Waking up in a hospital after a 3-day coma from a drug overdose was the low-point in artist Joyful Enriquez’s life. But she strongly believes that a divine intervention saved her life and brought her to the many high points she’s experienced since then, among them getting clean, graduating from art school, and becoming a full-time and well-respected marine wildlife artist.
Joyful Enriquez is the current Artist-in-Residence at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she lives aboard the sailboat Noel and spends her days painting marine life works of art in a studio at the Burrows House within the Seaport Village. She was named the second Artist-in-Resident of 2021, following Patrick O’Brien earlier this summer. The Center for Marine Art sponsors this program, which seeks to engage a younger generation. As a charismatic and open young artist, Enriquez was recommended for the program, where she encourages creativity among youth daily, showing them that art is a feasible career path.
“I’m able to actually show them that classic marine artwork is not dead and that yes, people can still make a living from painting,” Enriquez said.
Whether it’s giving them a painting kit or providing them with plenty of honest and thoughtful insight on the profession, her ability to connect with people is evident from the moment you meet her.
Enriquez’s fascination with the water and its inhabitants began at a young age, when she went bass fishing with her grandfather. She remembers a feeling of peacefulness as she watched them swimming beneath the lily pads and wondered what it must be like to see the world from their perspective. Growing up in Michigan, she wasn’t around the water much, but that didn’t stop her passion for it. She recalls having frequent dreams as a child swimming amongst the whales and breathing underwater. When a neighborhood friend received a “How to Draw Animals” book for Christmas one year, Enriquez claimed it as her own when her friend deemed it “boring,” and she began practicing her animal sketches daily.
When it came time for college, Enriquez did not initially pursue art, as her family and others steered her toward a “more stable” career. But pent-up resentment got the best of her, and she ultimately dropped out of school. When she was just 22, a friend was awoken in the middle of the night from a dream with a strong calling to go check on Enriquez, whom she found unresponsive. The first responders who saved her life said that if it had been 15 minutes later, she would not have survived. Enriquez adamantly believes that God intervened that day, giving her a second chance at life, and a second chance at pursuing her dreams. This time, Enriquez followed her heart, which brought her to Florida to live by the water and attend art school.
Being in the water was just the healing Enriquez needed.
“For me, it washes away my troubles. It’s one of the few places you’re perfectly present, and not distracted by all the things,” she said.
Enriquez earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees, got Scuba-certified, and took underwater photography lessons, all with the goal of using her artwork to share the energy and excitement of the underwater environment with others.
“As a kid you start out with a natural wonder of the world, you’re not thinking about bills, life is simple and exciting and fun, but then you grow up and go through trauma and hard experiences, and it starts to diminish or taint that natural wonder,” she said. “When I’m in the water I feel like that sense of wonder is reawakened.”
As someone who got a second chance at life, she hopes to help reawaken that wonder for people and give them an escape from everyday life.
For years she worked multiple jobs while hustling to sell her art and make it her full-time gig. She says of her success, there was no “big break” but rather a gradual growing of her collector base and establishing relationships over time, since art is so personal.
Fast forward to today, where Enriquez has an impressive resume of accomplishments and accolades, including membership in highly competitive art organizations such as The American Society of Marine Artists, Oil Painters of America, and The Society of Animal Artists.
As Enriquez approaches 40, she’ll be checking at least one more item off her bucket list. Coming full circle with her childhood dreams, Enriquez was recently chosen to receive the prestigious Stobart Foundation grant which offers emerging young artists financial assistance to further establish themselves professionally by working directly with their subjects, in Enriquez’s case, this means swimming with humpback whales off the coast of Tonga, an island north of New Zealand.
Joyful Enriquez will be at Mystic Seaport Museum through Saturday September 4th. Stop by and see her at the Burrows House Wednesdays – Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and follow her on Instagram at @joyfulfineart to see updates from her residency.