by Sue Merrell | The Grand Rapids Press
Thursday December 18, 2008, 12:01 PM
GRAND RAPIDS -- From a colorful mural in the halls of Grand Rapids Central High School to the richly textured columns of San Chez A Tapas Bistro, the art of Jose Narezo continues to warm West Michigan.
Mr. Narezo died Wednesday at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital after a battle with brain cancer. He was 63.
"It's a very great loss to the artistic community," said Celeste Adams, executive director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum where Mr. Narezo was scheduled to give a solo exhibition of new work April 24-May 24. "We knew he had a serious diagnosis, but we had hoped he would be better by spring."
"I always thought he'd be able to return to the classroom," added Arthur Garner, principal at Central. Mr. Narezo taught art in Grand Rapids Public Schools for 30 years, Garner said, but had not been teaching this year because of his illness.
"He could take some of the roughest kids and have them doing things they didn't know they could do," Garner said. "And if a kid wasn't into art, he'd find something else for them to do. He gave them confidence to be the best they could be."
The youngest of 12 children, Mr. Narezo was born in Mexico. His family came to the U.S. as migrant workers, a past he reflected in an exhibit he created as part of the "Newcomers" exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
Mr. Narezo earned a master's of fine arts degree at Michigan State University. Essentially a painter, he dabbled in other media, including mosaics. His most recent exhibit at GRAM was "Cuba Journal" in 2000, a collection of photographs and paintings from a visit to Cuba. Adams described his style as impressionist and colorist.
"He had a great feeling for color, "she said. "He was always a supporter of other Latin artists and an advocate for Latino culture."
In the early 1990s, he brought back a collection of tiles from Mexico and designed his first major mosaic wrapping around three and a half columns in the San Chez restaurant.
"He created an atmosphere," said owner Dan Gendler. "He loved sharing his art, getting people involved in it. He was never an uppity artist. He was such a real person."
In 2006, Mr. Narezo helped the Holland Area Arts Council create a mosaic to celebrate Tulipanes, an annual Latino art and film festival. Pieces of ceramic were donated by people in the community to create a mosaic based on a painting donated by the artist.
"His creative spirit and generosity were unparalleled," said Lorma Williams Freestone, executive director of the arts council. "He was always ready to come to our aid. He was a wonderful human being."
"He was a mentor and angel to me," said Grand Rapids Assistant City Manager Jose Reyna, who was only 13 when he met Mr. Narezo and worked with him on an outdoor mural project on Grandville Avenue in 1973-74. The two became life-long friends.
"He's very effective with at-risk youth," Reyna said, adding he recruited Mr. Narezo for several art projects with young people in Holland and Grand Rapids. "He always promoted art."
The mural near the art room at Central High School grows each year, Garner said, with additions by students who often visit years later to point out their work.
"He was a mentor to staff and students," Garner said. "He influenced Central as a whole. Through the mural, he'll always be a part of this building."
Funeral services for Jose Narezo will be 11 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, 225 32nd St. SW, Wyoming.
E-mail Sue Merrell: firstname.lastname@example.org