Eric Yahnker carefully hides social commentary beneath very immediate humour – the sort that provokes surprisingly real laughter – and, like most contemporary art, his work is consequently an exercise in revealing layers. On hearing about his new show at L.A.‘s Ambach & Rice, we caught up with Eric to chat 14-foot sombreros, drawing sideways, and his ’truest passions’…
Can you tell us a little about your current show, Cracks of Dawn?
Cracks of Dawn is a sort of ‘Mel Brooks-ian’ take on American history. In a perverse and comedic way I wanted to target the continued repackaging of the ‘American dream,’ and its uncanny ability to corrupt and cannibalise in the pursuit of its own preservation. One of the main focuses of the show is to put the idea of ‘consequentialism’ in the hot seat, which essentially asks: “do the ends justify the means?” Overall, it’s pop insanity that’ll bite your nuts off.
A lot of the works in the show (a lot of your work in general, especially the drawings) are massive, physically, and yet so intricately detailed. Why do you work at this scale?
I’ve definitely got a thing for bigness. The loudest guy at the table may get his point heard, but the biggest guy gets his point made. Just the sheer act of being imposing focuses attention. On the flip-side of that coin, in a room full of bigness, the smallest object may hold the mightiest voice. I really like using this dichotomy for conceptual effect, but mostly it’s just a lot of fun to draw huge shit!
One challenging thing about drawing so large is that for many of the vertically-oriented drawings in my show, I actually had to draw them sideways because the ceiling height in my studio is a bit low. I didn’t get to see them right side up until they were framed and delivered to the gallery!
Your work is very funny, on a surface level at least. Why do you turn to humour?
Starting out in journalism, I learned pretty quickly that the journalist’s job may be to seek the truth, but the comedian’s job is to tell the truth.
Where does the content of your work come from? Has your alarm clock ever actually said “tits”?
The content comes from literally everywhere. I certainly have things which peak my interest more than others, but I seldom even sit down to watch a movie without wondering how I could use it in my work, which is perhaps why I use so many cinematic references. In Cracks of Dawn, you’ll find references to Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, and TV’s Star Trek and Perfect Strangers, among others. I’m in constant ‘observation mode.’ I have a sketchbook where I jot down all my ideas, but there are very few actual sketches, it’s mostly just words. In this way, I think my work is closely related to comedy or poetry, as it is often conceived from pure language rather than exclusively visual stimuli. Ultimately, I would say my truest passions are American history, politics, basketball, and extremely nude women.
…and yes, my alarm clock is eternally stuck on TI:TS.
What’s next for you? More coloured pencil? More sculpture?
What’s next for the work typically depends on the space in which it’s shown. I always consider the architecture of a space first, and let it guide me. For instance, with Cracks of Dawn, I measured out the gallery, and then visualised compositional shapes to appropriately fill it. Once I knew the shapes I wanted, I then gradually built harmonious concepts and comedy into those shapes. So, in one example, I knew I wanted a long, tall, skinny shape from floor to ceiling before I knew it would be a 14-foot sombrero – Tequila Mockingbird (One Tall Sombrero).
As for the drawings, I definitely had fun making huge colored pencil drawings, such as Cheese Slice on Garland, even though they take considerably longer to execute than the charcoal and graphite works. All in all, I want my work to continue to surprise me, get even nuttier, and as always, make a few boobies jiggle with laughter.