There’s a lot that I like about the work of Pittsburgh artist, Mike Egan and some of it involves things that I don’t typically respond all that favorably to. In general, I’ve never been huge on the addition of text in paintings, but somehow when Egan works them in, they really do meld in as part of the overall composition, providing narrative without feeling intrusive or stomping all over the rest of the imagery; they benefit the pieces, rather than detract from them. I can also get easily bored with artists that have adopted particular “characters” and rely on the usage and recognition of those figures to keep them afloat, never risking much more than putting them in different hats and scenarios for each new work and each new exhibit, for years on end — to me, they often feel like a series of Garfield posters, or Lisa Frank binders, but they rarely ever “move,” let alone intrigue, me. I’m also not very receptive to the movement of “cutesy” art that’s gotten increasingly popular over the last handful of years, for similar reasons — it’s just not my bag. But while Mike Egan‘s new exhibit, “Live Fast, Die Faster,” definitely does recycle similar figures, characters, and ideas throughout the pieces and those figures are blocky, thick-bordered, and almost cartoonic in nature, they don’t feel lazy or without substance. What it comes down to with a lot of art, through all mediums — music, film, visual, what have you — is that I either believe you or I don’t, and I believe Egan and that what he’s creating is coming from a truly authentic place.
There’s something that I really like about what Mike is doing and, along with employing a really tremendous, muted color palette, there’s quite a bit happening under the surface. Unlike a lot of the brightly colored, big-eyed cutesy bullshit out there begging for the viewers attention, and content with receiving a simple “Awwwww!” and a sale, based on how non-threatening they are delivered, the paintings in “Live Fast, Die Faster” don’t seem to care whether or not you give them your attention, they just draw you in. They aren’t simply packed with skulls to create a cool factor and appeal to Hot Topic post hardcore enthusiasts, rather the series references universal themes like life and death, which is how it can exhibit an unapologetic familiarity without the imagery coming across as played out and trite, or what the judging panel on Project Runway might refer to as “junior.” The spiritual accents the physical and, to be honest, overpowers it. Concepts of identity, interconnectedness, and the cycle of life converge with spirituality and superstition; the appearance of both sevens and thirteens being quite prevalent in this series. These are minimalist figures — symbols, even — but a simple adjustment in positioning — a tilt of the head, a bend in the arm — gives them more life and personality than some of the photo realistic paintings that I’ve encountered.
Egan‘s bio references “influences including folk art, the day of the dead, horror films, religion, Halloween and German Expressionism,” impacts which are all easily recognizable within this work. Meanwhile, his history as a printmaker has clearly translated to the graphic aesthetic of his paintings, while becoming a “licensed embalmer/funeral director,” after attending the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, undoubtedly informs much of the subject matter that he’s chosen to explore. From the earth tones and tone in subject, to the wooden coffins and what appears to be plant life sprouting out of every figure that is featured, these pieces feel organic in every possible sense. The subject matter, and even much of the imagery, may not be new, but the presentation definitely feels like it is; there’s a matter of factness to it, which actually manages to come across as more profound than overt. These are more than just “wacky” paintings, or “cool-looking” paintings, or lazy pieces of art trying to resemble day of the dead, or halloween based imagery to pull an easy sale from people who enjoy demons and skulls; however, these do appear to be elements of the various things that have influenced Mike Egan filtered through a light fever dream. The paintings in “Live Fast, Die Faster,” read, at least to me, as healthy mixture of suggestions, inquiries, fascination, folk tales, joy, acceptance, and recognition delivered by someone who is not only willing, but compelled, to explore ideas that terrify so many of us, from a low stress place of analytical wonderment, and a genuine desire to better understand our place in the world as spiritual and organic lifeforms. Lifeforms that are all going to fucking die, someday, and organic matter that will return to the Earth. Mortality is a ghost that haunts itself; our death, a looming inevitability ever present in our subconscious. It motivates some, paralyzes others, and for many, it can’t come soon enough.
Check out preview images for the exhibit below the following event details…
“Live Fast, Die Faster”
solo exhibit by Mike Egan
Saturday, October 10th
Gauntlet Gallery (G1)
1040 Larkin St,
San Francisco, California 94109
Opening is ALL AGES w/NO COVER
Show on view until Saturday, October 31st
Gallery hours: Tues – Sat. noon – 6pm
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/749621508483281/