Joseph Areno 1950-2006

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

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