Eric Yahnker

Eric Yahnker Interview - By Steven Cox

HUNTED PROJECTS is delighted to present this interview with artist Eric Yahnker, who's work offers a slap-stick, surreal commentary on celebrity and popular culture.  With sexual references throughout, including the acceptance of hand-jobs and the appreciation of sorority-girl's tits at Mardi Gras, Yahnker's sense of irony and humour is evidently natural to his personality.  On the other hand, the technical ability evident within Yahnker's work is less than amusing; Yahnker has without a doubt been through the difficult phases of dating and building a life long relationship with Miss.Graphite, renowned as being a stubborn bitch who fundamentally demands that laborious life long commitment.  Yahnker has come out on top with works that evidently showcase the mastery of what can be achieved through delicately loving and passionately fondling Miss.Graphite and Mrs.Colouring Pencil in the ways that hit all the right spots.  All I can say, Eric is a fantastic artist; his work is worthy of creative admiration and appreciation on all levels.

Eric Yahnker was born in Torrance, California.  He received his B.F.A in animation from the California Institute of Art and studied journalism at the University of Southern California.  Recent Solo exhibitions include Party Sub/Sub Party, Ambach and Rice, Cracks of Dawn, Ambach and Rice, Nervous Surf, Galerie Jeanroch Dard, Naughty Teens/ Garbanzo Beans, Ambach and Rice, Piano Man (For Guitar), Jack the Pelican Presents and Dolly Parton Behind a Tree, Kim Light Gallery.  

Can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS a little about yourself...

EY: I'm 6-foot-1-and-a-half, 185 pounds, with a supple, buttery complexion.  I grew up in Torrance, California, where I modeled lingerie and pursued cosmetology.  I've been told I smell like fresh baked pumpernickel.

I could imagine that a male, 6ft 1.5" bearded lingerie model would face many challenging discriminatory issues, several of which would hinder the progression of a successful career as a male model.  What were the highs and lows of being a male model before choosing a change in career, settling for the artistic pathway as an alternative?

EY: Thank you for understanding.  It's been difficult to find a sympathetic ear.  I did make a fairly remarkable transformation from my younger years.  It may sound completely stupid, but becoming an artist was tantamount to coming out of the closet for me.  I still have a difficult time calling myself an artist.  I consider myself a comedian, or satirist, or dipshit Neanderthal.  But, as I've often said, when the shit you're making doesn't fit anywhere else, "art" is there to catch you before you fall off the proverbial cliff.  So, I'm going with it.  Basically, I went from being a clown who looked like a lost Backstreet Boy to a clown who looks like a lost overgrown garden gnome.

In many interviews you speak quite sourly about the commercial studios you used to work for prior to becoming an independent artist, can you sourly speak about the experiences you had that made you change tracks?

EY: I definitely have my issues with the animation industry, but hopefully I haven't come off as too sour.  I do have a lot of love for animation.  It's an incredibly unique art form and a potentially great career, but was never a 'first love' for me the way it was for many of my classmates at CalArts.  I mean, most of those kids wanted to be a Disney animator since they could fill a pair of Huggies.  Flip through their CD collections, and it's half Disney soundtracks, the other half Star Wars.  Coming to animation on a fluke after originally studying journalism was slightly intimidating at first, but I'm grateful to have gone through an animation education as my introduction to art.  Not only are animator's the finest draftsmen anywhere; they're some of the best people I know, because they're totally willing to make jackasses of themselves.  Obviously I can only speak for myself, but perhaps it's the corporate reality of the industry, which can occasionally affect the spirit of even the most passionate animator.  What I'm doing now is what I should've always been doing, but I'm not so sure I would've known it if I hadn't taken the animation route for many years.  I've often said my work appeals to an 'animator's sensibility,' but maybe they'd forcefully disagree.

Could you discuss your experience with South Park, I believe that you got the great opportunity to do the storyboards for the movie whilst you were only in your 2nd year at California Institute studying animation....

EY: Working on South Park was an incredible experience.  I learned far more on that job than I ever did at school, but I guess that would be true for anything that has a multi-million dollar budget and not wanting to be the one to fuck it up.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker are among the universe's all-time collaborations of consequence, for which I'm glad to have played a very minute part.  Basically, if all my jobs in animation over the decade I spent floating around the industry had been on par with my experience at South Park, maybe I'd still be doing it, and thusly depriving the world of my supreme artistic genius!

What have been the highs and lows of being an independent artist since your creative career switch?

EY: There's definitely more pro's than con's.  It's been a shit-ton of hard work, but what's worthwhile that isn't?  I truly have very little to complain about, except that I'm not a universally celebrated sex symbol with my own international holiday and bars of soap in my likeness.

American Socrates, 2006, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - re-written with your foot seems to have been a pretty ambitious and difficult work to complete.  I am interested, where did you come up with this idea and how long did it take you to complete?  Also, most people are left or right-handed, some fortunate enough to be ambidextrous, are you left or right footed?  Perhaps a foot drawing in the near future?

