Q&A: Eric Yahnker

Fat Bastard Scramble, 2010 | Colored pencil on paper, 76 x 72 in.

Featured in editions #73 and #85 of New American Paintings, Eric Yahnker isn't afraid to be a bit absurd. His drawings—one of several mediums in his practice—are as humorous as they are meticulously executed, tearing pop culture references apart into kaleidoscopic compositions as infectious (and as unique) as the celebrities that inspire them. Like television, Yahnker transforms everyone (and everything) into a character—even drawings of strawberries and stacks of pancakes are given sad, anthropomorphic features. This week we spoke with the L.A.-based artist to talk about his work.  —Evan J. Garza

EJG: In some of your newer works you rip apart your subjects, which often appear like woven collages, but are executed with colored pencil on paper. How do you approach working on paper and what is it about these compositions you find interesting?
In some way these images come from those ridiculous 'guess the celebrity' scramble games in the back pages of shitty tabloids my mom always had lying around the house when I was a kid. Actually devising and drawing my own 'scrambles' serves a couple of distinct purposes: first, it's a pretty decent challenge to draw, and second, it makes the original concept that much more retarded.

Hello Dolly Scramble, 2008 | Graphite on paper, 65 x 52.5 in.

EJG: There's an almost psychotropic quality to much of your work. They're fucked up on purpose, and that's a huge part of their inherent quality.
Everyone has a different idea of normalcy. I basically depict what I see. Considering how often people slap the 'bizarre' tag on my work, I'm starting to think the lens I look through must be a little warped. It never really occurred to me before.

EJG: Tell me about how you create the text pieces.
My life and work is so centered around language, working with text is just a natural development. But, it's a crowded field, so I wanted to make sure I was making my own unique contribution to 'text art' or 'visual poetry' without stepping on anyone's toes.

A-Bea-C, 2009 | Colored pencil on paper, 12 x 12 in.

EJG: Your work seems to deal directly with Los Angeles. How has the city influenced your work?
I've been in L.A. all my life. It's only natural it should seep into the work. Of course, once you step out of L.A. for a minute, you start to realize how much the entire city can feel like one massive studio backlot.

Nervous Surf, 2010 | Charcoal and graphite on paper, 72 x 110 in.

EJG: Your work obviously culls a great deal from pop culture, but it's executed in a manner that almost seems to mimic its absurdity. Do you find popular culture absurd? And how does it directly inform what you do?
Absurdity is the lube to pop culture's anus. I don't necessarily think pop culture informs what I do, it's simply what I am. Experiencing adolescence in a time of relative peace gave my generation a lot of time to discuss what happened on 90210 last night instead of worrying if we were going to be dropped in a jungle with an M16 for our 18th birthday.

War & Piece of Ass, 2009 | Graphite and colored pencil on paper, 84 x 84 in.

Eric Yahnker was included in editions #73 and #85 of New American Paintings. He will be featured in a solo exhibition of his work in January at Kunsthalle L.A. in Los Angeles, CA.


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