Jeremy Joel looks younger than his 36 years, with intense blue eyes that flicker to green in just the right setting. The Fort Worth artist’s blue jeans are speckled with white paint, as are his worn black tennis shoes. Painting houses is his day job. What he really likes to paint is his life story, on canvas, wood and walls across the city.
“I come from a crack house just down the road,” Joel said. “My dad sold everything to support his habit. … I was scared to death.”
Joel often sat on the porch, watching his dad smoke crack cocaine. “All these quiet observations would come out,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to make sense of now.”
His paintings — several of which are featured in a new exhibit, “Pass the Peas,” opening May 11 at Shipping & Receiving Bar in Fort Worth — tell a story of drug abuse, violence and crime. Growing up, Joel struggled with addiction himself and was shuffled between residential treatment centers and group homes. It was a lot of loss, he says, “like living out of a bag going everywhere.”
Inside his bag: CDs, writings, drawings, a black sketchbook, markers, headphones, a toothbrush, a change of clothes and weed. The drugs he tried to escape as a child followed him into adulthood.
Now, the soft-spoken high-school dropout and father of three has been clean for two years. That journey started after he got high on mushrooms one day and drove to a scenic area outside of town. “I was soaking in reality … and started crying.” His kids’ mom told him that this was going to be his year. His dad told him he needed to go to rehab. Both were right.
Last year, Joel had his first solo art show at Fort Works Art in Fort Worth. He sold a painting at the show for $7,000. Around the same time, The TAX Collection, a New York City gallery focused on emerging artists, acquired Joel’s painting “Apartment A,” which shows three men in a room below the words “crack” and “cocaine.” A guy in a baseball hat is sitting in a chair with a fishing pole while a snake on the right slithers toward him. Two other men stand in front of a couch, maybe doing drugs. It’s a simple scene with a lot going on under the surface.