EY: For the first couple years figuring out what the hell I was going to do as an artist, I was making incredibly labor-intensive works.  Back then; the 6-second concept/6-month execution model seemed to be my modus operandi.  One part Andy Kaufman, one part my insurance agent, Amway-selling father, who's a good guy, but never made a secret how much life sucked.  I can't exactly recall what triggered the idea for American Socrates, but, like many of my ideas, I just start hunting around my studio for something to jump out at me, and '7 Habits' started waving.  Reading some of the reviews on the inside flap of the book, I remember seeing one that declared Steven R. Covey the "American Socrates."  Sounded ridiculous enough to me.  That particular piece took something like 2-1/2 months, 11-hour workdays, 7-days a week.  I still have a bit of a hip flexor issue on rainy days from that fucker.

You regularly connect disparate ideas together, merging serious with more mild or lighthearted images to generate your iconic slapstick images. Can you discuss your creative process for HUNTED PROJECTS?

EY: The best way to describe my process is that I'm always attempting to re-organize the world to better suit me, which means I tend to focus on what's most idiotic and mush it all together like a pair of sorority-girl's tits at Mardi Gras.

You credit your work as influenced by Jewish humour, generating a visual Mel Brooks'ian approach to history...can you expand on this?

EY: Jewish humor is an aspect of my work which I feel is a pretty obvious association, but because it's more often recognized in vaudeville, slapstick cinema and stand-up comedy than mounted on lily-white gallery walls, it can go a bit under the radar for the general public.  Fortunately, I'm just shameless enough to drop key names like Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, and Don Rickles in a desperate bid to force critics to place me in the same canon as these comedic giants!  I'm more than happy to intellectually analyze comedy, but, as always, the best analysis of comedy comes from laughter!  I want to entertain as much as enlighten, which, for my money, is what the best satirists have always strove to do.

The Groucho Marx / Woody Allen quote - "I wouldn't want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member" resonates a contemporary equivalent of being anti-establishment, do you feel that you can relate to this at all?

EY: I relate to it more as a second cousin through marriage.  If I met myself, I'd probably think I was a big, know-it-all blowhard, but I'd still want to give me a sweet hand job.  I can honestly say I'm not trying to be anti-establishment, or purposefully subversive.  I'm just trying to be authentic to my interests, and myself, which for me, is perhaps more in line with the tradition of political cartooning than fine art.  I truly want to get along and 'be in the club' with other artists, but for the most part, I find I'm far more interested in what the art installers have to say.  Artist's do, and probably should, take their shit very seriously.  I'm just very serious about comedy, which is admittedly oxymoronic.   Ultimately, I want folks to walk into my exhibitions and feel as if they've met me.  And then give me a sweet hand job.

The comedian on stage worries about the possible silence of a crowd after telling an elaborate or simple joke, would you feel that if the humour element within your work fails to generate a laugh that your work would silently fail?

EY: Welcome to my life.  Fortunately for me, my work doesn't have to necessarily generate a laugh to be successful.  Generally speaking, I don't bother making a work that doesn't tickle me first, but art audiences can appreciate a work based on a thousand things.  Maybe they think it's well drawn, or a good composition, or reminds them of changing their favorite great aunt's diaper.  However the work is appreciated is fine with me, as long as it's appreciated.  

Like most parents, they don't have a favourite child though may like one kid more than the others.... which artworks of yours do you have preferences towards within your oeuvre?

EY: I do have certain works in my oeuvre which I judge people by.  For instance, if you like my piece, Ben Franklin & His Hot Asian Wife, than you're alright with me!  Actually, if you like any of my work, than you're probably alright with me!  If you don't like my work at all, you're probably well adjusted and on track for a promotion.

You have a solo show opening at Kathy Grayson's The Hole gallery this coming September, can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS about what to expect?

EY: The show is titled Virgin Birth n' Turf.  People can expect the visually-poetic equivalent of E.L. James' 50 Shades of Grey seated next to Liam Neeson's The Grey on a cross-country road trip via Greyhound.

Are there any new comedic influences inspiring your work?

EY: The idea of using a flatiron on all my pubic hair.

How would you categorize yourself as an artist, considering yourself being front covered by low/high-brow Juxtapoz magazine in May 2011 though in March 2012 highlighted by the blue chip Armory Art Show as an artist to watch?  

EY: I would categorize myself in the section between Dixie Reggae and Neo-Smooth Jazz. 

Ok, in other words, can you discuss being highlighted by Armory earlier this year? 

EY: Well, they'd turned me down multiple times before accepting me, so I felt like someone must've dropped out or died suddenly for me to gain admission.  It's no secret I'm not a huge fan of art fairs, but I certainly understand their place in the art ecosystem.  I tried as much as possible to put together a show which would envelop viewer's and maybe for a brief moment, take them out of the commercial meat market atmosphere.  I was very pleased to know some folks noticed.

Last but by no means least; do you have a favourite joke you would like to share?

EY: What do you call a boner with a side pony?  A: Me, after flat-ironing all my pubic hair.

Eric Yahnker