My love for Joel Nakamura's work started before I ever began collecting art or curating. In college, many many moons ago, I came across his work in a random magazine and instantly was enthralled. So many details, such interesting characters and exquisite colors! I cut the image out of the magazine and pasted it inside a book I was putting together for an Art Education Class book titled "What is Art?". I was questioning if illustration was to be considered "Art" and of course, I knew it to be true, but you had to make the book full of opposing images and leave the answers up the viewer. Joel's work was a large painting on the side of a semi-truck advertising Corona Beer, it was a complex image with many hidden characters and objects. The first time a beer company actually caught my attention with a campaign. Yes, advertising can contain "art".
The next time I thought of Joel was about 6 years later while taking an Illustration Art class. We had to write about our favorite illustrators. Something I hadn't thought too much about, but I had already started collecting children's books so it wasn't a hard topic to write about. Narrowing down to 4 artists only, I thought of the impact Joel's work had on me so many years before and chose him as one the illustrators to focus on. I found his website, copied his bio photo where he was wearing an odd hat with "horns", and then learned more about his background and techniques. He is influenced by Mexican art and paints and hammers on metal, creating time-consuming and thought provoking images often around mythical stories. It was great to learn about a technique not commonly used in current art. I admired his work even more than before. The class assignment was actually useful!
Around the same time of the paper, I started an apprenticeship with an established designer who collected art and worked with many of his artists friends. The first day on the job (his home), there across the living room I spied something very familiar. It's was an original Joel Nakamura. Wow. Strange coincidence, small world. And the designer was personal friends with Joel. Soon after I found myself on the phone talking with Joel and he was giving me advice on being an illustrator (I was under some strange illusion I could be one). I was thrilled to be getting advice from such a talented man, and he had an amazing peacefulness about it that made me immediately feel comfortable and like an old friend. Later that same year, Joel came out with a children's book and was signing them in Pasadena (Joel lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico). I of course made sure to be there and he signed and doodled inside my copy, I was thrilled and it was nice to finally meet him in-person.
Years later, I was curating my first big art show and I knew I had to include Joel. He agreed with much gumption and completed three beautiful pieces that all sold almost immediately. The next year I ran into him at San Diego Comic Con, he was watching the booth of the designer I use to work with. I invited him to be in another show I was curating, this time we had a long talk over the phone discussing the true nature of people, it was a good conversation and I left feeling like I had a true friend in Joel Nakamura. He's the real deal, down to earth and modest with an explosion of creativity emenating from his fingertips. Keep up the great work, Joel.