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Joey Enos stands in the yard outside his Oakland home and studio, three sculptures in the background.  Photo: Graham Holoch/KQED
Joey Enos stands in the yard outside his Oakland home and studio, three sculptures in the background.  (Photo: Graham Holoch/KQED)

Bay Area Sculpture Right Now: Welcome to Joey Enos Land

Bay Area Sculpture Right Now: Welcome to Joey Enos Land

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As a kid growing up in Alameda, Joey Enos was obsessed with all things Disney. “I wrote letters to Michael Eisner as a kid, begging him for a job,” he says, slightly embarrassed, standing in his Oakland studio just off of Telegraph Avenue.

Sometimes, the budding artist sent more than letters: “I drew a picture of me at a drafting table, then I cut out a picture of Disney’s head, and I drew his hand on my shoulder, like he was proud of me,” Enos says. The Disney CEO mailed back a package thick with information on the studio’s productions, a dream come true for Enos, who thought everyone must be writing Eisner to line up future employment.

The former carriage house that houses Enos' studio (door ajar) downstairs and his home upstairs.
The former carriage house containing Enos’ studio (door ajar) and his home. (Photo: Graham Holoch/KQED)

When not pitching his talents to animation bigwigs, Enos spent his childhood and teen years visiting Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland, working on hot rods and drawing. He studied at both the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Art Institute, getting his MFA from UC Berkeley in 2015. His influences tend toward a certain kind of fantastic world-making: Disney and Warner Bros. animation, theme parks, roadside attractions and the Chicago Imagists.

Enos makes his sculptures with simple materials — carved foam and layers of paint — to resemble column-like combinations of weathered planks, giant spikes, riveted sheets of metal and discarded tires. His art has an overexaggerated quality, like the clapboard architecture seen in Looney Tunes cartoons from the golden age of animation.

VHS tapes and foam sculptures in Enos' studio.
VHS tapes and foam sculptures in Enos’ studio. (Photo: Graham Holoch)

His outdoor sculptures are covered in a hardy Polyurea coating to protect their lightweight foam insides. Three recently weathered nearly a year at Paradise Ridge Winery outside of Santa Rosa, for the group exhibition Conversations in Sculpture. Those red, blue and yellow pieces, now returned, line the vegetable-turned-wildflower garden outside Enos’ home, towering over the neighbor’s fence.


“I always joked that I’m color blind,” Enos says. “I just think that I have low-class taste in color.” Most of his works in the studio are covered in vibrant hues of turquoise, fuchsia, gold and pink, a palette straight out of Children’s Fairyland. But instead of an old woman’s shoe, the colors coat ramshackle, slightly demented constructions from his own imagination.

Three outdoor sculptures recently returned from a show near Santa Rosa.
Three outdoor sculptures recently returned from a show near Santa Rosa. (Photo: Graham Holoch/KQED)

Airbrushing adds faux highlights and shadows to the sculptures, an effect Enos says comes from both hot-rod paint finishes and the close study — these days — of nail art effects. Flocking, all the rage on fingernails these days, might be his next material experiment in the studio.

Repurposing parts of old sculptures in his new work, Enos’ trompe l’oeil wooden boards accumulate layers of paint, expandable foam and glue. The foam starts to act like the real material it mimics, documenting its history of use and Enos’ own part in manipulating it. One piece he shows us clearly sports a boot print.

Painted foam sculpture in Enos' studio.
Painted foam sculpture in Enos’ studio. (Photo: Graham Holoch/KQED)

Laying bare his process is also about owning his own methods. “I could never make something as perfect as somebody else,” he says, “but the particulars of me making it fucked up, no one else can do. No one can make it dirty as much as I can.”

Despite this assertion, Enos’ sculptures look purposeful rather than provisional. Together, the visual language of his foam slices, cheerful colors and catawampus combinations start to look like props for a Joey Enos-produced children’s television show. Or, better yet, models for a Joey Enos-fabricated theme park.

A stack of materials and a painted foam sculpture repurposed from previous works.
A stack of materials and a painted foam sculpture repurposed from previous works. (Photo: Graham Holoch/KQED)

Meanwhile, as if he wasn’t busy enough preparing for a solo show opening July 9 at Healdsburg’s Hammerfriar Gallery, Enos just published his first article in a three-part series on the history of the Emeryville Mudflats sculptures.

Enos has every reason to be attracted to the Emeryville Mudflats, which in the 1960s was a mere wasteland of space by the side of the freeway approaching the Bay Bridge. After an initial ad hoc sculpture popped up (accounts differ as to who was responsible for the first installation, though Enos likes John McCracken for it), the Mudflats became a venue for anonymous public art.

The lawless space for free expression lasted for about 30 years. Enos’ mother actually announced her pregnancy to his father at the Mudflats. “It was really kicking in the ’70s,” Enos says of the Mudflats’ visiting sculptors. “Technically, they were trespassing, but no one bothered them. Emeryville loved it, because it made them look classy.”

Something else speaks to Enos about the Mudflats: it proved anybody could make public art, or augment it and make it their own. Even if academically-trained artists kicked it off, ordinary people and folk artists were the ones who kept the space alive — until Caltrans spent millions airlifting all the wood from the site in the ’90s.

The worktable in Enos' studio, William Jackson's 'Mudflat Art.'
The worktable in Enos’ studio, William Jackson’s ‘Mudflat Art.’ (Photo: Graham Holoch/KQED)

“I’m really into this idea that people showed up in California and they had this beautiful Italian-esque landscape around them and they were like, ‘You know what this needs? A giant artichoke! You know what this needs? A giant igloo in the desert!’” Enos says. “Making your own world, by any means necessary, is really interesting to me.”

Inside Enos' studio.
Inside Enos’ studio. (Photo: Graham Holoch/KQED)

A few days after our visit at Enos’ studio, he emails me to say, “I had a revelation.”

“I was driving to the beach in Alameda,” he writes, “past classic Victorians, Edwardian architecture, down a Midwestern Americana ‘Main Street,’ past Mission-style homes and into a designed Southern California landscape of sand and palm trees.”

“And it hit me… I grew up in a theme park!”

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