Eric Joyner is known for robots, the tin toy variety that appeared in the U.S. during the mid-20th century and pointed to a future that may now seem quaint. He hasn't kept track of how many of these toys he owns, saying his collection is somewhere between “50 and 100” pieces. Some are the actual vintage objects found at flea markets and collector's events. Others are reissues that look “pretty much identical” to the originals, but cost quite a bit less.
“They're blocky and basic. They usually have big eyes,” says Joyner of the collectibles. “It takes imagination to make them come alive.”
The robots are often the models for Joyner's whimsical paintings.
“They're stiff,” says the San Francisco-based artist over the phone. “They don't really move at all, so I have to breathe life into them, make them do things that they can't really do.”
For the past decade, Joyner, a commercial illustrator-turned-fine artist, has placed vintage looking robots amidst cherry blossoms and in police line-ups. One even popped up in a garden filled with Sanrio characters for the company's 50th anniversary show. He earned a lot of press in recent years for pairing the robots with donuts in his paintings, as featured in the Dark Horse book, Robots & Donuts: The Art of Eric Joyner.
For his latest show, “It's a Jungle Out There,” opening at Corey Helford Gallery on Jan. 21, Joyner's robots find themselves in Thailand. The collection is a continuation of Joyner's Robots & Donuts work. In some of the pieces, you can find the sweet treats mingling with automatons against the brightly hued settings.
Not too long ago, Joyner traveled to Thailand for the first time. He went on tours, rode an elephant and saw an array of gorgeous, colorful flowers. It was an inspiring trip.
“When I got back, I was doodling weird things that later became paintings,” says Joyner.
He began working on “It's a Jungle Out There,” his first solo show in over a year, off-and-on in spring of 2011. By July, he had dove into the project.
“I kind of write down ideas, looking back at everything I saw, looking at photos,” says Joyner of his process for this show. “I work on five at a time in various stages. Some are just drawings. Some are sketches. Some have a little bit of paint on them.”
Joyner has completed 16 new pieces for Saturday's show. He worked with oils and some of the pieces are quite large. On Tiger Mountain, which you can see on the following page, is 64″ x 48″.
“It was hard, I tell you,” says Joyner. “A lot of detail. A lot of leaves.”
Not all of the robotic creatures featured in his work are based on his models. In Catfish, a cat appears dressed in a metallic fish suit. It's a play on the variety of fish and, Joyner adds, a comment on the idea that “the grass is always greener, you want to be someone else.” The character is an original design.
Joyner says he won't begin planning his next project until two weeks after Saturday's opening. And while his robots' next adventure remains uncertain, it should be exciting.
“Maybe it will be a desert situation,” he says. “Or, maybe it will be set in London.”
Check out more images on Page 3.