It’s been argued into a cliché that one is the product of their surroundings—and to say as much about Eric Drooker would be an acknowledgement that his artwork is as much about New York City as himself. Maybe more.
The images he depicts in such stark contrast—whether it’s the linocut, scratchboard, or stencil art, all of which he’s known for—all present the same city, seemingly, at war with itself, constantly and eternally.
Eric Drooker was probably one of the first political artists that I discovered. I was 13-ish when Rage Against the Machine put out their single, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and the artwork of that album is Eric Drooker – from the graphic novel, FLOOD!, to be precise.
After that single came out, I looked for more of his stuff. Something in the pictures had a real distinct emotion and humanity behind it–I would say everything in his work had soul. I bought a book of posters and other “street art” by him (this was the late 90’s, back in the days before “guerrilla art/marketing” was a household term, and work by Bank$y wasn’t being bought for $1 million by the world’s rich and famous). Eric Drooker’s art centered around the issues that the people of the city—the city itself—struggled with: police brutality, poverty, affordable housing and tenants’ rights, the freedom to assemble, etc.
In this story, Drooker depicts the epic story of a man struggling for a modest existence with only a handful of text. On most of his journey, he finds little more than bad options after he is laid off. From there, life in the city becomes a downward spiral; he seemingly bounces off of its edges as he falls, the rain pouring harder and harder in the streets. He wants work but can’t find anything that pays enough or is within his skill-set. He wants to feel comfort and love from another human being, but in the night only finds human beings more emotionally starved than himself.
The panel sequence that I find most powerful is when he finds his troubles compounding—bad news over and over and over again. The panels get smaller and smaller, the graphics more and more crude. It’s the perfect depiction of when a bad day just keeps piling up with unfortunate events, until you sit down and try to vent to a friend or in writing… and by then, so much garbage has piled up that it all feels petty.
FLOOD! sharpens the over-arching message that Drooker presents to us in all of his work depicting New York City: It’s not just about one or another character and his or her stories–morality–or soul, as I mentioned earlier. Fundamentally, the “soul” in question appears to be the city itself. By the end of this story, you feel convinced of this idea that New York (and maybe all of our hometowns) have souls, and somewhere in the Heavens of the ether is a grand scale, precariously balancing all of the good (community, humanity, love, compassion, potlucks, free concerts in the park, dogs and cats, children playing in their neighborhood) with the bad (muggings, eviction notices, police violence, drug rings, gangs & crime syndicates, alienation, selfishness, and all that noise, noise, NOISE!). We wait in hoping that, should it ever be finally and resolutely judged, the number of good deeds will outweigh the bad.
… One can’t help but think about these things, especially when the streets of New York City really are a-flood. Even atheists and agnostics can’t avoid the mental exercise of imagining a natural disaster as an ethical and artistic expression of causality–from divine intervention, to karma, to some other simple form of poetic justice.