Yes, my generation is getting to the stage when we’re beginning to see the herd thin out. In recent years, we lost such unique individuals as Tony Alvis, Tom Kell, and now Joe Areno. One thing they all had in common was that they rode hard and traveled light.
I first met Joe in 1975. His girlfriend at the time was our son’s first babysitter. I didn’t know much about Joe, other than that he was polite, thoughtful, and clearly had foreign influences. Joe was born in Montreal to a French mother and Italian father. In 1963, they immigrated to the United States. Three years later, when Joe was 16, he began to paint. That was the extent of what I knew about him until the day he delivered an order to my restaurant (Chanticleer) for Areno Produce. That delivery marked the beginning of a friendship based on the love of food, wine, and art that lasted for over 30 years.
In 1978, I observed Joe painting for the first time. He was painting a pair of egrets on a vacant lot on Channel Drive just west of the Biltmore. I was so moved to find my produce guy painting egrets in an almost surreal atmosphere. It appeared as if they were posing for him, as if he made a deal with them to join him in his outdoor studio. Their curiosity about him prevented flight and his calm kept them captive long enough for him to commit their likeness to canvas. I got my first hint then how Joe tiptoed into the landscape to borrow inspiration.
Years later, I saw his talent take off, and I was blown away by his artistic style and the diversity of his inspiration. His travels took him to Lebanon, London, Cuba, Baja, his beloved Montreal, and ultimately to his sanctuary in Arizona. He made painting pilgrimages to London with Garry Breitweiser and to Cuba with Tomas Sanchez and Craig Bigelow. Each time he returned, you could see through his work how he had captured the faces of the people and pace of the places that inspired him. He wasn’t an artist who forced himself on a canvas. He simply allowed that brief moment he shared with his subject to enter a world together. Whether it was a tap dancer on Portobello Road, a stranger waiting for a train at Victoria Station, street life on Jose Marti Square in Trinidad de Cuba, or a young couple walking down St. Catherine’s Street in Montreal, Joe found a subtle and unobtrusive way of capturing those moments.
Years ago, Joe participated in a fundraiser for the Historical Museum. He and other artists were requested to provide a piece of art involving the Mission Santa Ynez. In typical Joe Areno fashion, he created a painting of the red barn and zucchini fields you see while standing on the precipice outside the Mission. He just simply viewed a subject from a different and unanticipated perspective.
I am grateful to have pieces of his life on my walls, particularly a painting he did while staying at our ranch in Santa Ynez. Even though we lost Joe, his art will endure forever. I will miss him immensely.
“Not fully certain as to why I left for London so suddenly, especially after having just unpacked from a painting trip to Chile. I say “Painting” trip because it is ‘who’ I am, a Painter, whether on a trip to a neighboring town, state, other end of the world or just the local market, ‘ who’ I am prevails in the functions of my being alive as a man and human being, a Painter.”
— Joe Areno, 1996