Los Angeles

Eric Yahnker: Noah’s Yacht at Zevitas Marcus

Eric Yahnker’s large-scale colored pencil drawings are often satirical, social, and political in nature. The Los Angeles–based artist, who has worked both for South Park and as a journalist, views himself as a political cartoonist in the often patronizing and self-involved art world. Many of his previous shows have felt like incredible, offbeat, anarchic versions of the very best in political cartoons or Dadaist reinterpretations of popular culture, with titles such as Sticks and Drones and Ebony and Benghazi. Noah’s Yacht at Zevitas Marcus is much more than rebellious tongue-in-cheek. The exhibition winks at establishment politics and inane pop culture as, what Yahnker describes in an interview, “a true visual poem, where the beats, rhythms, and verse reflect individual concepts, but there is a palpable personal introspection that runs current.” The show feels like just that: a great piece of improvisational jazz, with not a note, reference, title, implication, or concept out of place.

Eric Yahnker. Angel in the Outfield, 2015; colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Eric Yahnker. Angel in the Outfield, 2015; colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Through the exhibition’s title, Noah’s Yacht, Yahnker reimagines Noah’s Ark as a “smaller, ritzier, and more exclusive one, in which the ticket to ride—or ultimately survive—is privilege and wealth.” The first piece in the show, Angel in the Outfield (2015), is a nine-foot-tall drawing of Christ in midair with a catcher’s mitt, about to catch a pop fly. The history of the Christian god is intrinsically tied to the history of white male privilege, spanning from the crusades through colonialism and post-colonialism. Yahnker is, himself, a white American male, and much of this show is his coming to terms with his own privilege and what it means in this vibrant and pivotal political climate.

Caged Birds (2016) is a sculpture made of handcuffs, leg shackles, jewelry, and marijuana pipes.  Hanging from the ceiling, the piece unmistakably alludes to the American justice system and the “War on Drugs” as both inherently broken and racist. It is placed in front of a powerful diptych, Abe Lincorn and Pierced Piety (2015). Abe Lincorn references Rachel Dolezal’s performed blackness, while in Pierced Piety, Donald Trump wears Christianity (and racism) as a style. Both pieces speak to power and privilege in the appropriation of culture for political gain. Together, they serve as brilliant bookends of the Republican Party, which will either implode or explode after this coming election.

Eric Yahnker. Abe Lincorn, 2015; colored pencil on paper. Pierced Piety, 2015, colored pencil on paper. Shell Game, 2015 (detail); 314 Purell hand sanitizer bottles, spire seashells. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Eric Yahnker. Abe Lincorn, 2015; colored pencil on paper. Pierced Piety, 2015, colored pencil on paper. Shell Game, 2015 (detail); 314 Purell hand sanitizer bottles, spire seashells. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Southern Burn (2015) features a 1950s-style pinup girl looking at her sunburn in her vanity mirror. The sunburn on her back is in the shape of the Confederate flag. She looks like the Coppertone girl all grown up—an uncomfortably oversexualized corporate image of the toddler wearing the same facial expression of coyness, surprise, and allure. In context with the rest of the works in the show, Southern Burn does the work of establishing the deep racist roots of this nation’s history and the Republican party in particular. On another level, it considers the racial privilege inherent in tanning culture itself—to be able to darken your skin for cosmetic reasons without the social, personal, and economic consequences of actually being a person born with naturally dark skin.

Eric Yahnker. Southern Burn, 2015; colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Eric Yahnker. Southern Burn, 2015; colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Shell Game (2015) is made of hundreds of hand-sanitizer bottles with a single shell placed inside each of them. The piece is displayed as a grid on the wall, surrounding the large-scale drawings like wallpaper. A shell game is the cup-and-balls trick: a gambling game that is usually, if not always, a con performed on the streets. The hand sanitizers suggest a fear of the other—the fear that the last person who used your shopping cart had some horrible germs that could infect you or your family. The current hysterical fear of terrorists or illegal immigrants is not a far leap to make. With just a few clever words and carefully picked objects, Yahnker uses his sleight of hand to imply that someone is making a profit from all this fear—that it is all a shell game.

Eric Yahnker. Erasing Time, 2006; completely erased Time Magazine. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Eric Yahnker. Erasing Time, 2006; completely erased Time Magazine. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

In the center of the room is Erasing Time (2006), in which the artist spent two and a half months erasing all the contents of an entire issue of Time magazine. The fact that Yahnker found this ten-year-old piece important enough to show for the first time is evidence of how crucial the piece is. Erasing Time implies that American history has regressed, folded in on itself, and is constantly erased so that we end up making the same mistakes over and over again. The piece further implies that history is written only by those who are in power, and that even having a recorded history is in itself a form of privilege. As Shell Game indicates, American media and politics is sanitized to such an extent that the truth is lost—the narrative bought, sold, and manipulated by those in power to insure that they keep it.

Eric Yahnker: Noah’s Yacht is on view at Zevitas Marcus in Los Angeles through April 30, 2016.

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