Connecting people to place has taken Spokane artist Ben Joyce to far-flung destinations, through his artwork now collected by major corporations and entertainment stars.
The 38-year-old Gonzaga University graduate operates Ben Joyce Studios near Napa Street and North Foothills Drive. He creates large, colorful landscapes with an aerial perspective, and Joyce has trademarked a description of the unusual style as Abstract Topophilia, the latter term deriving from Greek words for love of place.
With collectors from Coeur d’Alene Resort owner Duane Hagadone to singer Pharrell Williams, Joyce also recently completed a commissioned 75-foot piece representing Spokane to Coeur d’Alene that hangs in the new Spokane Convention Center addition.
“I think people for the most part really enjoy certain aspects to places they live, or traveled to; that connection is as much the physical as it is the emotional,” says Joyce, who graduated with a fine arts degree from Gonzaga in 2001.
“I was always driven beyond the visual to really connect into that emotional side of place.”
Today, the business side of supporting the artist’s work is growing, employing Joyce and his brother Jason, who is the company’s general manager, as well as a part-time marketing director. He says Ben Joyce Studios has shown profitability for about seven years now, and he works out of studio space offered to him by a collector, in a corner of IBEX Commercial Flooring’s warehouse.
Joyce creates mixed-media artwork, using built-up layers of wood, acrylic, and gels and oil paint. Another unconventional approach is what he calls “broken frame,” often with a portion of the art having skewed lines to break up the traditional square canvas and letting the viewer’s imagination expand beyond the piece.
“I use paints to build up the textures, and gels,” he says. “Then I’ve used metal, masonry products, different cloth textures.”
Some of Joyce’s more famous collectors include John Travolta, rap music artist The Game, and Kirk Hammett, lead guitarist of Metallica. However, the artwork also adorns walls in many homes and businesses, in Spokane as well as nationally and internationally.
Joyce makes artwork for a revolving annual exhibit at Google Earth headquarters, in Mountain View, Calif., a site that’s attracted many buyers. Other collectors of Joyce’s artwork include Boeing Co., the cities of Spokane and Las Vegas, Rockwood Retirement Communities, Gonzaga University, Kootenai Health, and Grand Hotel developer Walt Worthy in Spokane.
People often tell Joyce they’re first attracted to a familiarity in colors and lines among pieces, then recognize a specific place having a special connection for them. Joyce frequently travels for shows around the U.S.—such as in Chicago, New York, Miami, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.
In 2013, he installed the largest project to date: 36 original pieces in 18 outdoor transit stations for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Additionally, Joyce will have work shown at Art on the Green in Coeur d’Alene and ArtFest in Spokane, and The Sausalito Art Festival.
He has solo shows at Barrister Winery in Spokane and Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene.
Joyce sells original pieces but mainly does commissioned artwork, which he estimates makes up about 70 percent of his business. He says commission pieces typically start at $5,000 and have gone up to $85,000.
“But for me, it’s never been about how much I can sell a single piece; for me, it’s always been the message behind the work, which is ‘love your place,’” Joyce says. “For the time we have on earth, our existence, what we have is the gift of place.”
He grew up in the small town of Acton, Calif., as one of eight kids with parents in the newspaper business. He claims to have memories before age 2 of creating with art and being fascinated with color and composition of lines. “I had a very strong connection to place at a very young age.”
He recalls feeling that connection again when in Florence, Italy, during a Gonzaga study-abroad program.
“I used to do traditional landscapes,” he says. “I was painting and sketching a street in Florence, and I was constantly painting over my own work creating this perspective.”
While doing that artwork in Florence, he felt a somewhat “claustrophobic feeling,” he adds. “I’d be wondering about what’s behind this alley, what’s behind me.”
One night in 2002, when newly moved into a Spokane apartment with his wife, Erin, Joyce was looking at the ceiling and noticed it wasn’t square, but rather the shape had a more puzzle-piece likeness.
His style for abstract landscapes viewed from above began to gel, really taking off in 2006, when his wife dared him to hang a piece in a favorite Spokane restaurant, the Downriver Grill.
“The next week, I got a call from a couple eating at the Downriver Grill and they told me they loved the piece, the colors and cut-outs, but they didn’t understand at first why they recognized it,” Joyce says. “They said there was something so familiar about that piece. Then the wife Nancy said, ‘It’s Spokane,’ and they started traveling down the river and the street.”
The couple, now owners of nine of his pieces, told him they had to buy that one on the spot. “I threw out a number, and they took it. It was that eye-opening moment that yes, there is something behind this.”
Joyce also has donated artwork to benefit nonprofits. One piece drew $20,000 for the Community Cancer Fund in 2015.
Looking ahead, Joyce has created a new “limited edition” collection to capture original painting reproductions, although some images will be unique to the collection. Pieces range in depictions, from Spokane and Lake Coeur d’Alene to New York City.
Collection pieces are available now, including 78 “artist editions.” Joyce says archival paper editions are $75 to $140. The mixed-media “studio editions” are priced around $700 to $900 with all the features of original pieces. Additionally, limited artist editions offering over twice the size of studio editions are available at about $1,500 to $2,000.
Overall, artwork is sold at shows and through Ben Joyce Studios’ website. Some by-appointment purchases can be arranged at the working studio, at 2925 N. Martin. Also, a number of pieces in the new collection will be available for sale at the Downriver Grill, at 3315 W. Northwest Blvd.
Spokane has proven an ideal place for art as a business, Joyce says, adding that he believes the city is drawing attention for overall arts and culinary connections.
“It seems that artwork is typically always on the tail end of these rebirths that cities go through, and so I think it’s only going to grow and get stronger,” he adds. “I’m based in Spokane, and I’m successful in what I do. Spokane has been a big part of that success.”
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