Part I of Cosmic Puns: Ryan Travis Christian asks Eric Yahnker a few zingers!
RTC: Yes, it’s been good couple of years since we first met! If my work has grown steel pendulum balls in that time frame, then your work has grown a Galactus sized, cosmic double dong that has made art lovers around the globe squirt themselves with envy and awe (myself included). As one of your biggest fans, naturally I want to know what greases the wheels on your genius mobile. It’s a publicly known fact that you log tons of studio hours, but that can’t be all. Where’s the magic coming from on your end?
EY: Aw shucks, thanks, dude. I’m definitely a cosmic double dong kind of fella! For me, there’s definitely a fire in tackling the challenge of it all. Basically, like you, I don’t anticipate my work getting any easier to accomplish. I want it to get nuttier, funnier, and maybe even simultaneously wiser and more retarded. Once you cross certain major hurdles, progress can slow to a crawl. Certain things that excite me in an idea or drawing may not be perceptible to viewers as wildly different than anything else I’ve done, but perhaps I’m all lathered up about some new element where I can see something to grow or build upon in future works. I want to always feel my best work is ahead of me.
RTC: How do you suppose spending your entire life in LA has affected you and your work? It must have, it’s fucking crazy over there. I’m sorry to make you explain this for the umpteenth time, but uninformed readers need to know, What did you used to do and how did you make the transition into this fabulous rap star lifestyle?
EY: It’s hard to calculate how much living in L.A. my whole life has been crucial to the work. You’re probably commenting on the celebrity sightings in my ouvre. I mean, I see hombres from the midwest or sub-saharan Africa using Hollywood references in their artwork, and they’ve never set foot in L.A., but I imagine it comes from how important pop culture was to their parents or older siblings, which peaked their interest (or disdain) for the subject. To be honest, it doesn’t really occur to me until others bring it up, but I’m sure any artist’s environment greatly contributes to their work.
As far as what I was doing before making art, I went from being a budding journalist to animator in a few short years. I worked in animation for a number of years with several studios, until it became pretty clear I was either going to have to train to animate on a computer or dole out hand jobs at the bus depot. I opted for hand jobs.
RTC: Not many people can draw anything they please, any size they please, super well, with ease. What’s that like?
EY: To be honest, it’s pretty fun. It allows me to toy with history in a Mel Brooks-ian sorta way.
RTC: What is it about sculpture that attracts you? Do you see your sculpture as an addendum to your drawings or are they equal? Ever fancy another medium? What is it about drawing that keeps you so faithful?
EY: It’s not so much that sculpture attracts me, it’s filling a space from floor to ceiling that attracts me. Although perhaps I specialize in drawing, an exhibition is an opportunity to create visual poetry (with comedic leanings), and play with composition, scale, and conceptual relationships. I guess I just abide by my own internal feng shui.
I’ll fancy any medium if I have an idea that calls for it. I did a couple of video pieces for exhibitions in Brooklyn and Seattle, and will likely do more in the future.
As far as drawing is concerned, when you discover as a kid there’s one thing you can do better than the rest of your class, you tend to stick with it.
RTC: One quality about your drawings that I’m really into, is that it turns out there’s usually a bit more going on than is made evident. After the initial knee slap, theres a slower read that starts to creep in. I mean who would have thought finger-banging a can of spaghetti-o’s was a commentary on Franco-American relations? How do you achieve such a fine balance of zingers with your concepts?
EY: Well, it’s all in suspension of disbelief, I guess. The viewer has to go on that ride with me. I’m constantly trying to piece together the big global puzzle in a way that makes sense to me. Why not find politics in the fridge? The power of pop art is certainly in its surface accessibility, but to quote Creed’s Scott Stapp, one should also ask “can you take me higher?”
RTC: I love that your work is generally pretty fucking big. Why so big? How do you tackle the endeavor of facing the giant blank white square?
