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Eric Yahnker

Work / Art

Alternative Fiction: artist Eric Yahnker satirises Trump’s presidency

Say what you like about Donald Trump: there’s no denying that the perma-tanned US president is serving fuel for some of the most potent political satire to date. Take Eric Yahnker’s recent show at Art Brussels which saw the LA-based artist – whose subversive take on pop culture landed him the cover of our A/W 2015 issue of Printed Pages – flipping the buzzphrase “Alternative Facts” into “Alternative Fiction”. Playing with the visual world of cheesy late ‘80s and early ‘90s poster art, Eric’s new work includes a portrait of Barack Obama with an unreal sunset reflected in the mirrored lens of his sunglasses, a black-and-white headshot of a crestfallen George Michael with the words “I’m Too Sad to Tell You” scrawled signature-like across the bottom and a reworking of the instantly recognisable cover of J. D. Salinger’s coming-of-age novel Catcher in the Rye into a now equally-recognisable slogan: Grab Her by the Pussy.

“In an age of ‘fake news’ and Orwellian prophecy as 4D reality, I wondered if there was a line or distinction between Kellyanne Conway’s infamous ‘alternative facts’ and the idea of an ‘alternative fiction’”, Eric explains. “In conceiving this particular presentation of works, I wanted to create a mini-universe of images that expressed the pervasive post-Trump election malaise of the current American progressive. Directly using some of the iconography of protest past (i.e. protest buttons, Marvin Gaye’s era-defining What’s Going On LP), as well as channelling some of the gravitas of art history (i.e. Bas Jan Ader, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Rene Magritte), my aim was to tell a story of temporary stasis and powerlessness bordering on the pathetic. I wanted to depict a strained and curdled state for the traditionally proud liberal American psyche, residing now in the realm of panic, grief, humiliation and helplessness. It currently lacks the punch, grit and laser beam focus of its Vietnam-era predecessors; their once powerfully intoxicating protest art seems to have been replaced by Pinterest-friendly graphics and meme-generating snark. That’s not to say there’s no romance and passion left in liberal politics, it’s just been momentarily towel-snapped into anaphylactic shock.”

“I think Americans are as divided as ever. This sociopolitical landscape is due in large part to self-segregation and self-serving algorithms. People want to be around other like-minded folks, so we pool ourselves in neighbourhoods where everyone looks like us and agrees with us. Furthering the problem, with the death of print media, we are fed news and information that caters specifically to our individual interests, and not much else. For instance, the more we click on pro-or-anti Trump stories on the internet, the more we get of the same variety of stories to feed and bolster our already pre-dug-in positions. I’m uncertain if there’s a way out of this tunnel vision information spiral. Regardless of original intent, the internet is far and away the best and fastest way to mass-manipulate entire populations.”

The images may look like paintings on first glance, but a closer inspection reveals a different approach. “Each work is made with soft pastels on sandpaper, which is a brand new medium for me,” Eric says. “I’ve always preferred drawing to painting, and this was a way to get a more painterly look and feel while still essentially drawing with dry media. I definitely left a bit of my DNA on each work as the process of blending on sanded paper often left my fingers raw and bloody, but it allowed for a more rapid and gestural approach than my formerly-preferred medium of coloured pencils.”

Of all the pieces in the exhibition, Eric considers his Salinger-themed Alternative Fiction (Grab Her by the Pussy) the most salient. “Crudely twisting J.D. Salinger’s seminal, if not sacred, Catcher in the Rye with a more Trumpian title as just a microcosm of the kind of spine-tingling, eye-gouging horror it’s been to witness Donald Trump succeed Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Like the bible itself, many deranged folks have conspiratorially cited the words in Salinger’s novel as inspiration for bad deeds, including assassinations, and it is among the most censored books of all time. My version just adds another head-in-hands layer of idiocratic creepiness,” he says. “On another note, it’s also a subtle nod to my old mentor at CalArts animation school, the late E. Michael Mitchell, who originally illustrated the famous Catcher cover back in 1951.”

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Eric Yahnker

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Eric Yahnker

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Eric Yahnker

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Eric Yahnker

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Eric Yahnker

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Eric Yahnker

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Eric Yahnker

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Eric Yahnker