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.”
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?
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.
How does your life as an artist differ from your work in the
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.
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?
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.
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
Art relies heavily on the notion that things are inherently ‘deeper’ than
they appear to be. I occasionally like to abuse that notion.
Do you have any art heroes?
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.
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?
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.
Your illustrations are all quite large scale? Does size matter?
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.
How long can you spend on a piece?
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.
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?
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.
What does the perfect day for Eric Yahnker entail?
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