Featured Artist

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WF27 Featured Artist

Art for charity’s sake

Joey Africa has followed many paths. He won a scholarship to study theology in Rome
and nearly became a priest. But then he fell in love. Next, he was accepted by the
Sorbonne in Paris to study literature. But then he pivoted again, studying business
instead at Northwestern University in Chicago. For a nanosecond, he considered
standup comedy. He even earned a degree in gastronomy. But Africa didn’t discover his
true calling until he found fine art.

“I didn’t plan on being an artist,” says Africa — yet the signs were there all along. As a
kid in the Philippines, he’d often create 3D models. As a theology student, he’d frequent
famous churches in Rome, making paintings inspired by the stained-glass windows. And
after business school, he turned to the culinary arts. But with fine art, “I set out on a
different path, feeding the soul instead of feeding the body.”

Today, Africa — an effervescent yet humble, self-taught mixed-media artist — exhibits
mostly in his adopted hometown of Chicago. His oversized creations jump from colorful
to black-and-white and fall into four categories: stained glass/mosaic, pointillism,
dripping/motion lines, and abstract/action. While some canvases depict the traditional
subject matter of DaVinci or Degas, others lean into popular culture, portraying Bob
Marley, Audrey Hepburn, Cookie Monster, or Muhammad Ali.

Africa creates many commissions, most in the four- or five-digit price range, but perhaps
his greatest joy, he says, is donating his paintings to charity. “These two hands are
connected to a heart to help people,” he says in a video on his website. “If you do a
painting, your whole heart should be in there and it should be shared.”

Last year, for example, Brian Ingram — a friend, “inspiration,” says Africa, and
Minneapolis restaurateur (best known for his Hope Breakfast Bars) — invited him to
attend the Fine Wine Dinner, but Africa didn’t want to show up empty-handed. Instead,
he brought along one of his paintings of Prince, which netted $17,000 during the
auction. Not surprisingly, Africa was quickly invited to be the WineFest No. 27 artist. Determined
to outdo his painting’s financial total from last year, Africa is donating a whopping five
canvases to WineFest: a wine-themed painting, another Prince portrait, a
sports-related canvas, a painting of teddy bears and a floral canvas — in honor of his
mom. Africa means it when he says he loves giving back. Right after the devastating fire in
Hawaii last year, he and Ingram flew to Maui, rented trucks, bought food and cooked for
3,200 people over 10 days. Says Africa, “That’s the stuff that makes me do what I do.”

For more information, please contact
Brittany Minke.

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