Exclusive Interview with Eric Joyner

by Scott BaileyPosted on

Eric Joyner is an award winning illustator and painter who lives and works in San Francisco. He is best known for his “Robots and Donuts” series which has been ongoing for more than ten years. In 2008, Darkhorse Comics published a book of Eric’s work titled Robots and Donuts: The Art of Eric Joyner. Hi-Fructose got a chance to talk with Eric Joyner while he was in Los Angeles for his show titled “First World Problems,” currently showing at Corey Helford Gallery through September 7.

Joyner at the opening of “First World Problems,” photo by Thomas Storesund

The new series is very urban, with lots of shops, signs and in general a very city-themed aesthetic. What made you want to bring these robots back from outer space, the jungle, etc. and set them in a place closer to your own home? Can you tell me about the contrast between this show, and last year’s jungle themed show and other past shows?

I brought them back home because I found there are just so many things to communicate in a jungle setting. In an urban setting, there’s a little more complexity and possibilities for paintings. The biggest contrast I would say is all the hard edges, geometry, color and signage.

Can you tell me about the early days of being an artist, about your apprenticeship, the first pieces you sold?

I can’t. For 2 reasons: First being that I was never an apprentice and the second is that I can’t honestly remember. It was probably a very happy feeling mixed with relief, as I was always broke. And it wasn’t a painting of a robot or pastry. It may have been a car. In the beginning, I entered a few car-themed art shows. Starting in 1997 and 1998, I would do a lot of Hot Rods, in particular for a gallery that happened to be located on a street that would host a large annual car show in August every year. I mostly did the Shelby Cobras at first, later added street racers and eventually Formula One cars. At this same time, I was doing Mexican Mask paintings and cityscapes. I would just jump back and forth between subjects and try to get them into galleries.

From 1998 to 2003 I was really searching for something that I really enjoyed, besides the cars, I started doing cartoon characters like Popeye, Betty Boop and Andy Capp but stopped because of copyright issues. The only painting I have left from those is Sarge from “Beetle Bailey,” all the rest sold.

I started doing Robots in 2002, and after the first seven or so I got stuck and I started looking for a nemesis to keep the robots interesting. If you look hard, there are probably a total of ten or so paintings of robots before I added the donuts. The inspiration came while watching the movie Pleasantville, which includes a scene of Jeff Daniels painting a pile of donuts. [Editor's note: Donuts are the fabled enemies of the robots in Joyner's fictional world.]

Your work has a narrative feel, similar to stills from a movie. Are your paintings snapshots from a larger story or do they come to you in single images? Can you tell us about the process of creating a painting or a body of work for a show?

I try to keep some common thread in each show. When I start thinking about what to do for a show, I always want to do a little something that I haven’t done before. I think it’s healthy for an artists work to be constantly evolving. After I get a strong, positive feeling about something, I start to concentrate on it, doing research and drawing from other aspects of my life. The scenes stand on their own, though. They are not a part of a larger narrative, and the paintings don’t connect with each other. I really want the viewer to write their own story. From a technical standpoint, my oil paintings are like basic painting techniques you can find in art books. I do rely on a mix of photos and imagination for the drawings (which are under the paint).

Tell me about your studio.

My studio is in Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco. Ever since the mid 1980s it has been housing artists studios rather than millitary installation. It is a huge complex, it has around 120 artist work spaces. I have a great view of the Bay and my space is right next to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the legendary poet and founder of City Light Books. Twice a year we open it up to the public, we get around 7,000 visitors and I give out 600 gourment donuts from Dyanamo Donuts.

Photo by Thomas Storesund

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