Mike Egan is definitely using all his professionally-acquired skills these days. Since graduating from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program in 2000, and then taking a detour through a career as an embalmer and funeral director, he now devotes his time to expressing the relationship between life, death and the spirit world through his whimsical paintings. Egan states on his website that his paintings “are made using acrylic paint, shellac, wood and nails and tell stories about death, devils and saints.” He is “greatly influenced by The Day of the Dead, Halloween, horror films, churches, The German Expressionists, and [his] time in funeral homes.”
Egan’s cartoonish figures are playful and irreverent with their repetitive forms, bright blocks of color and occasional pop culture references. The energy of Egan’s aesthetic is a powerful reminder, like the leaves that sprout out of so many of his skull-figures, that all life grows from the many deaths that have given themselves over to feeding the next generation. Indeed, these works assert that the living and the dead are in relationships on both the material plane (plants growing from his figures’ bodies) and the non-material plane (as in “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” and “We’ll Share This Coffin Forever“).
Unlike the sugar skulls of the Day of the Dead tradition that inspires his work, Egan doesn’t sugarcoat anything. What may first appear as an unschooled meandering through the macabre soon reveals itself as a fearless encounter with death, filtered through the lens of primary colors. The blood seeping from his skulls’ mouths and the stormy expressions of his “devils” are a truth; the warm tones, tender caresses and images of collective rebirth are also a truth that exists seamlessly within Egan’s scope of expression. Perhaps this is the secret to Egan’s recent success in the art world: his unabashed ability to witness the messy, physical aspect of death as well as the shadow side of our fears and aversions, placed side-by-side with the power of love and life’s undying desire to live.