Eric Junker’s Road Trip

We speak with the artist about painting murals from Los Angeles to Louisiana

After years working as a painter, performance artist, and creating installations, Eric Junker started an advertising agency with a friend. Their Hollywood office was just above one of their favorite restaurants, and this positioning led to a poster project for the chef. That project expanded to more posters, and eventually the murals and design work that he is making today. Now Junker’s vibrant murals can be seen throughout Los Angeles—from Valerie Confections in Echo Park, to Friend & Family in Thai Town, Crafted Kitchen in the Arts District, and beyond. His colorful designs can also be found on his Resist Hate protest shirts and posters, wine bottles for Silver Lake Wine. Earlier this year while attending an event with New Orleans’ Bacchanal Wine, Junker and the team at Bacchanal discussed a pop-up and then, over a few glasses of wine, the idea for a road trip connecting New Orleans and LA was born.

Cool Hunting spoke with Junker after the final mural painting event at Bacchanal to learn more about the inspiration for his work, hear stories from the road, and to find out why he actually had to travel to New Orleans twice to complete to reach his final goal.

How did you make the transition from running your agency to the design work you are doing today?

I have always loved food, wine and restaurants. It began with the Hungry Cat. I made limited edition posters in trade for food. I had met David Lentz when I had an office upstairs in that building at Sunset and Vine. Then I made a poster for Suzanne Goin. That led to getting involved with Alex’s Lemonade Stand. The restaurant culture is fundamentally caring and nurturing. Also I love seeing how hard people work and how passionate they are to be in that sphere. I am not a cook or a chef so I have used my art as an entrée to hang out with the kids in the food and wine world.

Most of your murals have a specific style. How did you develop that visual language?

I am relatively impatient and I like to work fast. I taught myself to draw when I was a kid by copying comic books. That style comes from that. It is more like writing. I like to say as much as possible with as little as possible.

Do you feel any of the symbolism or shapes in your work are distinctly Californian?

I think they are distinctly Southwestern, which I feel includes California. My mother was fifth generation New Mexico. I have never lived there, I lived in upstate New York until he was 13 and in Northern California after that, but there is red dust in the blood that informs my work. My wife and my son and I also spend a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada and in the dessert in Joshua Tree. Those landscapes definitely inform the work.

I love the idea that my work is part of the landscape

Your murals add bright pops of color to LA. How do you feel about being part of the Southern California landscape?

I have been here since I went to UCLA. Something about this landscape keeps me here. It’s the light. It’s the flora and fauna, the energy. I love the idea that my work is part of the landscape. I feel honored when people see the work and to be a part of that fabric.

How did the idea for your road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans come about?

I am good friends with Randy Clement and April Langford of Everson Royce Bar and Silver Lake Wine. They had an event, an exchange with Joaquin Rodas and Coryn Caspar of Bacchanal Wine earlier this year. Bacchanal came and did a pop-up at Everson Royce Bar with food, wine, and a band. Everybody had a great time. It was determined that Everson Royce Bar would reciprocate and go to New Orleans and do a pop-up. Somehow I insinuated my way into the situation and we decided that I would paint a murals at Everson Royce and Bacchanal. Randy talked about serving some of the wines that I designed the labels for. That was the beginning of the plan. Then the idea popped into my head to drive there, to connect the dots from LA to NOLA with some stops along the way.

How did you choose the destinations on your route to Louisiana?

A lot of it was timing in terms of reasonable driving days. The end game was New Orleans. In the van with me was Jamil Williams from Silver Lake Wine with a bunch of paint supplies and 12 cases of wine. I had this vision of drawing a murals on Route 66 between Bartow and Flagstaff. I decided to do some chalk murals right on Route 66 at a bunch of places along the way. Randy had introduced me to Maynard James Keenan who makes Caduceus Wine the is lead singer of Tool. The first stop was to stay with Maynard and paint a mural at his Merkin Vineyards restaurant in Cottonwood, Arizona.

Where did you drive next?

Then we were looking for something in New Mexico. I strangely felt Truth or Consequences New Mexico calling my name. So we drive there without having any real idea. We stayed at an AirBNB with the most perfect building next to it with a southwestern weathered pink stucco wall and I painted a mural there. Then we drove to Marfa, Texas. Sean Daley introduced us to Virginia Lebermann and Rocky Barnette. Virginia owns the Thunderbird and the Capri. After a couple of glasses of wine, she asked, “Where do you want to paint at the Capri?” I looked around. There was a huge rusty wall at the entrance to Capri. So I painted a mural there.

Why are the posters an important part of your road trip story?

Along the way I was handing out posters to people we met. Randy Clement gets the credit for the phrase “All I want is more beautiful.” It is something he came up with when I painted the mural at Silver Lake Wine. It is poignant. It can be subversive. It just struck home because it’s almost a plea in the face of the darkness going on right now. I found it really compelling. It’s either a revolutionary plea or a desperate plea. I like the broadness of what it says. Beauty is what humans are capable of at their best. Whether it is benevolence or charity or art or music and theatre. It’s what makes human beings human.

What happened after Marfa?

In Marfa the light is beautiful. We drove out to Pinto Canyon. I found all of West Texas inspiring. After Marfa we spent the night outside of Houston. Then when we got to the outskirts of New Orleans, we were listening to the radio when the hurricane warnings started happening. With Joaquin and Coryn at Bacchanal the conversation turned to whether it was going to be safe to have this party. There was a point when it was going to be a hurricane category one, two, then possibly a category three slamming into New Orleans. At that point it was determined to postpone the event.

How did you finally complete your project?

At that point for Jamil and me, the trip had become such a monumental experience. The final party being postponed gave me an excuse to be able to come back to New Orleans.

What did you learn from this road trip?

You learn that people are good. Everyone we met was generous. Everyone was kind. Everyone we met was concerned and working hard. When we set out our original intention was a rolling party. As we met people along the way, they were making the world more beautiful with the things that they were doing. We met a couple in Seligman, Arizona that were selling homemade jam and organic apples out of the back of a pick-up truck. Maynard with his wine and his music. All of the chefs and people who work hard in those restaurants. It was something that unfolded as a narrative once the trip got underway as we started meeting and spending time with people. On every level it was really positive and people were caring and receptive.

There could’ve been no better place to end the road trip than New Orleans. I’ve really grown to love this place. The people know how to have a good time in such a relaxed, welcoming, and unselfconscious way. I want to take some of that attitude back with me to Los Angeles… I can’t conjure enough superlatives to express what a great experience this has been.

“All I want is more beautiful” posters are available online for $40.

Images courtesy of Jamil Williams, Amanda Proudift and Brooke Schwab