In the deep woods of Chatham County, Joey Howell has found synchronicity between his two art forms. He plays music to create “visual imagery that transports the listener” and he paints visual images that “convey the rhythm, harmony and emotion of music.” There is a bold yen and yang flow between them – rather like the Rocky River that runs just beyond his studio.
“I’ve been a musician almost all my life,” said Joey. “I started drawing about 15 years ago as a way to jump start my musical creativity. I was surprised by how much fun it is and that I have a knack for it. From there I started painting. Being a musician/artist is what makes me feel like myself, that I’m doing the right thing with my life.”
His paintings: Joey’s paintings are brightly colored, loose and flowing. His favorite subjects include objects in the cosmos and animals. He is a member of the Chatham Artists Guild and of the 53 studios participating in this year’s 23rd Annual Studio Tour, his is the farthest outpost. (Thus Studio #43 is a good place to start, then work your way in). His studio will be open December 5 and 6. The tour will also be held December 12 and 13. A tour artist opening reeption will be held Friday, Dec. 4 from 7-9 pm at Chatham Mills in Pittsboro, NC.
His music: Joey’s music is mostly “jazzy-funk-world-dance music” that he performs with ZamBamBooGee which released a CD this summer (available at shows and at the Joyful Jewell in Pittsboro). It also includes Susanne Saunders (lead and harmony vocals, keyboards, percussion); Bruce Saunders (bass, guitar); Travis Cohn (drum set); Scotty Young (percussion, harmonica, guitar); and Geo deSocio (sound engineer). Joey provides guitar and sings. You can catch them at the Pittsboro Roadhouse on Saturday, March 5 at 8 pm. To book ZamBamBooGee, e-mail Scotty at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (919) 414-3338.
From the Artist:
Full Name: Joey Howell
Where did you grow up? What brought you to Chatham County?
I grew up in Greenville, N.C. My wife, writer and herbalist Lisa Neal, and I lived in Durham for nine years after college and we wanted to move to the country. A friend showed us around Chatham and introduced us to some people. Less than a year later we were here. But we’ve only been around 28 years – not long by Chatham standards. This is definitely the best place to live.
What are you currently working on?
I have spent the last year mostly playing music. ZamBam released a new CD in July, so I put a lot of work into that. My latest paintings have been purely abstract. One idea I’ve been exploring is creating a made-up alphabet, so I can “write” on my paintings, but we don’t know what it means. Everyone can make up his or her own narrative.
My life in a nutshell: Get up not too early (we’re night owls), feed the pets, enjoy morning time with my wife Lisa. Then we walk the dogs. I get a little exercise, play some guitar or otherwise work on music. Splash some paint or do art-related tasks. There are always a few chores to do. At some point we fix some food and eat. Play with the dogs and cat. Teach guitar lessons. Maybe rehearse with the band or play a gig. The rest of my time I just piddle.
Strong memory from my childhood: Playing music with my brother David and with aunts, uncles and cousins. My parents liked to take us to Atlantic Beach and I have powerful recollections of the dunes near the Triple-S pier, back when there were hardly any houses. It seemed like they went on forever.
Jobs I’ve had: For a while I was a computer programmer, but that was a long time ago. For five years I was the IT Coordinator for Family Violence & Rape Crisis Services in Chatham County. I currently teach guitar at a local school.
I am inspired by: all great music and art, of course. I especially love Brazilian jazz, and the first painter who knocked me out was Stanton MacDonald-Wright. The ocean and the vastness of the universe are also right up there.
When I’m not making art you’ll find me: Hanging out with Lisa, cuddling with the dogs, playing guitar.
Most people don’t know: I love foreign languages. For the last several years I’ve been studying Portuguese pretty hard so I can understand the lyrics to Brazilian songs. (The author bodaciously adds that Joey graduated magna cum laude from Duke University in 1979.)
Three things I wouldn’t want to live without: my family and pets. I try not to be that attached to things, but lessee… If I had to cut it down to just one guitar, I have this Ibanez seven-string archtop that I’m really enjoying right now (low-A string for all you guitar geeks). If I only had one color, it would probably be dioxazine purple. It’s just so rich.
My favorite places to eat/hang out in Chatham County: I mostly hang out at home. Any venue where my band ZamBamBooGee is playing is a great place to be.
Chatham County artists who inspire me: There are so many Chatham artists who are great that it’s hard to narrow that down. I love Julia Kennedy’s painting and Sally Sutton blows my mind. I’m a color junkie so it’s not surprising that I like Julia and Sally a lot.
As an artist I feel a need to say: the same thing I need to say as a human being: Everybody love one another and while we’re at it let’s love the Earth too.
Ten years from now you’ll find me: I try to never predict the future but what I’m doing right now is pretty fun.