Joe Kaknes was a Granada character from day one. The hat, the two dogs, the three-wheeled bicycle custom-built to get all of them around along with all his painting supplies. While he only lived in Granada for a few months in 2013, he made his mark on those who were lucky enough to get to know him. And then there were his paintings.
Who’d have guessed a former fisherman and city councillor from Gloucester, Massachusetts, would be so adept at capturing the beauty of this colonial town? He fell in love with the city about a year before making the move, and once here the always-enthusiastic artist was truly inspired; he quickly built an impressive stock of Granada paintings. He’d happily tell you how great life was here; you could see it in his eyes and it showed in his work.
He opened up a gallery on Calle la Arsenal next to Bistro Estrada. He went to baseball games. He came by the bookstore several times a week to talk about books, politics, baseball, the craziness in the country we’d both left behind and in the country we’d both adopted. Joe believed in things like fairness, decency, integrity and justice, and he wasn’t afraid to share his opinion. He wasn’t afraid to listen, either.
Years ago he wrote a one-man play called “Van Gogh,” during which the character gives his final painting lesson while recounting his life, creating start to finish a Van Gogh-style painting in the process. Two years ago he performed it in front of a pleased crowd at Casa de los Tres Mundos. The Van Gogh influence was no secret and he would speak often of a trip to Van Gogh’s grave in Paris where he heard the words “Fear nothing. Just paint.” He took those words seriously.
Not long after he arrived in Granada in 2013, he was talking baseball and expressed confidence to this doubter that his Boston Red Sox looked like the real deal. By the time they again won the World Series, Joe had returned to Islita, Guanacaste, where he’d lived for several years. Even in his absence his paintings continued to sell and he decided to get back to the business he’d worked so long to build. It was difficult to argue with his decision.
During his time in Nicaragua, David Jaén had become Joe’s most trusted friend. David called him last Tuesday. Joe told him he had been diagnosed with cancer, given just a few weeks, maybe a few months, to live. He was on oxygen at the time. The next day he suffered respiratory failure and died.
Before Joe fled the cold of the north in 2006, he held a fundraiser for the Perfect Storm Foundation, which he had formed with Sebastian Junger, who had done several interviews for his book, The Perfect Storm, on Joe’s boat. As part of the fundraiser he performed “Van Gogh” for three nights.
“When I die, the first guy I’m going to meet at the Pearly Gates is Vincent,” Joe told the Gloucester Times, “and I hope he says, ‘Thanks for setting the record straight.’”
If there are any pearly gates wherever he’s at, you can be sure he’s checking them out from beneath a straw hat, getting them onto the canvas with dabs of paint, chatting with Vincent with that wonderful Mass. accent, no doubt even managing to squeeze a smile out of the notoriously-sad Dutchman.
Check out Joe Kaknes as Van Gogh here
Tour his Galeria Casa Estrellas here.