Forty years ago this month, a young artist named Dan Makara was featured prominently in a \u201cBridgeport Telegram\u201d article as a founder of the original City Lights arts gallery that was soon to open at 300 Fairfield Ave. \u201cThis place is going to be one of the best looking galleries you\u2019ve ever seen,\u201d Makara was quoted as promising. Besides displaying visual arts, the large space was also to be home to live performances and a coffee house. The high hopes lived only briefly. Makara recalls that first City Lights fell victim first to fickle landlords and then demolition. The artist himself, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, stuck around, however. Back then, he was engaged in painting murals on plywood he hoped the city would put up. He also would do a portrait of P.T. Barnum that is still on view inside the main Burroughs branch of the Bridgeport Public Library. Even now, a new piece he made for the pandemic art exhibit at the longer-lived City Lights on Golden Hill Street can be seen in the window of the Bijou Theater. It is a mini-mural with neon signage vowing, \u201cWE WILL MAKE IT,\u201d posted next to lenticular photographic images that change depending on the angle they are viewed from. The dominant image shows a figure in a hazmat suit striding heroically forward. Embedded around the perimeter are tiny cartoon images, also lenticular of the kind found in Cracker Jack boxes or Happy Meals. Such comic surprises, as well as large, purely geometric lenticular paintings, are also on view in a solo exhibit running through July 18 at the recently opened Jean Jacobs Gallery in New Canaan. The exhibit, a first for the new gallery, introduces an unknown side of Makara. It features paintings that until now he has only shown at art fairs. The large lenticular paintings are in the raised area at the rear of the gallery. They can induce a pleasurable vertigo as they often shift before a pacing viewer. Most of the gallery, however, is given over to large, wildly abstract paintings (most measure 51 inches by 58 inches) done in bright acrylics. From a distance, they can look metallic and massive, heavy with shiny paint. In an interview, Makara said he sometimes picks up dried globs of paint that have spilled from a canvas he\u2019s working on and plops them back into a painting. According to the ordinary laws of physics, the acrylic paintings are static. They don\u2019t move, like the lenticulars do. Nevertheless up close, some exert a pull, like worlds to be navigated. Paint is heaped, poured and sculpted into mountain ranges, canyons and oceans. They ought to be mapped topographically. Behind a gallery desk, a painting titled \u201cAltered States\u201d is dominated by two ragged rings of yellow that radiate out from a red center. Sunk in those bands are pieces from a child\u2019s puzzle map of the United States; each state is an island. On the opposite wall in a painting titled \u201cLift,\u201d tiny cartoon figures like the ones in \u201cWE WILL MAKE IT\u201d at the Bijou wait to be discovered. One is of a Charles Atlas and another of Donald Duck, both lifting barbells. They keep viewers on their toes, reminding them to explore the entire canvas. In the painting titled \u201cSlingshot\u201d near the front of the gallery, untold images emerge from apparent chaos. What are those two streamlined shapes, one green, one silver, in the upper center? Are they racing fish? Below them is a blue ocean with hundreds of inhabitants that are tiny dots of color. Nothing seems fixed. One color invades another. The blue ocean gives way to a yellow archipelago. All of the paintings are dated 2020. But Makara may have worked on them on and off for years. \u201cI do a layer and put it (the canvas) away. Then I do another layer and put it away,\u201d he explained in an interview. \u201cSometimes I make the comparison to a Sunday drive, with no GPS \u2026 where I just go and be open to discovery.\u201d He is so intent on spontaneity that he may deliberately handicap himself. \u201cSlingshot\u201d is an example. At one stage, he covered the canvas with a hinged panel, reaching behind it to paint sideways. \u201cSo when I removed it, it was a big surprise,\u201d he said. \u201cThen I\u2019d work more into it after that.\u201d Makara grew up in Stratford and when he first came back to the area after RISD, he supported himself as a billboard sign painter. He now lives in Redding, on a secluded hilltop. His studio is a two story, solid walled geodesic dome attached to his house. Such a property is a reward for his years of lucrative work as a very unusual kind of superhero comic book artist. As a youth, Makara collected comics, acquiring many on Boy Scout paper drives. But as an adult artist, he found himself drawn to making covers for comic books only he imagined. \u201cThey were not copies of comic books,\u201d he said. \u201cThey were based on characters from old comics, but I would come up with my own scene. It would look like a comic that never existed, even though it might have Captain America (or some other superhero) in it.\u201d At first he produced the fake covers as paintings, then he began making them three dimensional. A collector who sold comic book art valued them even more once he learned they were invented. Worried about copyright, Makara sent images to Marvel Comics then in New York. He was told to desist, but Marvel bought 10 and offered him a job as an art director. Eventually through a friend, he was introduced to Ivan Karp, the art dealer who had championed Andy Warhol among other Pop artists, who recommended his work to his nephew Bruce Lewin. Soon Makara\u2019s fake comics were selling for thousands of dollars. \u201cI couldn\u2019t do them fast enough. I thought how many times do I want to do Spiderman or Batman? They\u2019re not my characters,\u201d he said. Makara\u2019s breakthrough in his high dive into abstraction came one day when he got so frustrated with a canvas he had laid on the floor that he began kicking it. \u201cI don\u2019t know if revelation is the right word, but it struck me that the process of creation and the process of destruction are interlinked,\u201d he said. He had experienced what he soon realized Eastern religions taught. Consciously put there or not, many of his paintings in New Canaan have swirling core elements. Things could be flying apart or coming together. Also in the exhibit is an example of a kicked canvas, titled \u201cPlucked.\u201d It is free standing, like a starched sculpture. Makara said he wasn\u2019t thinking about an exhibit until he was approached by Jacob Herman, the co-founder with his wife Jean of the new gallery. \u201cI couldn\u2019t talk him out of it,\u201d he said, warning Herman, \u201cThis is Connecticut. I don\u2019t know if they\u2019ll get it.\u201d Herman\u2019s path to gallery owner is as surprising as Makara\u2019s as an abstract artist. While earning a degree in design at the University of Bridgeport, Herman also earned a black belt in Taekwondo, the Korean martial art. That passion led him to Korea, where he got a graduate degree in sports management and met his wife. He now lives in Stamford and makes a living as a human resources consultant. But along the way he began collecting art, acquiring so much he began selling it. A visit to Roger Mudre at the Silvermine Arts Center led him to Makara. \u201cI reached out to him. I saw all the art he had done in his history,\u201d Herman said. \u201cHe had a whole body of work ready to go. We\u2019re in this together.\u201d For more information about the exhibit, visit jeanjacobsgallery.com. Joel Lang is a freelance writer.