Some believe dedicating 10,000 hours to something makes you an expert. Other times, you have a gift like Artist Julio Reynaga.

A year ago Reynaga, whose professional moniker is “Julio C.R.” picked up a paintbrush for the first time and today he is picking up fans with his energetic acrylic on canvas pieces depicting iconic and overlooked Abury Park-area scenes.  One of his paintings sold for upwards of $1,000 last week to a very excited collector.

Reynaga’s first solo exhibition is at the end of the month and you are invited to see his talent up close in a beautiful private gallery.  His exhibit, Art Party by Julio C.R., will benefit Youth of Malawi a charity that builds schools for children in the East African country.

“Julio is an extraordinary talent,” said Jon Biondo, who along with Ryan Coutu and Tim Horman is hosting the benefit.  “Our charity is building a school in Malawi and we felt he was the perfect choice to help with the project and travel to Malawi to inspire the children.”

In anticipation of the benefit, I spoke with the talented and soft-spoken Reynaga.

The artist known as Julio C.R. began painting one year ago. His first 10 pieces will be on display at a private gallery exhibition to benefit Youth of Malawi Saturday, May 31.

The artist known as Julio C.R. (right), standing with Jon Biondo, began painting one year ago. His first 10 pieces will be on display at a gallery exhibition to benefit Youth of Malawi Saturday, May 31.  Purchase tickets to the benefit at YouthofMalawi.org.  Photo courtesy Mike Booth / The Coaster.

TBP:  Born in Guadalajara 37 years ago, your path to the art world was long and winding. Reynaga:  I am a sheet rocker and plasterer by trade.  I took up painting as a hobby a year ago thanks to the encouragement of my friends and the inspiration I find in Asbury Park.

I am shocked and humbled by the reaction my art has elicited.  I never knew I would be any good at painting but my friends have convinced me that my talent is real.

TBP:  Which artists inspire you?

Reynaga:  I have come to like photorealists like Estes and Goings but also love Cezanne.

TBP:  That absolutely comes through in your work.  Your work is masterful but accessible and fun.  You are the painter of “happy” like Pharrell is the chart-topping singer.  How do you choose the colors for your work?

Reynaga:  The colors choose themselves.  This is a vibrant city and the colors really jump out at me on a sunny day.  I use acrylics because I find I can achieve the perfect hues I want on large-scale and small canvases.  I want my art to be accessible and the smaller canvases help with that goal.

I call my work “shorealism” – hyper-realistic paintings.  Hopefully, I capture the realness of the iconic buildings and scenes here.  I look for memorable images at the beach, downtown and all around the city and take photos in my mind use photos from friends.

I want my audience to feel comforted by my art.  Like comfort food, I hope my images remind the viewer how gorgeous Asbury Park can be and how a rich history is built into these buildings and landscapes.  I adore the beautiful toughness to the area.

TBP:  Your first 10 pieces will be on display and for sale at Art Party. Reynaga:  Proceeds from the benefit will help build a solar-powered school in a remote Malawi village.  I am so excited to go help the children and paint murals on the walls.

Art Party, the afternoon of Saturday, May 31.  General ($25) and VIP ($100) admission both include cocktails and tour at a private gallery, 704 7th Avenue, Asbury Park.  VIP guests receive a limited edition print and more access.  Details and advance tickets at YouthofMalawi.org.  For Julio C.R.’s blog, click here.  

For more coverage of the local art world from The Coaster and TheBPlot, click here.