Eric Yahnker: Is impeachment a Carb?
“Back in middle and high school, boys would fight like idiots, while the girls were downright cerebral about their attacks on one another…guys were playing Connect Four while the girls were playing Sun Tzu’s Art of War.”
California-born artist Eric Yahnker examines popular culture and politics in precisely drawn pencil drawings that he says “metaphorically encapsulate the state of our union; its hopes, fears, desires and mind-bending surreality come to life.” After studying journalism at USC, Yahnker earned a BFA in animation, and has created animations for major television shows, including Seinfeld and South Park. He has had solo exhibitions at The Hole in New York and Paradise Row in London, and has been tapped for group exhibitions at venues like Brand New Gallery in Milan and M+B in Los Angeles, among others.
Late last year, as part of a partnership with New York movie house Metrograph, Absolut Art commissioned Yahnker to reimagine the poster for his favorite classic movie. He chose the 2004 film Mean Girls, written by Tina Fey and featuring a teenage Lindsay Lohan. We talked to him about First Daugher Ivanka Trump, his early dreams of being a political cartoonist, and the difference between teen girls and boys.
Ivanka Trump is truly a historic figure, who, for her critics, would stand for the Trump family’s determination to profit from the presidency, but her father has commanded the spotlight such that she has faded from the public eye a bit—and so she seems the more likely to get away with it all, as her critics might have it. Can you tell me a bit more about what made her an inspiring figure for you, if that’s the word?
It seems to me that so many initially envisioned Ivanka as the miraculously shrewd, well-heeled, left-leaning mole who would somehow tug at her father’s long-lost heartstrings from deep inside the Death Star. Instead, she rebranded herself as “first daughter,” and drank in every nepotic, Hatch Act-defying ounce of Kool Aid she could drain from the Oval. I think most accepted that Trump’s sons could be shrugged off as dopey, keg-standing, rhino horn-snorting panty-sniffers, but Ivanka was supposed to be woven of different cloth. Unfortunately, with her father and husband re-shaping the world in their image, Ivanka appears more like Margaret Atwood’s Mrs. Waterford than the accomplished CEO of a billion-dollar brand. The truth is, I just see so many powerful women on this planet who are so deserving to have the kind of access and influence Ivanka merely adopted via Guccifer 2.0, that it’s utterly demoralizing. Perhaps it’s not fair to blame the children for the father’s sins, but the moment Ivanka accepted her status position within the administration and did nothing to stave off the stampede of Trump’s grotesqueries, all bets were off.
You mention that you had never seen the movie when you got the idea for the poster, and that watching it made you all the more sure you that it was the movie to say something about Ivanka. To others who haven’t seen the movie yet, what is there about its message or meaning that makes it align with Ivanka’s worldview?
The term “mean girls” has come to mean something that I think everyone immediately comprehends, even without seeing the film. Back in middle and high school, boys would fight like idiots, while the girls were downright cerebral about their attacks on one another…guys were playing Connect Four while the girls were playing Sun Tzu’s Art of War. In your adolescence, when the frontal cortex is still in its Jello mold and you truly feel as if your entire world exists within the halls and social structure of your school, being on the outside can feel like hell on Earth. Those with the outward gifts of physical beauty can be afforded a huge leg up in this game—especially when combined with white privilege and wealth. Like it or not, Ivanka fits squarely into this camp and seems to have never left it. Sure, it may not be her fault that she’s beautiful, white and wealthy, but she also hasn’t proven to have done anything with those leg-up attributes other than remain in her cliquey bubble and make her own additions to the insidious “Burn Book” her father is apparently compiling around the globe.
I see that you studied journalism before studying animation and then becoming an artist. Does a journalistic mindset inform your artwork dealing with figures like Trump and Putin, among other political personalities?
I had a dream of being a political cartoonist in the mold of the great Paul Conrad, but with the death of print journalism, most staff cartoonist posts evaporated. If a legendary multiple-Pulitzer-winning cartoonist like Conrad couldn’t stay on staff at the L.A. Times (regardless of old age), who the hell was I? At any rate, I fell into animation for a decade before I found a way to get back to some semblance of political cartooning. Although I have conceptually branched out to some degree (arguably), I have long considered myself a glorified political cartoonist. I just added a couple zeros to the prices and hung my shit on gallery walls instead. I honestly can’t believe it’s sustained me as long as it has.