They say good art makes people talk. If that's the case, Michael Dinova Dean is creating art and making heads turn in Elk Grove.
The artist set up shop in a century-old bungalow on Elk Grove Boulevard about two months ago and has started transforming the high-profile property the former site of the outdoor store the Secret Garden into a classical art gallery and garden display.
His business, Byblos Art and Garden, has people buzzing about what constitutes "art," and the city has cited Dean with fees for zoning and historic preservation violations.
Code-enforcement staff members found several violations at the site, including inoperable vehicles on the property and some stairs built without a permit, said city spokeswoman Christine Brainerd. The business was also found in violation of the zoning code for some fencing and wall changes, and because Dean changed the exterior of a building that is on the city's historic registry.
"The city issued three separate orders and assessed the business $590 in noncompliance fees," Brainerd said, adding that some violations have been corrected.
Dean appealed in August, but a hearing officer upheld the fees.
Some residents felt the property was unkempt and didn't care for the art, Brainerd said, but she noted that the use of the property is consistent with its zoning.
"We've had complaints about the look of the art on the property, but that's a matter of taste, and we can't enforce that," she said.
Dean chalks up the criticism to individual taste and is working with the city to clear up violations.
"Some people don't like art," said Dean. "What can I do about that? What if I said I didn't like the color of that gas station over there? What should be done about that?"
Dean's vision is gradually taking shape in an ample side yard, with a mélange of elaborate relief carvings of Romans racing chariots and plywood Greek ruins depicting mythic heroes. There are cherubs and maidens, stone columns and fake castle walls, concrete murals, benches, balustrades and balusters all awash in a mix of muted tones and bold brush strokes.
Inside the business, housed in a historic converted home east of Elk Grove Florin Road, are Dean's renditions of the European masters: massive oil on canvas paintings inspired by Titian, Rembrandt and Jacques-Louis David, the French neoclassical artist. The paintings include an 8-by-5-foot recreation of David's portrait of Napoleon on horseback during the French Revolution, along with expansive paintings of nude women, goddesses and warriors.
"Surrounding yourself with art makes your life better," said Dean, a retired businessman who grew up in Trieste, Italy, and studied art throughout Europe, but is a native of Monterey.
Aside from creating individual pieces of art, Dean has a couple of other business ideas in the works.
After carving some pieces in plaster, he coats them in rubber and makes a mold. He can then cast his carvings in concrete and sell the reproductions, bringing down the cost of his art.
He also plans to sell large plaster-and-concrete ornamental benches and barbecue pits.
Dean already is completing a 7-by-13 foot Mediterranean-style carving for the Grand Island Mansion in Walnut Grove, and has jobs designing gardens for area residents.
He hopes eventually to correct any city violations, complete the European-inspired garden and art gallery, and host community events.