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Interview: Eric Yahnker

The LA-based artist on his satirical work, his philosophy and what it's like to kiss a skeleton

by Jonah Samson in Culture on 25 September 2013

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Los Angeles-based artist and former South Park animator Eric Yahnker is known for his highly skilled, large-scale drawings that use humor as a platform for his social and political views. In his current exhibition—called "Ebony & Benghazi"—currently on display at Ambach and Rice, Yahnker continues his satirical commentary on Western culture. CH took advantage of the rare opportunity to bring out some coveted original Polaroid film and shoot the artist in his downtown LA studio, and learn more about his work philosophy, as well as his affection for corpses.

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Remind again me what you call the tattoo you designed for your left arm?

Are you referring to my Heebraham Lincoln tattoo, or Juanita Horsetits? I've also recently added work to my "clip-arm"—which I want to cover with occupational, dining and other various lame clip-art.

You've called yourself a comedian, and your work delivers some pretty hilarious punchlines. Where does this humor come from?

I believe it comes from a small organ buried deep beneath my kegel muscles.

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I think what makes the humor in your work so effective is that it so smartly mashes up art history and pop culture with your absurd imagination. What do you hope the impact of this show will be?

I believe it will bring Netanyahu and Abbas to finally agree on a two-state solution. In all seriousness; I know I can't save the world with my art, but I can at least save myself. It keeps me out of the gangs and off the drugs. I'm perfectly content to strive for "crazy uncle of the art world" status—I shake my fist, fart at the dinner table, make Mom cry, snap wet towels at the kiddos and criticize the crappy light fixtures, but in the end, everyone still loves having you around.

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I seem to remember you calling yourself a "maximalist." Can you explain that?

My natural aesthetic hardware seems to be programmed to overflow a space with visual stimuli. I call it a "kitchen sink" strategy, because I want to throw that sucker in there too. But, I've begun to realize the prevailing impact of that strategy is often confusion or obstruction. Not allowing my images and objects room to breathe can make them less powerful, poignant, and funny, so I have to fight my urges a bit. I've been gradually re-programming Manchurian Candidate-style. We'll see if I fall off the wagon.

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Your work is not only instantly recognizable for its content, but also for the large scale. Why so big?

Mainly, it's just what gets me excited to work. But, big is also just damn impressive. People might say the loudest guy in the room makes the biggest impact, but that's until the biggest guy in the room is ready to speak—especially if Mr Big says he'll kick the lower intestine out of anyone who dares interrupt him. I love it when people see my work in person for the first time and then retroactively apply that scale to works of mine they've only previously seen on the internet. Lately, I have been making some smaller works, but that's more to do with the size of the space it's showing in. All that does is make me crave diving into something huge and intricate.

You recently started making work with color pencils and pastels rather than charcoal. Is the work different in color?

The concepts haven't changed—only the mess! Colored pencils are so fucking clean to work with. For one thing, I'm not snorting a bunch of graphite and charcoal dust all day. It's also just this brand new toy that challenges me, and I still have so much to learn. It takes double or even triple the amount of time to make a work in color, but I could probably use being a bit less prolific.

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Who is a better kisser, your skeleton Mr. Peepers or your girlfriend Allison Schulnik?

Peepers isn't as emotionally invested as I am, but he sure knows how to use his mandible! Schulnik ain't too shabby either. I'm a pretty lucky dude.

Yahnker's show "Ebony & Benghazi" is on display at LA's Ambach and Rice until 12 October.

Polaroids by Jonah Samson, exhibition images courtesy of Ambach and Rice

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