INTERVIEW // Eric Yahnker
No Laughing, serious faces only...
What was your first creative outlet as a kid?
My first creative outlet was probably doodling my teachers blowing each other in the margins of my homework, or some idiotic thing like that. Unfortunately, I didn’t really move on from that initial motif until post-high school.
Most of your portraits are of political figures and pop culture references, do you think of them as statements about the person themselves are are they more just recognizable figures that everyone recognizes?
It all depends. Perhaps I’ve used the glow of celebrity to draw attention to the work, hoping some viewers might be tempted to mine the depths of it a bit further. It’s much easier to illustrate a specific point using a celebrity rather than your creepy mono-testicled uncle.
Would you consider them a political statement or maybe the opposite?
I have definitely described myself as a glorified political cartoonist. In some ways, my art has provided my own unique outlet to vent about the grotesqueries of our current culture. Ultimately I know I’m just preaching to the choir, however, as a part of a much larger collective of creatives making work through a decidedly sociopolitical lens, it’s possible that some of the ideas can break through to the population at large.
Since most of the subjects are so recognizable for a certain time in history, do you ever wish some writer or historian will mistake one of your paintings as a first hand photograph and run it a textbook or article somewhere?
I definitely do not wish to have my work be mistaken for anything but pure satire. Satire has been and always will be my prevailing strategy and guiding principle. After all, laughter beats a path to the soul in a way no hard facts ever can.
Who do you look up to? (artist or not artist)
I look up to anyone doing their best to raise a compassionate, empathetic child. It’s a tough gig in this mixed up world.
Glad to hear you stuck to your guns with your childhood creativity. Do you ever start painting
something and realize that it may be too obscene or is that not an issue for you?
Yes, that's definitely been an issue in the past. I’ve come to realize that I may be a bit too desensitized to the horrors of the world and perhaps what I find funny or poignant isn’t everyone’s bag.
At any rate, I do consider myself a thoughtful person and I never want to provoke just for the sake of provocation. I like a laugh, but I never actually want to hurt anyone—unless they’re a bonehead Trumper.
Do you have a bunch of hidden paintings you keep for yourself?
I have a bunch of ideas that I know I’ll never execute, if that’s what you mean. Some are way too racy and some are just way too dumb. The only way I’ll hide (or trash) a completed work is if it’s a technical failure, which definitely does happen now and again.
You ever take a break to sit back and laugh at a work in progress?
I’ve definitely had a Pillsbury Doughboy giggle while a work is in progress, thinking about how people might react to it. It feels so good when you know you’ve just totally nailed something. It’s rare, but it definitely propels me. Often times, a piece like that will turn out to be the “anchor” that I’ll build a whole solo show around.
I don’t think it takes much explanation to understand the humor in your work. Have you ever gotten the chance to see someone staring at the details of your paintings with an intensely
With a few exceptions, from what I’ve experienced in the art world, the serious face is unfortunately a permanent condition.
Would you compare that to a comedian bombing on stage?
I’ve never had the sack to do comedy on stage. I’ve known plenty of people who did and I even did my share of comedy writing behind the scenes. The blessing and the curse of what I do is that I’ve chosen to do it in a venue in which no one expects to encounter comedy, so the expectations aren’t quite so high that it would feel like bombing. Nevertheless, I’ve been fortunate to find enough of a niche audience of people that seem to get me. I’ll often tell younger artists that there’s enough of an audience out there for anyone to carve out a place in the art—the fucked-up trick is to find them.
Would you find that you attract a certain type of person?
I’ve actually been surprised at how varied the audience is for my work. As a human being, however, I probably do attract a particular type—folks who tend to dish out as much as they can take.
What are your goals? Relating to your work and also in life.
Obviously a lot of perspective shifts happen when you have kids, so I’m in the throws of that right now. My main goal in life is to not fuck up fatherhood and be the kind of man my daughter will be proud of growing up. I think my wife and I have found some fairly novel ways through trial and error to both be full-time parents and (almost) full-time artists, but that’s more a topic for a parent magazine.
My art goals are still centered on giving my authentic voice a chance to stand on its soapbox and let the chips fall where they may.