San Francisco-based painter Eric Joyner has been dreaming of doughnuts for years. (But who doesn’t?!) Yet, unlike the rest of you Homer Simpsons out there, the artist has somehow allotted equal space in his creative imaginarium for another Geek favorite: Robots. The result is a series of whimsical visions blending glazed confections with brightly hued automatons amidst humorous settings.
Trained at the San Francisco Academy of Art, Joyner worked for years as a professional illustrator. “After graduating, I just pounded the pavement and got work at ad agencies, mostly doing pen-and-ink work,” he remembers. He later moved into educational and medical illustrations that “often tended to be very natural and realistic — just explaining things visually. I also did some work for video game companies, including some of the very first titles put out by Electronic Arts. It was generally totally false advertising!
“Then, in about 1999, I was fed up with life as an illustrator, so I made the decision to establish myself as a gallery artist. I was doing cityscapes, car paintings, Mexican wrestling masks and tin-toy-style robots — all of which turned into long series of paintings. And the robots got a lot of attention, so I started concentrating on them. But I grew bored and just ran out of ideas, so I thought, ‘They need a nemesis, a foil.’ And it had to be something that didn’t make any sense, just to add conflict to the mix.”
While watching the 1998 fantasy film Pleasantville, Joyner had an epiphany: “There’s a scene where a character is painting a still life of a plate of doughnuts, and that became an ‘A-ha!’ moment for me.” Another key inspiration was noted 1960s Pop artist Wayne Thiebaud, who often painted “cakes, pastries and, often, pies.”
Joyner’s other influences include Andrew Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, Dean Cornwell and Frank Frazetta — pointing to his piece “All Wrapped Up,” featuring a doughnut-loving robot trapped in the coils of an immense anaconda, as a direct ode to the famed fantasy icon. “Frazetta often worked on Creepy and Eerie magazines, which I read as a kid while most of my friends were into superhero stuff,” Joyner says. “Along with Mad and National Lampoon, those were major influences while I was growing up in the 1970s.”
Joyner’s first robots-and-doughnuts painting, entitled “Glazed,” was finished in 2002. He generally paints single-panel works, but occasionally does diptychs or triptychs if the subject can be served by a series of images, and paints in oils on birch panel wood rather than canvas: “I like the texture and I think I can get more detail. I also like a more firm surface.”
While Joyner no longer haunts local doughnut shops for model inspirations (“I have a pretty good idea of how to design and paint doughnuts at this point”), he does have a collection of 150 retro-style robot toys to do his bidding as models. “I pose them and light them and then photograph them and compose the results in Photoshop as references, so I can get the reflections and surfaces right.” After fine-tuning his compositions, Joyner sketches this plan to the birch board in pencil and then starts painting, using thin paint and later building up the texture, and working from the background to foreground and from dark to light.
While he does his design work in Photoshop, Joyner has no intention of abandoning his paints and brushes: “Oil has a look all its own, a third dimension, and having a true original work rather than a digital printout is something special.”
Having recently moved to a new art studio in the former shipyards of San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point area, Joyner is prepping for an upcoming SF Open House event, to be held in November. “This is where they designed and built huge ships during World War II and we have about 170 artists here in the building — it’s great inspiration.”