Eric Joyner’s exhibit Sweet Dominion offers retro flair

Artist Eric Joyner's collection "Sweet Dominion" is on display at the Corey Helford Gallery. Photo courtesy of Thomas Storesund.

Artist Eric Joyner’s collection “Sweet Dominion” is on display at the Corey Helford Gallery. Photo courtesy of Thomas Storesund.

There is something sublime, yet comforting, about eating fresh donuts at an art gallery opening. Sweet Dominion, Eric Joyner’s latest exhibition, premiered Saturday at the Corey Helford Gallery near Boyle Heights. A visit to the gallery makes a perfect treat for any art fan with a taste for ’50s nostalgia.

In an interview clip that greets visitors at the gallery door, the artist explains quite plainly what will become undeniable upon entering the showroom: “I paint robots and donuts, and I’ve been doing so for the past fifteen years.” This is Joyner’s fourth appearance at the Corey Helford Gallery, which seems to specialize in particular artists like Joyner.

This time, 20 of Joyner’s new paintings appear alongside a selection of the artist’s past works. Front and center is the piece “Melee,” a massive 81-inch work depicting robots battling in a packed coliseum — with obligatory donuts, of course. Visitors to the gallery’s opening were given the classic glazed treat and invited to eat while viewing the paintings — a lighthearted touch that further sweetened the whimsical, joyful tone of Joyner’s artwork.

The San Francisco-based artist became enamored with vintage robots after encountering tin Cold War-era Japanese robot toys. Though nearly every painting of his features both robots and donuts, how Joyner plays with their exact relationship is what gives the paintings in Sweet Dominion their liveliness. In some pieces, the desserts are objects of desire, whether affectionately, as in “North Beach,” or voyeuristically, as in “Cake in Lake,” in which a robot peers through bushes at a pink, supple cake that hovers above a lake’s surface. “Spiritual But Not Religious,” titled “Dark Energy” on the artist’s website, shows a robot worshipping an all-chocolate donut, bearing an expression of rapturous ecstasy. This painting is quintessential Joyner, disarmingly silly even while imbued with depth and some sarcasm.

Unrestrained, childlike joy informs everything Joyner does, right down to his signature, the “Joy” part of which is stretched out larger than the “ner,” as if in intemperate celebration of the painting’s completion. The artist’s paintings foreground motion and life in both their content and form. Joyner’s technical skill as a painter shines through in “Haste,” a profile of a robot riding a motorcycle whose wheels have been stretched into speedy comic ellipses. It stands among several paintings that recall cartoon mischief, like “The Unusual Suspects,” a classic roundup mugshot that doubles as a taxonomy of the artist’s robot species.

Joyner’s aesthetic is firmly in the line of ’50s retro futurism. The robots are tacky, square, and delightful; their affection for diners, donuts and domination is on full display in the current gallery. But Sweet Dominion showcases new themes in the author’s repertoire as well, including nature, the undersea and migration, as in “Movers and Shakers,” an almost heartbreaking robot pioneer scene. More than half of the new paintings have already been sold.

The collection is worth seeing in person, as the artist’s affection for these robots, as well as their ubiquitous donuts, is best conveyed when all the paintings are witnessed at once. The Corey Helford Gallery, across the river from the Arts District in a somewhat run-down industrial area, is a perfect site for Joyner’s paintings. A visit to the reclaimed warehouse cannot help but be bracketed between sightings of “real” robots, the construction equipment at rest around the Santa Monica Freeway bridge. The building is currently home to two other smaller galleries as well, a collection by Nathan James entitled Dark Matter and Below the Surface, a curated group show.

Joyner’s work will remain on display through March 19. The artist has also published a book of his work titled — appropriately — Robots and Donuts.