Photo courtesy of Mike Egan.

After working a string of post-art school odd jobs, Pittsburgh native Mike Egan needed steady employment. He figured the death care industry was the way to go.

Egan attended the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science and eventually landed a role as a funeral director in Reading. He soon realized the nonstop embalming business was a little more than he’d bargained for.

“It was crazy busy. We were getting 500 calls a year. I was on-call all the time,” Egan says. “So, I just hung out in my apartment.”

During periods of solitude, Egan focused on his art, which had a dark quality to it even before he became a mortician. As a kid, Egan was inspired by vintage Halloween decorations, cartoons, album covers and skateboard graphics. That kind of morbid imagery continues to guide his hand.

Photo courtesy of Mike Egan.

His career choice gave the scenes of skeletons and coffins more of a purpose. His lines became bolder, the colors brighter, the themes lighter. Egan’s use of acrylic paint on wood panels brings a folk art quality to each piece.

In 2006, a friend asked him to take part in an exhibition at the now-defunct Garfield Artworks on Penn Avenue. Egan sold three paintings on opening night and made $1,000. It was his first show.

Photo courtesy of Mike Egan.

“Something clicked in my head, and I thought maybe I can turn this into something,” he says.

Egan ditched the body bags and is now a full-time artist living and working in Youngstown, Ohio, where he creates paintings, murals, toys, books and clothing. He takes commissions and has exhibited his creativity all over the world, from Berlin, London and Glasgow to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy of Mike Egan.

Next spring, he plans to move back to Pittsburgh — a town that embraces the macabre — with a new lease on life and notebooks full of ideas.

“As an artist,” he says, “I have to figure out ways to keep my work fresh, so the viewer isn’t like, ‘He’s making the same painting over and over.’ I’ll be reading a book or listening to a podcast and it triggers something inside of me. I challenge myself to push these skeletons in different directions.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.