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When humor shifts to unease: How Eric Yahnker turns pop culture into pointed art

When humor shifts to unease: How Eric Yahnker turns pop culture into pointed art
Eric Yahnker, "Southern Burn," 2015, colored pencil on paper. (Eric Yahnker)

Eric Yahnker's wry drawings and sculptures at Zevitas Marcus often elicit a chuckle, which in the best instances is followed by a chaser of unease. Though the L.A. artist engages political issues, his work tells us less about what he thinks and more about what we do.

A skilled draftsman, Yahnker mashes up pop culture imagery with the seamlessness of Internet memes. A Jesus coming down from the cross is actually reaching up to catch a fly ball. Kurt Cobain appears in an uncanny double portrait, a weird little mini-Kurt clinging to his back. A mutant bald eagle unleashes a lightning-white poop against a rainbow sky. Though irreverent, these works are juvenile and too easy.

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By contrast, his works on race are particularly pointed. A 1950s-style pinup girl coyly peeks at her sunburn to discover it's in the shape of the Confederate flag. Limited notions of female beauty are standard bearers for white supremacy.

There's also a portrait of Abe Lincoln with his hair in cornrows, which is silly but raises issues of racial identity and cultural appropriation. Perhaps most ambivalent is an impressive image of Prince astride his motorcycle from "Purple Rain." Yahnker has added two cops aiming their guns at him and titled the piece "Purple Lives Matter." It seems ridiculous, but that may be the point: Is Yahnker making fun of Black Lives Matter? Or reductive notions of race that make a black man, even the Purple One, a criminal? Here, there are no easy answers.

Zevitas Marcus, 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., Suite B, Los Angeles, (424) 298-8088, through April 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.zevitasmarcus.com

Follow The Times arts team @culturemonster.

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