While taking in the landscape paintings of Joaquin Turner, the observer can be forgiven for thinking the artist was a member of the group of early 20th-century painters who worked in a style now known as “Early California.” But Turner is very much of this time, a very contemporary man, but also very much in touch with the ethos of those Carmel-area artists who worked their canvas magic more than a hundred years before he was born.
Although born at the former Fort Ord, just a stone’s throw from the haunting Central Coast landscapes he would later paint so evocatively, Turner’s childhood was spent mostly in Germany.
“I was exposed to art at a young age,” he says. “My parents took us to museums all over Europe, but even in small towns—unassuming places—you’re bombarded by beautiful art.”
Such experiences can be eye-opening for a young lad with an innate artistic talent. At 13, Turner felt the urge to try his hand at the art of painting. “I begged my parents for art lessons.” Unusually, his first medium of choice was oil paint.
Eventually, his father retired and moved his family back to the Monterey Peninsula. Turner graduated from Pacific Grove High School. As would any young man who was smitten by an avid interest in painting, he visited the Monterey Museum of Art. Then as now, the museum boasts an extensive collection of works by the master painters such as Armin Hansen, Xavier Martinez, Charles Rollo Peters and Mary DeNeale Morgan (among many others) who flocked to the Monterey and Carmel areas so long ago.
“That’s when I discovered Early California Art. The paintings were bold and mysterious, and they reminded me of the European artists I’d seen as a child. That brought two worlds together for me, and I fell in love with it.” Obviously, this discovery made a lasting impression.
While at PG High, Turner produced a few landscapes, but at that time he was more interested in fantasy paintings. He definitely had an eye on art as a career.
“I would tell friends and teachers that I wanted to be a professional artist,” he recalls. “They would say, ‘That’s like wanting to be a rock star. Not going to happen.’ That broke my heart.” Caving to that pressure, he enrolled at the Masters Institute of Technology in San Jose to study graphic design.
“This was the period when computers were just beginning to be widely used in graphic design,” he recalls. “After graduation, I worked for a few dot com companies in San Francisco, mostly doing web site and advertising design.”
This was not what he had in mind as an art career. “It got to the point where I was staring at a computer screen for nine hours a day. I realized that I had to follow my passion.” The time spent in the world of commercial art wasn’t wasted, however. “I learned a lot about composition and color theory through that work.”
In his late 20s, Turner was newly married and living in Alameda. “I was painting on weekends and in my spare time,” he says. Encouraged that his work was selling, the young couple decided that he should start painting full time. “From the beginning, I chose to paint what I am passionate about and tried not to think too much about how my work would be received.”
That level of dedication to his art is the hallmark of a true artist. You can see when an artist has true passion. It ultimately comes through in his work.
At this point, the Turners decided that “we had gotten living the city life out of our systems” and returned to the Monterey Peninsula—the home of many of those Early California artists the painter so admired. “I had built a reputation in Alameda but had to start from square one here.”
To that end, his first move was to enter the Carmel Art Festival competition in 2011. “Being new to town, I wasn’t sure I’d be accepted,” he says. He was accepted—and in fact, won the People’s Choice Award. “That was a really nice ‘welcome home.’ It really helped get me started.”
Today, Turner is a respected member of the Monterey Peninsula art community and the Carmel Art Association, and operates his own Carmel gallery. Of course, the walls feature his own work. But for sale, among his own paintings, are those of the early California artists whose work he fell in love with years ago.
“It’s nice to have my work hanging next to that of my heroes,” he says proudly.
The Joaquin Turner Gallery is one of a handful of artist-owned galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s located in Su Vecino Court on Dolores St. between 5th and 6th. Visit online at joaquinturner.com.