Joe Netherwood grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s, when youngsters played cowboys and Indians and mimicked their heroes: Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. These cowboys’ western films set the stage and instilled in Netherwood a love for the West that still remains.
He first visited the West after enlisting in the Air Force, where he was stationed in Texas. Following his discharge, Netherwood returned to Philadelphia and started his own illustration and graphic-design business. Success was easy, too easy, he says. Life was too normal, and he felt the need to spice things up a bit. So he turned to stand-up comedy.
“I got my training attending comedy shows, then trying out my act on open-mike nights,” he recalls. “Soon I was hired to do comedy gigs. During the day, I was quiet Joe Netherwood, business owner and, at night, I morphed into a stand-up comedian.
“Comedy was the most fun thing I’d ever done. Then, suddenly the comedy business changed. It became all about making money, and that took all the excitement out of it for me. It became just another job.”
A chance visit to an art show at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, triggered the next major change in Netherwood’s life. It was an exhibit of N.C. Wyeth’s early western art. “My head just about exploded when I saw those paintings,” Netherwood says. “I knew that was what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I’d always felt that I’d be a fine artist someday, but the time was never right. I was 43 years old, and with my wife’s (Stephanie) encouragement, I dove into preparing for this major change in my life’s direction.”
Netherwood continued his illustration business, and took advantage of every opportunity to study anatomy and life drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. “I painted and painted and painted,” he says.
Following years of study, he applied and was accepted into the Phippen Museum Show in Prescott, Arizona. He and Stephanie drove four days to do the show. While there, Netherwood realized that moving to Arizona was a career must.The couple’s 1997 move to Arizona gave Netherwood the opportunity to immerse himself in Western life. “The people of Arizona have embraced us; they’ve been so kind and supportive of us, and my work,” he says.
Netherwood credits his comedy experience with teaching him to see life’s joy, fun and excitement. He says he looks at everything differently, and the subjects and stories he paints excite him.
“Once I saw the West’s vistas and light, nothing could keep me from expressing my creativity,” he admits. “The reality of the West far surpassed any screenwriter’s imagination. My passion is to portray the icons of our shared folk-telling heritage. Male or female, black or white, past or present, these are the heroes and survivors of the struggle to make a life in the still largely untamed wilderness that we call the West.”
Joe Netherwood, Western Art Gallery, 6501 E. Greenway #103-451, Scottsdale, AZ 85254; [email protected], www.joenetherwood.com.