By Ann Leach

The Buddha said, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Joplin artist Josh Okerson found himself in the right moment at the right time when a 90-year-old encourager and mentor, Michael F. Wright, came into his life. 

“It was 2019 and I don’t even remember how I got Michael’s phone number,” Okerson said. “But I called him to talk about art and we struck up a friendship immediately. A year later, I drove to meet him at his Santa Fe home. The moment I saw his work and learned he had been a personal assistant to Willem De Kooning in the mid- to late-‘60s, I knew fate must have sent me there.”

Okerson began painting as a way of coping with anxiety and depression. A career plan was thwarted due to the 2011 tornado, and the later governmental closing of his chosen educational institution left him unable to complete his degree.

“I felt a sense of hopelessness after that,” Okerson said. “I started collecting art to bring some joy to my life at the time. The more I looked at these paintings, the more they intrigued me. I wanted to know how someone’s mind could create such beautiful works of art.” 

His conversation with Wright encouraged him to give painting a try. 

“I never had a composition in mind, and I wasn’t inspired by anything,” Okerson said. “I just got lost in the moment and couldn’t stop. Painting is a very intimate experience for me and involves a great deal of emotion. It’s not something I plan.”

Okerson derives inspiration from music, politics, personal relationships and nature, as well as from how he is feeling about his own life and its ups and downs. He seeks to create something that stylistically has never been seen before, and his goal is to keep improving his work. He does this by watching educational videos, experimenting with different textures and mediums, and sharing his work and asking for feedback from other artists, including his mentor and encourager, Wright.

“I was astonished at Michael’s response to my first painting,” Okerson said. “He told me, ‘You’ve got tremendous potential, kid. Especially since you have never had any prior education. If you keep doing this, you’ll go far, and I will be behind you 100%.’ I took his advice and haven’t stopped painting. This is my purpose, it’s what I am destined to do.”

To view Okerston’s work, visit