EY: I guess I go big because I’ve always been impressed with ‘big.’ Look at Chuck Close’s early black and white self portraits and they ain’t no damn joke. I’d like to go even bigger, but I’d need to upgrade my studio first.
As far as facing the blank paper, I definitely slow in. I’ll spend an extra hour watching Cops or surfing porn to avoid it. I usually block in the initial shape fairly quickly, but the hardest part is getting it from that point to a place where I’m confident I can take it all the way home. Depending on the piece, that could be days or weeks. Sometimes I’m doubtful until the day before I finish if a drawing will turn out, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve had to completely torch something. There’s definitely pieces out there I know I could do better knowing what I know now! But, that’s part of the learning process.
RTC: There are two different sort of “sub-series” within your drawings that I’m really into. The first being the “Nervous Surf”, “Berry Astonished” sort of drawings that have various images with simplified facial expressions slapped on top of them. And the other being the text pieces like “Karma” and “Cocaine“. Can you talk a little bit about those different series? What are some of you favorite pieces from your own body of work?
EY: Well, images like Nervous Surf and Berry Astonished sort of deal with my fetish for anthropomorphism and the study of iconography. Watch enough animation and you know how much humans go ape-shit for making any candlestick, lobster, or canned food sing, dance, fart, and do spit takes. Humans are the only species that can identify a face and its emotion by simply observing a couple drawn dots and a line. Because the human brain is specifically triggered by facial iconography, we see faces in everything, from fire hydrants, to clouds, to hamburgers. What makes this a superior function above, say, that of pubic lice, is it means we only require partial information to complete whole images. This enables us to quickly register and comprehend language on a page as well as easily recognize when some dude’s about to beat the living shit out of us with a crowbar, and we better run. Basically, I toy with this type of imagery because of its instant symbolism, potential for innuendo, and ability to tap into the innate brain function described above, but also because it’s completely retarded.
As for the text pieces, one of my main focuses in life has been the perversion of language, and I wanted to make my own contribution to text art while not stepping on anyone’s toes. Matching words, typography, ideas, and icons just happened organically.
RYC: Since I’ve started interviewing artists, one of the main things I want to find out is what they are inspired by. Art-wise, yes, but even more so the things that inspire one to make art but actually aren’t visual-art related. What gets you pumped up and ready to draw one? By and by, what do you find uninspiring?
EY: I’m inspired by so many things. You never know where it’s going to come from. I’m a little better now, but I used to not be able to even sit on my duff and watch a movie without thinking, “how can I use this for my art?” There are a couple things that can be counted on for inspiration, though: nude chicks, and even nuder chicks. The only thing I can think of off-hand that’s uninspiring is not-nude chicks.
RTC: I must admit, I’m pretty jealous that you’re in a band. Tell us a bit about The Singers.
EY: Although I’m a member of The Singer’s, the band was actually started by my buddy Jonah Olson. I believe the original concept was to be very few instruments and a shit-ton of singers, but it ended up being pretty evenly split. We’re sort of on permanent hiatus status at the moment, but we all got back together to shoot the Firecoat video, directed by Matt Hewitt. Even though I wrote the lyrics for Firecoat, I’m more of a blue-eyed soul kinda’ guy.
RTC: As of late you’ve killed a whole bunch of group shows, had the “Nervous Surf” show @ Galerie Jeanroch Dard, and had that wonderful “Naughty Teens, Garbanzo Beans” show @ Ambach & Rice. You were beaten mercilessly and got your arms ripped off in Firecoat! What should we be keeping our eyes out for in the near future?
EY: Welp, you should definitely be keeping your eyes peeled for my upcoming solo show, opening Jan. 21 at Kunsthalle L.A. in Chinatown, Los Angeles! All brand new works!!! As usual, should be a doozie.
Yahnker was nice enough to give Artist For Artist a sneak peak at one of the works in his exhibition Cracks of Dawn, at Kunsthalle L.A.