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Jeremy Joel and Jay Wilkinson’s “Bobby on Drums” (2015) led to the show that led to the art space on Race Street. Courtesy of the artists

Last Friday, messages began circulating that Jeremy Alan Joel had died. The details surrounding the 37-year-old artist’s cause of death have not been made public. Many in the community are still trying to comprehend the enormity of this painful reality. For me, those attempts have involved revisiting past interviews.

“I believe that I’m in the perfect time and place to do what I want to do,” Joel told me last year as he was trying to put one of his most recent projects into words while we sat outside a local bar.

“Austin is stagnant,” he said. “Dallas, there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. This is the perfect place to do it. I feel like Fort Worth is a great place to call home and a place to bring my adventures back to. I feel that I have purpose because of that.”

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That Saturday, Joel was launching a new biannual art show. What set Pass the Peas apart from anything in recent memory was the emphasis on bringing national and international visual artists to show work in Fort Worth.

“Fort Worth has been kinda slow,” he said. “I’ve been doing [house shows and underground events] for six years. That’s fun and everything, but it’s going to become tiresome and boring. Everyone needs to raise the bar. I’m happy for the challenge. Let’s rise up!”

Joel had unbridled optimism for where Fort Worth was heading. The father of three was a self-taught artist who rose from street graffiti to white wall gallery representation within the span of a decade. He was born in 1982 during a historic Christmas Day blizzard in Denver, Colorado. He moved to Fort Worth in 1998. Joel’s first professional endeavor began in 2007 as a member of Fort Worth-based F6 Gallery. The collective’s aim was to create a space where work could be shown without fear of judgment or discrimination. In the years after, Joel began to gain popularity, if not name recognition, as a muralist for several buildings and businesses throughout his home turf on the Near Southside.

Throughout the last decade of his life, Joel, who never married, supported his three children through work as a server at Spiral Diner & Baker, a muralist, and a carpenter and by performing odd jobs. By 2014, he had largely transitioned from murals to canvas and oil-on-wood paintings while retaining his signature street art-inspired style that featured personal cryptic images. In 2014, Joel began organizing a fruitful string of arts events up until his death. On New Year’s Eve of that year, he helped organize Apples, an immersive night of dance, music, and installations that featured 14 visual artists.

Joel met two kindred spirits, painter Jay Wilkinson and carpenter Brandon Pederson. The trio organized Bobby on Drums, the May 2014 show at Shipping & Receiving Bar that featured around a dozen visual artists, live music, and ample booze. Bobby on Drums led to an art gallery of the same name soon after. Located on Race Street, the gallery/event space gave Joel the opportunity to curate his own shows. In 2017, he transformed his home in the Fairmount neighborhood into SAM Gallery, which soon began to have a life outside of its Fairmount walls. SAM Gallery was Joel’s brand, and he used it to launch Pass the Peas in May 2019. Joel had exhausted the possibilities of art shows that relied on a party atmosphere. As he told me during our interview at that bar, Fort Worth needed to step up.

Joel was well positioned to curate a show that featured local, national, and international artists. He had recently signed with Fort Works Art, a newish gallery in Arlington Heights. His first solo show at the gallery, A Beatbox Caviar, sold well and garnered critical acclaim in May 2018. Weekly writer Dee Lara called it a “brilliant, outsider-y riot” that spotlighted Joel’s “casual genius for darkly comedic narratives.”

Other notable recent shows include I’d Rather Be with You, the group show curated by Joel at Mañanaland (November 2018); EYE FOR ART, the gallery series co-curated by Joel and Wilkinson and hosted by BLK EYE VODKA (July 2019); and all this spaghetti, a Fort Worth Community Arts Center show featuring new works by Joel (July 2019).

His last show never came to fruition due to COVID-19-related closures. 80 Proof Doo Wop, which was slated to feature 18 artists, promised to be Spring Gallery Night’s unofficial pre-party. When describing 80 Proof Doo Wop to me, Joel was excited to be serving the art community he loved. Every step, every break he had as an artist, in his mind, was simply a new opportunity to help others. Toward the end of our chat at the bar, and possibly because he had processed much of his life during our interview, he paused to gather one last thought.

“Do you know that I’ve tried to leave Fort Worth so many times?” he said. “I’ve never been able to figure out what I’m doing here. Shows like Pass the Peas, that’s my purpose. I can add to other people’s life. This is how I can contribute.”

Joel is survived by his father Greg Joel (who remarried Margaret Joel), mother Jennine Loux (who remarried Paul Loux), brother Adrian Joel, and three children: Baillie, Izabella, and Lucas.

Donations can be made toward memorial costs for the Joel family at Gofundme.com/f/memorial-for-jeremy-joel.

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