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As an extremely gifted art student in his early teens, Joe Everson found himself at an impasse with his teacher. After she instructed the class to paint something highly-technical and refined, Joe painted abstract colors out of his own imagination. “Why do I need to do that? Art can be anything”, said the rebellious young student. The teacher, not wanting to stifle creativity, but needing to share some much-needed wisdom with the boy, simply quoted the great Pablo Picasso, “The best artists learn the rules before they break them”.
Joe embraced that wisdom throughout his early career, never actually knowing they were the words of one of the most famous artists of all time. It only mattered that it came from a respected teacher, and the woman who went on to give him the building blocks needed to expand his art. As Joe learned basic composition and structure, that same teacher pushed him harder and harder, telling the boy’s parents that he had “something special.” Even in elementary school, Joe “weirded out” his classmates with a complex drawing of a turkey. While others made simple line drawings, Joe was already honestly interpreting what he was drawing and already thinking in 3-D. No one believed the turkey wasn’t traced. Ultimately, the attention drove the art, the art led to competition, and competition led to something that Joe began to find natural – winning.
As Joe developed his skill, he became fixated on hyper-realism. After all, it was the perfect way to show impressive talent, and it led to countless awards. He was gripped by competition. Not for the love of art, but for the love of winning. Pride comes before the fall, and before long, it was his turn. After completing what he felt to be his high school art triumph, a crystal decanter pouring brandy into a snifter, Joe was excited to enter his prized-artwork into the state competition. As a student from a Christian school, Joe was asked to title the drawing something unrelated to alcohol. But he allowed his pride to get the better of him. “I didn’t want it to be titled. I didn’t feel the need to explain it. I wanted the art to stand alone” says Joe looking back. He withdrew his own piece, didn’t exhibit in the state competition, and lost his passion for creating art.
“Joe the artist” almost didn’t happen. Losing passion for something that keeps you focused and out of trouble, didn’t bode well for the teenager. Joe’s dad got a new job, moved him from his cushy private school where he was somebody, and put him in a tiny school in Wisconsin. Without art, the youngster began to get into trouble. At his lowest point, Joe was suspended from school and had a little run-in with the law. Through that difficulty, he found forgiveness and learned who he was really meant to be. Joe knew that if he could be the right person, everything else would fall into place.
Joe followed his heart to Northland International University in Dunbar, Wisconsin where he met his wife, Bethany. He noticed her eyes right away. “The eyes give so much insight into who a person is” says Joe. “You have a whole life wrapped up in a face. That’s why I do my ‘Faces of the Past’ series. With a few lines I can say so much. That’s where art comes to life for me.”
Early in his marriage to Bethany, Joe worked 60 hours a week driving a fuel truck, working construction jobs and singing in a quartet on the weekends. Even so, it was a struggle to stay afloat. With a small family, no money and living for a while in a trailer, or as he puts it, “a cardboard box on wheels”, discouragement was looming. Joe’s difficult decision to relocate his family from Michigan to Greenville had a rocky start until the brush saved him yet again, in the form of his first commission. A family friend going through a dark time, asked for a painting of a sailboat out at sea. For three months, Joe spent late nights in a 6x10 laundry room, working on the artwork. Despite his hand-cramping due to the complexity of the technique, he was determined to finish. Feeling like a failure after the shaky move south, the art gave him a light at the end of the tunnel. Though he wanted to paint the seas calm, reflecting his hope for a better future, the patron asked for stormy and troubled. She wanted the art to represent what she was experiencing in her own life. Being able to relate to her hardship, Joe completed the painting that she had pictured in her mind’s eye. Upon seeing her tears, it was clear to Joe what he wanted to do. In his words, “I needed to live by the brush.”
Now a professional artist, painting out of his studio in Taylors Mill, Joe’s oeuvre is celebrated as much for its range and versatility as for its virtuosity. From his days of “learning the rules” and painting hyper-realism, Joe has seen an evolution in his style. He still balances a mix of realism in his modern, abstract approach, yet he has learned to be expressive through the power of color and line, breaking down the simplest form. “I still value that an artist can see something and translate that onto a page” says Joe. “Art is constantly moving and changing how I see the world. My early struggles taught me to be who I was supposed to be. Even if I was meant to be a janitor, I’d find a way to love what I was doing, and be the best janitor that I could be. Fortunately, I became an artist, and it’s pretty hard to beat that.”