When a pastor at Rolling Hills Church recently urged the congregation to make good use of any “gifts from God” to help others rather than themselves, his words touched the heart of Cameron Park artist Joe Banuat.
The former art teacher decided it was time to “paint it forward.”
Banuat, a semi-retired real estate broker, decided to rekindle his smoldering passion for art and create works that have drawn the praise of friends and family as well as strangers who have opened their wallets to purchase the pieces.
Instead of lining his own pocket with the windfall, Banuat, 69, has decided any profits will go to the El Dorado County Food Bank to help those in need.
“My church, which is in El Dorado Hills, was already helping out the food bank and after hearing the assistant pastor talk about using our gifts to help others, I thought it would be a great way to share what I’ve been given,” said Banuat, showing an acrylic painting of a frog clutching tightly to a reed. The bright greens and muted browns of the amphibian seemed to be but a moment from jumping off the canvas, so realistic is the artist’s technique.
“I would describe my style as realism, expressionistic at times and impressionistic,” said Banuat. “I enjoy making my paintings more fun than ‘real life.’”
To illustrate, Banuat called up a photograph on his computer, a photo he had taken at a winery in Jackson in neighboring Amador County. The soft pink tulips standing sentinel by a wine barrel are lovely but unremarkable.
“Now take a look at the same flowers,” said Banuat, drawing attention to a large acrylic on the wall inside his spacious home inside the Cameron Woods subdivision. The pink tulips now have texture, subtle shades added by the artist that draw out character and depth that render the blooms especially captivating.
It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature but perhaps she doesn’t mind such an enhancing tribute to her own handiwork.
Joe and his wife of 30 years, Pat, enjoy taking off for the day and cruising the gorgeous Mother Lode, where Joe snaps photos that serve to inspire his acrylics and occasional oil paintings.
He has a particular affinity for animals and flowers and the resulting canvases appeal to those who expect a picture to actually look like … animals and flowers.
Judie Stewart, owner of Flowers on Main in Placerville, enjoys a nice flower as much as anyone, of course, and she also praises Banuat’s depictions of creatures great and small, with several of Banuat’s safari series on display in her shop.
“He’s not only a great artist, he’s a great guy,” said Stewart, pointing out Banuat’s latest philanthropic effort at raising money for the food bank. “Did you know that he and his wife also volunteer at the Upper Room on Broadway?”
Joe and Pat, along with others from the Rolling Hills congregation, volunteer at the facility in Placerville that cooks and serves hot, nutritious meals to the homeless and others in need.
“We go up there every third Saturday with our church’s outreach group,” said Joe. “We help to take care of between 45 and 65 people for dinners, and along with lunches, too, it’s probably more than 100 of those in need. We’ve been doing that for about three years now.”
Joe Banuat was an art major in college, receiving his BA, and taught high school art in the Bay Area for a decade.
Proposition 13 in 1978, which cut property taxes statewide and resulted in cutbacks to a wide array of publicly funded programs, put an end to that career.
“When they cut the art program at the high school and had me teaching biology and PE, I decided ‘this isn’t for me anymore,’” he recalled.
Undaunted, Joe worked for Coldwell Banker in Benicia for 35 years and the Banuats prospered. Three children and five grandkids later, the couple decided 11 years ago to make the move to Cameron Park in order to be closer to their loved ones who had moved to the foothills of El Dorado County.
“I missed teaching for many years,” Joe reflected, “and I may do it again.”
As a volunteer, naturally.
Joe said he is thinking about approaching Rolling Hills Church to learn whether there is interest in having him teach art to children there.
As Joe pointed to a striking rendering of a gorgeous plumeria, a tropical flower, that hangs above the fireplace in the Banuat home, he explained that he was born in Hawaii and attributes his years there to his blossoming admiration for flowers.
He also spent time in the South Seas, including Bora Bora, and loves exploring the planet, finding myriad subjects for his paintbrushes.
The artist’s works will be featured at the Dos Gatos Art Gallery, 828 1st St. in Benicia from mid-April to July, and any sales there will be going to charity, Joe said.
“I really only need enough to cover the ‘hard costs,’ such as paints and frames,” he said. “I just want to get enough selling them so that it perpetuates itself, so I can do it again.”
Stewart said her shop at 318 Main St. in Placerville has several of Banuat’s works for sale and Joe said he was gratified that one purchased there recently went for $500.
Stewart said customers often remark about the paintings, which command not just glances but careful study of the subjects and techniques employed by the artist.
“My favorites are the safari animals — the tiger, lion and giraffe,” said Stewart. “The customers love them, too, and they mention the great depth Joe is able to show, along with the originality and variety.
“Also, they’re very reasonably priced,” she said.
Those interested in adding colorful flowers and interesting animals to their art collection, along with painting a brighter future for those in need, may visit Flowers on Main, 530-622-1121, or contact Banuat at [email protected]