While most of her fellow law school peers are retiring, Joyce Erb is busy painting the people and landscape of the Lowcountry.
Most days, she spends afternoons painting on her porch or attending downtown art walks, but this wasn’t always how she lived. The journey to becoming an artist was anything but direct.
Picture a life in the fast lane: Erb, a formidable Wall Street lawyer at 34, balancing the frenetic rhythm of a demanding job, the ebb and flow of motherhood, and a relentless commute from Connecticut to the World Trade Center. In the middle of this whirlwind, she was suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer, prompting a reevaluation of priorities.
Determined to spend her time focused on family, she took a less demanding job, only to face another challenge when her son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The turbulence of these experiences forced Erb to reassess her life. Leaving the legal world behind, she became a dedicated stay-at-home mom. Amid the cancer treatments and raising two kids with autism, she found solace in occasional visits to art museums. She had no idea these solo trips would establish a foundation for her future as a painter.
“The museums, especially the big shows, became my escape from an often chaotic, sometimes overwhelming blur of doctors, consultants, treatments and advocating with insurance companies and educational institutions on behalf of my children.”
Erb says it became her passion to view artists’ work and learn their stories. The Metropolitan Museum of Art became her go-to museum, where she attended shows on Monet, Picasso, Gauguin, and Bonnard, among others. She tacked on visits to the Brooklyn Museum, the Neue Galerie New York, and even viewed Van Gogh’s work in Philadelphia.
Years of these art walks and museum trips added up to a patchwork of art history Erb says unwittingly formed the base of her own work as a painter.
When leaving a show or museum, she would come home with a thick book or catalog from the show.
“I would take them to bed and read them aimlessly, with no intention of ever acting on them, the same way I might read some fancy Julia Child recipe I had no intention of cooking. That knowledge seeped into my skin by osmosis, and eventually it sought an outlet through the end of my own brush.”
Enter the turning point: a Thai cooking class turned Oil Painting 101, a spontaneous choice on a night when culinary aspirations were shelved. The brush met canvas, and though Erb says it wasn’t an instant success, it was fun and easy to lose herself in the experience.
Erb relocated to Daniel Island in 2014. Now cancer-free, she had many goals, including learning how to paint, and a lot of life left to live.
A workshop with her neighbor marked the beginning of a transformative journey as Erb soon became a regular in the class. She even traveled with the group to paint in Maine, Mexico and Italy.
Learning to see the world through a painter’s eyes transformed Erb’s life in unexpected ways. She describes the process as “making something out of nothing,” and acknowledges the ongoing challenge of learning how to paint, a journey she believes will last a lifetime.
“Painting is a never-ending challenge: the more I learn, the more I realize all there is to learn! No matter how challenging though, it is very rewarding because you can see the work improve with each painting.”
Erb’s art reflects the beauty of Charleston, capturing the island, marshes, magnolias and people. She says she enjoys depicting the busy feeling of life that is often overlooked or left unnoticed.
“Many of the most beautiful views here in the Lowcountry are glimpsed from our speeding cars on 526 or passing over the bridges. A lot of people rushing from here to there don’t get a chance to really experience those sights. Part of our job as artists is to capture those fleeting images and make them into permanent reminders of the beauty and wonder of our world.”
Erb found a community of like-minded individuals through classes, workshops, and exhibitions with the Charleston Artist Guild. She is holding her first solo exhibit of oil paintings at the new Wando Mount Pleasant Library, Dec. 1-31.
On Dec.1, at 11 a.m., she will present an artist talk titled “Learning to Paint and Becoming an Artist Later in Life: From Wall Street to Painting on the Streets of Charleston.” The talk is free, open to the public and promises to provide insights into the joys and challenges of Erb’s transformative journey.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Erb’s paintings will be donated to the Charleston County Public Library.
Reflecting on her artistic evolution, Erb says, “It’s not the same career I started out with, but I am grateful for every day I get to pick up a brush and the opportunity to see where it takes me.”
To view more of Erb’s oil paintings visit JoyceErb.com.