Joetta Keene enjoys painting animals of all kinds. But only if she learns their story first.
“I need to know who they are so I can try to capture their essence,” she said.
That’s how the painting began. A friend sent a picture of a dog that she wanted Keene to paint, but Keene said she found no joy in looking at the picture or even in painting the dog.
“Once I found out the dog’s story,” she says, “everything changed. It was like we connected.”
Keene spent 30 years as a lawyer working in criminal law, specializing in capital murder cases. She recently ended that career and moved to St. Petersburg – and began a new life in art, painting a variety of animals in acrylics.
“What I find so different is that for the past 30 years I have told the human story. I have dug deep and learned what makes a person commit horrible, unimaginable crimes,” she says. “It’s always the opposite of love. It’s time for me to focus on love and tell the animal/human story because it’s a more beautiful story and brings me so much joy.”
Keene plans to put all the stories and art together in one book. That’s how she learned the story of Gabber editor Shelly Wilson’s dog, Mango, after she recently survived a fall from a bank on the Suwannee River.
“I read about Mango’s story of survival and how could I not reach out to her parents to see if I could paint her? She was one tough girl. I am very grateful they said yes. We all need to hear those stories of love and survival right now.”
When the pandemic started and folks began staying at home, Keene said people started sending her stories of their pets, asking her to paint them. She has over 40 so far.
“Each animal – whether a dog, cat, rabbit, turtle, llama, camel, horse or donkey – has a unique story. Their stories can be funny or tearjerkers. But one thing is universal – when I tell the stories of these animals they are always stories of love. How can that not be a great story?”
Another of her stories centers on Sugar Ray, an abused dog with terminal illness, adopted from a Fort Worth animal shelter by a UPS driver who now showers the dog with love and biscuits.
“No matter what humans did to this sweet boy, he still chooses love,” said Keene. “Let’s all channel Sugar Ray in these scary times and be open to the love that exists amongst us.”