Joe A. Oakes was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1964. Having grown up in the city’s surrounding suburbs, his love of mountains and other natural scenes grew mostly from his own imagination. Throughout his life, Joe has always been fascinated by the natural world and how to represent it through drawing and painting. This interest was cultivated throughout his school years and further developed when he received his bachelors degree in fine art.
After completing his degree, Joe went right to work as a graphic designer, taking a break from his personal artistic endeavors. Soon he began painting again, creating small pieces in pastel before moving on to acrylic on canvas. But always working on his favorite subject, the landscape.
He prefers studio painting as it allows for him to focus on pieces that are vibrant and colorful but also calming, allowing the viewer to place themselves within the scene. Joe is also an art instructor, teaching painting classes and workshops in a variety media. He enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for art with others and helps students to be successful in their own artistic endeavors.
His work has been displayed in both group and solo exhibitions regionally and nationally. He has also received numerous awards for his work. Joe lives and works in the Inland Empire of Southern California. There he is surrounded by the beautiful mountains and natural beauty he loves to paint.
What initially drew you towards becoming an artist?
I was a very observant child and found many things interesting. I think that art became an outlet for what I saw and heard or watched - a way to record it.
How would you describe your own personal style?
I consider my work a meeting of impressionism and graphic styles. At an early age I came to appreciate very traditional art and so I try to put my own spin on that. I push the color choices and seesaw between soft, subtle transitions and simple strokes of color.
What pushed you in that direction and how can you see your work evolving in the future?
My upbringing forced me into this notion that everything had to be perfect. When I started to paint again, I knew that I didn’t want to take that approach. I try to stay loose while still adhering to the elements of art and I see that my work may evolve into something more graphic but I’m not quite there yet.
What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?
I find painting, like other solitary endeavors, very rewarding. It’s me against myself - trying to get better, trying not to forget what I did right last time or the time before that. I think it’s very similar to a lot of professions; figure skater, runner, fighter, golfer, etc.
Are there particular individuals who have encouraged / inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, maybe even other artists?
Growing up, the most encouraging individuals were my peers. Other kids would ask me to draw things for them and they would just love it. Art teachers a very close second. But in my adult life those that have encouraged/inspired me the most are all of the students that have taken classes our workshops with me. Not only have they made me a better artists but have taught me so much about life and about people.
When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?
I am a very straight forward, no fuss kind of painter. A canvas, acrylic paint (easy clean up, fast drying) and some natural bristle brushes. No special mediums or equipment, just a man and some simple tools.
When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?
I have always loved mountains and I grew up in an area where there were no mountains. There were, however, plenty of trees and that is my second love. I feel a connection to the landscape so that is what I paint. I can paint other things but until I feel I can’t go any further with my landscapes, then I’ll just keep at it.
Could you describe the process behind your art?
If I see something that interests me, I immediately start processing it into a composition and breaking it down into shapes and forms. If I can I’ll take a picture or a sketch. Either way it stays in my mind until I can at least get a sketch down. I have a constant queue of scenes in my head just waiting for their turn.
Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is it more a case of when the moment is right you work?
I do a have a little bit of a routine but again I try to stay flexible. For the most part, I try to paint for a few hours in the morning and then maybe a little more in the evening. But there are times I will just pick up a brush and make a change to a painting that takes just a few minutes and I am satisfied. I think this is accomplished by being confident in your work and your approach to it. And it helps to have a studio in your home that is easily accessible.
When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time?
I usually have between 3 and 5 pieces going at one time. Last year, because of the pandemic, I created over 40 paintings. I’m making an effort to slow down, just a little, this year.
How has your art evolved to be where it is today?
My art has evolved by first improving my technical skill. After that it’s been a lot of painting and trying new things. When I think I started to develop a style, I try something different. But if the work doesn’t look any different, that tells me I’m on the right path.
Which of your artworks are you most proud?
I’m always most proud of the piece I just finished.
Is there a fellow artist alive today that you admire? If so, why?I don’t have one in particular but I have a lot of artist friends and acquaintances with beautiful work that I admire. I do my best to encourage and appreciate the work of all artists.
If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?
There are two periods of time: the renaissance and the 19th century (impressionism). Maybe that is because these two eras seem to be the most romanticized.
What challenges do you feel the 21st century artist has to overcome?
Marketing, marketing, marketing! There are so many artists out there with beautiful work, it is a challenge to be seen.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?
My advice is, the work comes first. You have to decide what you’re passionate about painting and then work really hard at improving your technical skills and developing a style.
Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is there another style of art that you are immediately drawn towards and admire? Why?
I really enjoy something that’s a little out of the ordinary. A painting that uses a material in a unique way or a new material in combination with other media, while still being considered traditional art.
We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci labored away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?
I don’t believe in the idea of working toward perfection. Usually when it’s done it’s done. Occasionally I will go back to something and make some changes. But if the changes I make aren’t improving the piece or making my message clearer, then it’s best to leave it as is.
Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expressing your creative nature?
I believe all artists are storytellers and as such their work will naturally shine a light on a subject or theme, whether by coincidence or planning. I love expressing myself through art and hope that my choice of subjects inspires others to appreciate the world around us.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I’m trying to make my work more recognizable to a larger audience. People know me for my use of color but I also want them to recognize my work by how I approach trees or mountains, etc. In other words - what can a person expect when they see a typical painting by me.
Have you ever been part of an artistic group / movement? How did your work benefit from that experience?
I have been a part of many art groups over the years, most well organized with great members. The second group I joined was the Corona Art association in 2008. It was such an awesome group of kind, supportive and encouraging individuals. I really do credit them with moving me in the right direction with my work, from the heart.