Coming from a blue-collar family, Eric Joyner felt that there weren’t many things to do as a kid, so he quickly turned to the arts to immerse himself into other possible worlds. After a few years working as an animator, illustrator and texture mapper, he decided to just go with his guts and paint only the things he liked. And, oh boy, how many things does he like! From doughnuts to tin robots, to The Wizard of Oz, cats, and Barbie, his highly-detailed paintings are populated by such a wide array of characters that we’d love to get lost in them. Until we find a way to live in paintings, we speak with Eric to know more about his influences, creative process, and how he’s coping with quarantine.
Since you went as a child to a Van Gogh exhibit at the De Young museum in San Francisco, you never stopped drawing and painting. What made you fell in love with art? 
I came from a poor, blue-collar family, so there were not many other things to do. I can’t remember exactly why I fell in love with art…I must have been very bored one day and just started drawing and found it to be fun. I always received high praise, and that made me feel like I was accomplishing something. Reading Mad Magazine was a bright spot for me growing up and they are filled with great art. This helped me develop an appreciation.
You have such a long career since you worked on several different projects: San Francisco Society of Illustrators or Spunky Products – doing backgrounds for internet cartoons. How have all these past experiences influenced your work?
Yes, I have worked on several different projects. After art school, I had no idea what to do with my life. So, with art being my strength, I made sure any job I took was art-related. I started off as an illustrator. During this period, I learned how to run a business, how to paint, how to suffer, and discipline. This went on for nine years, until I was offered an animation job working on computer games. This was a period of intense learning…I think just was before windows 95 OS came out. I probably did mediocre work in this field as I was never called back after half a year.
After a few years of drifting, I got an offer to work on a movie project as a texture mapper (torture). Here I learned about Maya and Photoshop. The movie was never completed and I was released after eight months. It was not long before I got a job doing vector art for internet cartoons. This job lasted seven months. Though these were extremely hard times, they influenced the work I do today in positive ways, both technically and socially.
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In 2000, after years of painting other people’s pictures, you decided to only paint things that you liked. Why did you make that decision? How did it change your life?
Knowing that I did not want to be an animator, illustrator, texture mapper or a company man, left me only one thing to try for: fine art. I made guidelines for myself, acquired an art studio and threw caution to the wind. It was a great move and I have never looked back. My life has changed for the better by allowing me to paint my own ideas and make a decent living. I decide how much I want to produce on my own terms. Also, I have made a lot of friends along the way.
In this process of only painting things that you liked, you decided to focus on tin robots. And searching for a ‘nemesis’, you started to paint doughnuts. Can you tell us more about how you built this imaginary and what it means to you personally?
I didn’t know it at the time, but I tend to like paintings known as ‘narrative’. Conflict in stories and art is interesting. After painting robots off and on for four years, I grew bored of it and stopped altogether. After idling for a month, I had an epiphany while watching the movie Pleasantville. There is a scene in it where the Jeff Daniels character paints a still-life of donuts. What does my imagery mean to me personally? It means a lot! It is the best way that I can myself and by doing so, fulfills an intellectual need thus keeping me sane.
Machine Man Memories is your solo show at the Corey Helford Gallery, now closed due to Covid-19. Tin robots, the Wizard of Oz or a snowman are just some of the characters there. It also stood out to me the painting Portrait of the Artist because you can clearly see the tribute to David Hockney. What influenced the symbology and the composition of this new series?
My influences come from all over. My thoughts wander quite a bit, hour to hour, let alone over the course of the year that I spend on each new body of work. I like David Hockney’s work as well as Grant Wood and N.C. Wyeth. So, I made homages to these three painters. For the other paintings in the show, I was trying to capture a certain feeling and ideas using some old figures from advertising and kids shows such as Bumbles from a 1960s Christmas holiday show, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, The Wizard of Oz’s from Campbell’s Soup, Voltron, Frosty the Snowman, Barbie, The Yeti, Wampa and others.
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What also stood out to me is the composition of your paintings. What are the steps that you take for your work?
For composition, I try to have balance and a path for the eye to take, and a place for the eye to rest. I work from sketches, research, vinyl figures composed on the computer. The painting is basic oil painting: starting with the drawing and then the shadows. Then painting from the farthest point in the background to the midground, then foreground. Starting out with thin oil paint and gradually getting thicker. I use traditional oils mixed with alkyd oils. Linseed oil is used for fine detail.
You also say that with the composition, you try to communicate something. In Machine Man Memories, for example, you depict the conflict between children’s toys and adulthood. Are you inspired by close, personal experiences? Do you need to feel close to the message you convey?
Yes, I think we are all products of our experiences to a certain extent. It definitely helps to be able to feel that certain something in order to convey it – in all the arts. I do feel close to the messages I convey.
We already know that Van Gogh and David Hockney influence your work. But because we are in quarantine, I can’t help but ask if you had to be locked down with some of your favourite artists, who would they be and why?
I suppose it would be ok to be trapped with either Scarlett Johansson, Kate Upton, Natalie Portman or Megan Fox. I think they are great actors and could help me come out of my shell.
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And talking about Covid-19, we are living a situation without precedents. How is it affecting you personally? How are you dealing with everything?
I am doing way too much cooking and cleaning now. I did buy a Roomba though, and it helps a lot. Living alone with no personal social interaction with anyone except the occasional masked grocery store clerk should have an effect on me. Whether it’s good or bad, I don’t know. I don’t feel particularly happy lately. I’m not concerned though as I will move to shake things up if need be. Maybe out of state or to the mountains.
It is said that coronavirus will change the rules of the world. Right now, some galleries are trying to cope with the lockdown with virtual visits and tours, for example. What’s the future of art and galleries from your point of view?
I think that until there is a vaccine for coronavirus (1 year?), it is going to be very boring. Maybe shows where masks and gloves are the required dress code. In one year and a half, everything should be back to where they were before the plague. Galleries will come and go, as they always have.
Also, because of the ‘free time’, some people are working more on their personal projects. Are there any new projects in your planning?
I am in low gear at the moment but do need to start two paintings this week. One is for the university of Ottawa and the other for a personal project that is a collaboration of sorts – a robot maker sent me a robot as a gift, so I want to do a painting of it. Other than that, I’d like to do some outer space paintings.
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