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Interview with artist Eric Yahnker

15 SEP 2011 | Posted By: Luke

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Interview with artist Eric Yahnker

Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
 
Eric Yahnker
Californian illustrator Eric Yahnker creates illustrations that offer a surreal commentary on celebrity obsession and popular culture. With the technical precision of a graphite master, he aims fire at the often disposable pop icons of yesteryear and modern day with his razor-sharp wit and sense of irony. He also prides himself on the accessibility of his works: “I personally get a kick out of the cable guy who can appreciate my work on his own terms, while the academic art critic can excavate further and appreciate it on theirs.”

Luke Lucas: After completing your journalism and animation degrees you worked for years as a commercial animator for the likes of South Park and Seinfeld. What made you quit your day job to become a full-time artist?
Eric Yahnker: I still have a love for animation, but I really wanted to draw and it became pretty clear the animation industry was heading toward a 3D and Flash overhaul, and I was either going to have to trade in my pencil and paper for a keyboard and mouse or dole out hand-jobs at the bus depot. I opted for hand jobs.

LL: How does your life as an artist differ from your work in the commercial world?
EY: It’s become a lot lonelier. Being an artist is essentially sentencing yourself to solitary confinement with hard labour. I mean, animation isn’t necessarily different in its sheer rigor, but at least there’s a crew to fart around with – of course, depending on the crew, that can be a bad thing. Ultimately, I have come to grips with the fact I’m a miserable team player. Apparently, making 100 percent of the creative decisions and slavishly executing all the work myself is the corner I’ve happily painted myself into.

LL: Regis and Kelly, Britney, Paris, Dolly, Siegfried and Roy, it seems like everyone is fair game in your work. What qualities do you look for in your subjects?
EY: I don’t really seek them, I feel like they seek me. I guess every artist has certain subjects, themes, and aesthetics they’re attracted to, but I’m as attracted to these weirdo celebrity types as I am shiny bags of Doritos Chips. Perhaps like Andy Warhol, I believe true beauty is as close as one’s pantry or fridge.

LL: As an artist you’re able to get away with the kind of social commentary that you’d never be able to as a journalist. What do you think it is about art that can transform something taboo or tragic into something hilarious and cheeky?
EY: Art relies heavily on the notion that things are inherently ‘deeper’ than they appear to be. I occasionally like to abuse that notion.

LL:
Do you have any art heroes?
EY:I came to art-making pretty late, so my stable of heroes doesn’t always jibe with art royalty, nor necessarily exist in the field of art per se. Some of my shortlist includes The Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, Jacques Tati, Oscar Wilde, George Carlin, Don Rickles, Andy Kaufman, Paul Conrad, Terry Gilliam, Werner Herzog, Gee Vaucher, Saul Steinberg, Peter Saul, Basil Wolverton, Magic Johnson, and extremely nude women.

LL: Although bits and pieces of your work involve installation the majority is using charcoal, graphite and colour pencil. What is it about these mediums that appeal to you?
EY: Drawing was always my thing. I never really considered painting. Maybe it’s about a certain sense of control. I’m no good with a flimsy brush. Give me something sharp and pointy. Basically, it achieves the results I’m looking for, and is pretty second nature to me, so I stick with it.

LL: Your illustrations are all quite large scale? Does size matter?
EY: I’ve always been impressed with scale myself, so when it came to making my own work, it was only natural I’d want to go big. I must admit I do like getting the surprised reactions when people realise the work is wall-sized.

LL: How long can you spend on a piece?
EY: Anywhere from a few hours to a month, depending on size and level of detail. I just recently did a couple of massive, intricately detailed, full-colored pencil drawings for an upcoming show which took me longer to complete than anything I’ve done previous (other than making an animated film, of course). I only work on one piece at a time, which makes me want to move things along a bit quicker, in order to get to the next thing as quickly as possible before I get bored or disinterested.

LL: With the surrounding doom and gloom around the economy, the environment and terrorism is humour through art your way of venting your frustrations with modern day America?
EY: Humor certainly allows one to amplify truths, but I’m not necessarily frustrated with modern day America. A student of history, I realise even the worst of times will eventually achieve balance… Hopefully that doesn’t sound too sarcastic.

LL: What does the perfect day for Eric Yahnker entail?
EY: I could think of some saucier things, but a ‘realistic’ perfect day would pretty much start with a punch bowl of cereal, a hard day’s work, dinner with my girl, the Lakers win, a little bourbon, and the warm crackle of mellow vinyl ‘til bedtime.

Eric Yahnker's show Cracks of Dawn is opening Friday (January 21st from 7pm) and will run through to February 2nd at Kunsthalle, Los Angeles.

If you can't get there, you can buy Lifelounge Magazine's Gossip Edition. Or, as a slightly more expensive option, one of his artworks.

More at ericyahnker.com.
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