While growing up in Illinois, Joel took a few art classes in high school and college, such as figure drawing and photography, though he was mostly self-taught and developed a unique style of drawing and painting inspired by his experiences in life and the people he encountered along the way. He worked various jobs, from roof construction to restaurant work, but it was community-based work that became Joel’s passion and direction in life. He worked closely with schizophrenic patients in a mental health facility and then went on to work with the homeless population in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood as a homeless center and shelter supervisor.
Despite a busy schedule, Joel always found time to paint, often staying up most of the night creating large-scale and extremely detailed works of art that were intense, emotionally powerful, and increasingly socially conscious. Joel eventually turned to painting murals, and spent the summer of 2001 working on the mural “The Storm” in a Taylor Street cafe called Jamoch’s (now called Demitasse Cafe).
During this period Joel spent time in Honduras and later in rural Dominican Republic, where he worked for short periods of time as a volunteer doing construction work and teaching.
The mural, entitled “De Frontera a Frontera,” featured social commentary on the relationship between wealthy tourists, Dominicans, and Haitians on the island, as well as everyday scenes of life in rural and urban areas of the country. The mural, located in San Francisco, made such an impact on the community that it was voted the “Best Public Mural” at the 2003 Precita Eyes mural award ceremony.
In the spring of 2004 Joel worked for an organization in El Salvador as a teacher, and he was also an International Election observer for the presidential elections that year.
In 2005 Joel painted “El Inmigrante” on the corner of 23rd Street and Shotwell (in San Francisco), which was recently featured in the New York Times.
In the fall of 2005 Joel went to Salvador da Bahia, in Brazil, to live with the family of some friends. During these months Joel taught English and art classes for children and learned Brazilian Portuguese. He lived in a community of Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion, and painted four paintings of the deities, known as Orixas, for the community.
Joel continues to live in San Francisco, where he has worked for more than three years in a treatment center for emotionally troubled teenagers who struggle with violence, suicide, drugs, and other issues. http://www.joelsmurals.com/