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eric yahnker

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Fabio Sebastianelli: Your career started as an animator for very famous American television comedy shows and sitcoms like South Park and Seinfeld. How was that like?
Eric Yahnker: Storyboarding "South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut" (1999) was my first gig in animation, and creating Seinfeld's "Sein-imation" turned out to be my last. If all animation jobs were as laid-back and fun as those, I'd probably still be doing it. I remember getting the South Park job mostly because they needed another dude to fill out their hoops league squad in Pasadena. In fact, one of the prerequisites for applying was "ability to tomahawk dunk." I told them I could dunk a volleyball sometimes, but definitely grab rim, and was immediately issued a contract and jersey. We spent nearly half that gig playing hoops in the parking lot.

FS: What made you shift from working as an animator to set up your own studio and work solely as an artist?
EY: Animation had gotten to a point where you were either going to swap your paper and pencils for a keyboard and mouse, or be doling out hand-jobs for petty cash at the bus depot. In 2001, I had a couple show ideas I was pitching around to studios, but after 9/11, no one would touch raw comedy with a 10-foot purple pecker. It felt as if the entire industry was taking pains to dumb everything down to appeal to good little Christian children, as well as make it easy for budget overseas crews to draw. Ultimately, I leaned toward making commercials where hand-drawn and experimental animators could still occasionally get their rocks off. The sad truth is you can make the most insane, gorgeous, earth-shattering animation, pixelating hand-pigmented salt with the fossilized dick feathers of a pterodactyl, but at the end of the day, when you're working in commercials, you're still just hocking rolls of asswipe, and tubes of Massengill. In August 2004, I quit everything, rented a studio, and started making work.

FS: Social satire and politics seems to be a predominant factor in your work. Does this derive from your earlier Journalism studies?
EY: I realized pretty early on that journalists seek the truth, but comedians tell the truth.

FS: A great deal of your art is based upon play with words where letters are incorporated and "hidden" within the illustration, how big a part does language play in your work?
EY: Language is everything in my work. I always say my work is as much to be read as viewed. Every word in the English language has twelve different meanings, usages, pronunciations, and ways to insult your friends and earn restraining orders. To me, rhyme, homonyms, puns, innuendo, and euphemisms are more vital discoveries than refrigeration and fire.

FS: Most of your work is of a rather large scale with meticulous details when viewed up close, is this a rebellion against your earlier on screen animation work?
EY: It's more of an extension than a rebellion. I really can't think of a job more meticulous than a traditional animator drawing 24 frames per second to create lifelike motion. Ten foot drawings are somewhat easy in contrast.

FS: Your work portrays a variety of Hollywood celebrities and their sometime catastrophic lifestyles and behaviours, how do you choose your depicted objects and scourse the endless stream of photographic material available?
EY: I don't choose my subjects, they choose me. I actually can't stand celebrity news, tabloids, etc. I never read it. I never watch it. If some celebrity scandal enters my headspace, it's generally through osmosis, or a consequence of natural habitat, living in L.A. But, like all artists, I imagine I have a certain aesthetic and attraction to specific kinds of imagery that recurs in my work. For instance, I find myself really attracted to food packaging, especially big metallic bags of Doritos chips. There's just something inherently gorgeous in the way every crinkle and fold garishly glistens under bright florescent supermarket lights. Warhol couldn't have designed it better.

FS: The image we selected for the cover of this issue of File is Berry Astonished from 2009, what made you draw an astonished strawberry?
EY: 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. Perhaps I have a particular fetish for anthropomorphizing, but I'm also really interested in the study of iconography. 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.

FS: Comedy seems to have integrated itself very well into your work with your colour pencil one-liners such as "War and Piece of Ass". Do you consider yourself a visual comedian?
EY: 'Visual comedian' sounds like I'm trying to be a mime, but maybe there's no better way to describe it. Maybe I could see some parity in my work with 'concrete poetry,' or even glorified political cartooning, which was an early interest of mine, but I prefer to stay out of the categories game. As Ben Shahn said, "if artist's had to choose categories, there would be none." In any case, to me, comedy, or wit, is as much a medium as charcoal, graphite, colored pencil, and cotton balls.

FS: Who is your biggest comedy hero?
EY: There is no single hero. Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Jacques Tati, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin are all comedic giants in my world. But, somedays, even some random asshole on a bus could be a huge comedic inspiration.

FS: Is comedy art?
EY: The word 'art' is actually the problem here. It's thrown around way too loosely. I mean, if Shakira can be called a 'recording artist,' and employees at Subway are 'sandwich artist's,' then shouldn't Don Rickles be a 'comedic artist?' But, it doesn't work that way. Comedians don't want to be called "artist" because it makes them sound like pussies. It's like saying, "ladies and gentleman, put your hands together for huge comedy-vagina, Dane Cook!"

FS: If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
EY: Avoiding collaboration is possibly why I became an artist in the first place, but I wouldn't mind collaborating with an Arabian camel to fill a 62" commercial chest freezer to the brim with gallons of its semen and call it Spirit of the Cimarron.

FS: In “Nausea” from your Selected Reading series you draw a large scale film still of Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz reading a copy of Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea. When do you realize you want to create a series, is it after completing the first piece and wanting to explore further within that story line, or do you prepare a narrative beforehand?
EY: I fill a sketchbook with tons of written ideas, and very few actual sketches. Essentially, I prepare material the same way a comedian might. I jot down broad or pointed concepts and see where they lead. Sometimes, certain ideas emerge that are so limitless, they naturally become a series. Others almost feel like they require a few components to complete the whole, or to round out a vague sort of set-up and punchline, like my Swastika series (Guacstika, Swanstika, Cushaw Squashstika, and Michelle Kwanstika). Basically, as long as I feel I can keep improving on an idea, or make it funnier, I'll keep hitting it.

FS: Can you talk to us about any of your current or future projects that you are particularly excited about.
EY: My next solo show is January 2011 at Kunsthalle L.A. I'm just formulating my thoughts for it now, but it's especially fun to show my work in L.A., where my friends and family can see what I do up-close.

FS: What is your favorite time of the day?
EY: Cereal time. I fucking love cereal.