Contemporary Folk Artist Mike Egan Has a Colorful Take on a Morbid Subject Matter
The emotions in my work and what is going on in my life are starting to blend together and I think people are picking up on that.
Embalmer turned artist Mike Egan has an interesting background that has given him a unique perspective on life and death. He has developed a style of imagery with his work that tells stories about the macabre in a lively way. With bold line work and a fairly traditional colorful scheme, his paintings feel almost like a celebration of the darker side of this existence.
I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, PA for most of my life, but currently live in Youngstown, OH.
Plain Greek yogurt mixed with chocolate whey protein, strawberries and blueberries. Perfect afternoon snack.
Morning person or night owl?
I started doing Crossfit years ago and did 5:30 AM classes and ever since then I’ve been up at 5 to make coffee and get to my studio. I feel like my creative brain is firing first thing in the morning and I love the idea of feeling like I’m getting a jump on the day before anyone else is even out of bed.
If you could only listen to one song on repeat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Geez!!! This is a tough one. However I’d go with something instrumental like Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1. That way I could use it as a soundtrack for my life. Plus instrumental music makes me think and allows me to be creative.
Best advice you have ever received?
I was working at the Pittsburgh airport and was talking to a mechanic about how I wanted to be an artist but needed this job for the money. He looked at me and said “You need to go do it now. The money will come and go but you can’t get the time back.” That’s always stuck with me.
How would you describe your style of art?
I guess I’d say that I’m a contemporary folk artist who paints skeletons, devils, cats and blood. I like to draw people in with bright colors and bold line work and tell stories about life, death and dying.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became an artist?
I always loved art as a kid, was obsessed with album art and skateboard graphics. I’d always try to redraw things like the Guns and Roses Appetite For Destruction cover and the Beastie Boys Licensed To Ill cover. I ended up going to college for fine art not really knowing what to do with it. I studied printmaking and focused on wood cuts. After college I didn’t have any of my printing supplies so I switched to painting. I worked for the airlines for a bit and on my first day of full time training it just so happened to be September 11, 2001. Well that job didn’t last long. For some reason my first instinct was to go to mortuary school to be a funeral director, don’t ask me why. So I did that for about five years total. Towards the end I was working as an embalmer in Reading, PA. I was on call all the time and home when I wasn’t at the funeral home. So I’d paint and try to figure things out. One day something in my head told me to paint like I did my woodcuts in college and things sort of took from there. I did a show in Pittsburgh with friends in 2006 and have been doing them ever since.
What are some of your favorite art tools to work with?
I love using Golden acrylic paints, Ampersand wood panels to make my paintings. I also have a giant bag of paper templates that I’ve made so I can be consistent with my skulls, coffins, devil heads, etc.
What have some of your biggest influences been?
I’m influenced by folk art from all over (Russia, Poland, Mexico, American), tattoo culture (Russian prison and traditional American), and German expressionist like Max Beckman and Kathe Kollwitz
Who are some of your favorite artists to follow right now?
Some of my favorites include Carlos Ramirez, Richard Colman, Butch Anthony, Esther Pearl Watson, Bruce Lee Webb, Max Kuhn and Tomo77
You are very candid on social media about your life, from health struggles to sobriety. In what ways has that connected you to your audience?
Well I think that people are connecting my personal life to my paintings now. The emotions in my work and what is going on in my life are starting to blend together and I think people are picking up on that. Plus there are so many messages and emails from people thanking me for talking about these things publicly and I think it’s allowing my work to become a lot more personal.
You’ve had quite the interesting resume, if you weren’t a painter - what do you think you’d be doing for a living right now?
Honestly I think I’d want to do something where I’m helping other people like working in a hospital. Art is fun and I love it, but I feel like helping people not be sick would be so rewarding. I just had two hospital visits recently and everyone was so kind and outgoing to help me get on my feet again. Plus it wouldn’t require shameless social media plugs all the time haha.
Is there an underlying message you hope people derive from your art, or would you prefer for them to interpret it personally for themselves?
Overall I think it’s best that the viewer takes away what they want from each painting. I’ve had people connect with a specific painting because it had their favorite number on it, or their family member or friend just died and a certain painting caught their eye and reminded them of that person.
What other forms of art do you create besides painting?
Well I was just in the hospital for six days with an intestinal blockage. My friends came to visit and brought me colored pencils and paper, it was all I had. I fell in love and will keep working with that in future for sure. I also love to paint on nontraditional objects. I do wood cutouts of my figures and I did a ceramic project this year. I also like to find old pull toys and repaint them into my own characters.
Any new projects or shows coming up that we can look forward to?
I’ll be working with a toy company called Heavy Cream to release a new vinyl toy soon. In 2023, I’ll be having a solo show at Copro Gallery in Los Angeles and another solo show in Charlottesville, VA at Second Street gallery. I’m also launching my own brand called “77”. It’ll be a retail brand based on my art. It’ll include books, prints, toys, clothing, housewares and more. I’m really interested in doing my own releases and projects.