These days, longtime friends and San Diego artists Joe Nyiri and Keith Stephens are simply, two guys who paint. With careers as art teachers and a bevy of individual exhibitions under their belts, the retirees have exhibited together over the years at San Diego libraries in installments of what they call the “Two Guys Paint” series — including twice at the Pacific Beach Library and once at the Poway library.
Their fourth installment, “Two Guys Paint IV,” will be on display at the La Jolla Riford Library, Dec. 11 to Jan. 14, 2017. An opening reception is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11 at 7555 Draper Ave.
With about 14 pieces each in the show, Nyiri focuses on the human figure with some works diving into the abstract, while Stephens presents landscapes from his upbringing in Montana and collages.
“Both artists are very accomplished and award-winning, so we are happy to have them at the library,” said Library Art Committee Chair Patricia Jasper Clark. She added that this isn’t Nyiri’s first library visit, he teaches free art classes to children on occasion, and the art committee has had a chance to see his work.
“We are so appreciative of the service Joe Nyiri has rendered over the years with the children in the free art classes ... they are typically well attended and he really relates to children,” she said. “We wanted to extend an invitation to him to show his portfolio of works.”
For the Wisconsin native, working with children is a way to give back to the community and celebrate his love of art. He said his mother was a librarian, so volunteering at libraries holds a special place in his heart.
“I used to stutter and had teachers who thought I wouldn’t make it academically. They would let me go once a week and I would walk from school to a museum and take painting classes,” he said. “I started painting regularly and eventually went to the University of Wisconsin to study art.”
When he moved to San Diego more than 50 years ago, Nyiri taught summer art courses at San Diego State University and UC San Diego, before teaching high school. He was recognized as Teacher of the Year in San Diego in 1982, and one of San Diego County’s three Teachers of the Year in 1983. When he retired, he began volunteering at local libraries.
Nyiri said he paints every day and for “Two Guys Paint IV,” he chose works that feature historical and fictitious figures depicted in new and abstract ways, like William Shakespeare and Alice from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
“The human figure interests me,” he explained. “I did a series on people I admire, such as T. E. Lawrence, now I’m working on a big painting on the Indian deity Ganesh,” he said. “I do commissions, but I turn down more than I accept.”
For co-presenter Stephens, also a teacher and artist of 31 years in San Diego, the works he will present are a combination of new and old. “Eight are collages that have never been shown before. They are nonobjective, so there isn’t a central image, it’s just shapes and colors, made from fragments of other art works. The rest are paintings of landscapes from Montana, where I grew up,” he said. The paintings were done over the past four years, while the collages were created in the last few months, specifically for this show.
For decades, Stephens said he “usually had several projects going on,” but five years ago, his wife passed away and art took a backseat.
“During the last few years of her life, I spent most of my time tending to her, so I wasn’t producing much,” Stephens said. “I have been friends with Joe for 50 years and he concocted the idea to do an art show to get me making art again (which became ‘Two Guys Paint I’). Now my art keeps me occupied. When looking at the pieces in the show, I hope people understand there is some good quality work here ... we’re serious about it.”
The mission of the art committee at La Jolla’s Riford Library is to produce high quality, professional art exhibits that are meaningful to the artists and the public, said Jasper Clark. “We’ve done this since 2011 and during that time, we’ve had more than 20 exhibitions. We’ve been able to give La Jolla and the greater San Diego community the opportunity to have wonderful art shows year round at the library.”
A portion of any art sales from the exhibits is donated to the library to further the programs and art shows of the future. Admission is free during library hours, 12:30-5 p.m. Sunday; 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. (858) 552-1657. lajollalibrary.org