries in a few minutes. Oil takes too long.”

He’s also dabbled in sculpture, mostly with clay but also a few involving wiring, and some murals.

At times, he likes to paint his interpretations of photographs or paintings by other artists, but his preference is for originals. He points to a particular portrait on the office wall showing a dapper-dressed fellow in a fedora and says, chuckling, “That was supposed to be Frank Sinatra, but the face didn’t quite work out. So I changed it up.”

There is clearly a European literary/historical theme that runs through a number of Fuster’s works, as evidenced by his portraits of Don Quixote and Napolean; a view of Venice; and his depiction of Columbus’ three ships enroute to the New World.

Indeed, the spirits of the Old World – liquid ones, that is – make a splash on the engineer’s canvas.

In fact, Fuster’s particular favorite among the works on display in Harrison shows a classically-attired Spaniard. But the painting’s title, “Campo Viejo,” speaks not to the elegant gentleman, but rather to the gentleman’s barely noticeable action taking place in the left corner of the portrait: he is pouring the contents of a bottle of wine into a cup. It is a wine that the artist savors.

In a large painting, we see a dapper couple embracing. That’s Fuster and his wife “when we were a little younger,” he says.

During his teenage years, Fuster says he had a stint as a puglist with the Italian Club at the Elizabeth Recreation Center. “I held my own,” he says. Today, even at age 56, the trim, muscular engineer looks like he could go a few rounds. “I love boxing,” he says, and his affection for the “Sport of Kings” is reflected in several of his paintings.

How does Fuster account for his bursts of creation? “It’s like an urge and I start drawing – pure inspiration,” he says.

And he has continued to produce, despite having lost 42 paintings some years ago when his house was flooded.

But there are also periods when he’s had no inspiration. “I have these gaps – one lasted close to nine years – when there’s nothing,” he says. “I could do 20 paintings in say, two months, and then I’ll just stop.” These blank periods “come and go” and he has no explanation for them.

Fuster says he’s never attempted to enter any juried shows nor has he tried to sell his work. Once, a gallery owner asked to borrow some of his paintings to exhibit, but selling was never his object, he insisted.

He does it purely for the pleasure of the work.

“It just relaxes me,” he says, which he values, “especially when I’m involved with construction.”

Perhaps when the current DOT project is done, we’ll see the results on a Fuster canvas.

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