The following is an interview with Pittsburgh, PA artist Mike Egan prior to the opening of his solo show Funerals at Anno Domini.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I guess I was your typical suburban kid of the 1980's growing up in the outskirts of Pittsburgh. I started drawing at a very young age, mostly cartoon characters and skateboard graphics. I started incorporating blood and knives into my images from a young age (this worried my parents a bit.) I always did well in my art classes, and decided to go to college. I attended Edinboro University of PA to study fine arts. I ended up focusing on printmaking, which is where I discovered many of the artists that I love today: Kollwitz, Beckman and Posada. After college I didn't have access to the printmaking tools so I taught myself to paint.
Our Local Funeral Home, acrylic on wood
How did your job as an embalmer in a
funeral home come about?
After college I worked random jobs and continued to paint when I could. After a couple of years I decided that I needed a solid job, so I looked into going to mortuary school. I attended The Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science which was a year, followed by a one year internship. I moved out to Reading, PA to work as a full-time embalmer in 2005. There I did removals, embalming, cosmetics and dressing/casketing. I really loved the work, I just didn't like the on-call hours.
They Buried Me Upside Down, acrylic on wood
That experience seems to have
given you a perspective that now
carries over into your work.
What's the narrative you're thinking
when creating your paintings?
Well I did get to use some of my skills
as an artist in the embalming room.
Every so often I had to do some
restorative work on folks who had
cuts, holes, or lacerations on their
faces, neck, or hands. I also did
the cosmetics to cover up bruises and
discolorations. I've always been interested
in themes of death in my art,
however I think that my time spent in
funeral homes has greatly influenced
When creating my paintings I like
to think about how people die, their
funerals and what happens to them
afterwards. I also think about the
people left behind, funeral directors
and the clergymen who perform the
services. My paintings are kind of a
final goodbye to those who have
You portray an honesty and humor about
what really happens in "the end." How
does that affect your day to day living?
Man, when I worked in funeral homes I thought about death all the time, it was hard to escape it. I worked for a funeral home that did 500 calls a year, that's a lot of death. Since I've made the transition to an artist, I really don't think about death too much. I'm so busy living, being an artist, doing what I love to do. I paint the subject matter simply because it's what I like to look at (skeletons, devils, coffins) or it's an idea that makes me laugh.
Truth Seeker, acrylic on wood
Do you see yourself continuing with this
narrative in your work?
I definitely feel like I've found my style, and I love painting my subject matter. I don't know if I'll be doing the same thing forever, I'm constantly trying to push myself to do different things with my work. The subject matter of life and death I think will always be there, it just may not be as in your face as it is now. Stylistically, I've been looking at a lot of patterns and typography which is starting to make its way into my paintings. I think in the future there will be changes-I don't know what they will be or how drastic they will be, but I'm very excited about it.
View available works online here.
Funerals new works by Mike Egan
Exhibition dates: March 4 - April 16, 2011
Anno Domini Gallery
San Jose, CA