I met with Eric Michael Hancock in his studio in Riverwest, Milwaukee, a nicely sized space with a south-facing window conveniently close to coffee, pasta and a cooperatively-run bookstore. Hancock’s work has been featured around the world from Los Angeles to New York City to Europe. Find samples of his work HERE, and follow him on Instagram (@roguemeat) for your fix of his illustrations. Wisconsin-born and bred, Hancock continues to produce artwork that captures the imagination of the viewer and plays with the laws of nature. He is especially the artist you are looking for if you enjoy pugs, yetis and baby Batmen.
Eric Michael Hancock, of the original Nintendo era, was born and raised in Titletown, just outside Lambeau Field. His house was close enough to hear the crowd cheer after touchdowns, but just far enough away where his family could not charge cheeseheads to park on its lawn. Hancock was one of those students that did not seem to pay attention in school, what with his constant doodling (mnemonic devices crowding his science notes), yet he tested in the upper percentile throughout his school years. In this way, Hancock has been an illustrator since his childhood.
It wasn’t until High School when he had to choose between band class and the visual arts (not many tears in this goodbye) that he knew he wanted to be an artist. He was so sure of it he had even chosen what college he would attend after meeting a recruiter from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) in eighth grade.
Throughout High School, Hancock excelled in all areas of art, enjoying the bejeezus out of it. And he happily assisted underclassmen developing their own skills. With his breadth of experience in the arts, he decided to focus on illustration over the fine arts, although the distinction is negligible. Looking at Hancock’s work, you see the expert mark making and use of color, composition essential in the “fine arts,” despite it labeled as “illustration.” In his studies at MIAD, Eric Michael Hancock enjoyed the freedom to take a number of supplemental drawing and other 2D courses to flesh out his style and voice as an illustrator. Unlike other illustrators, who typically create images for others’ visions, he has developed a world of his own.
In our interview, I asked him what he tries to convey through his work. This question, of course, is simply the worst to ask an experienced and dedicated artist with numbers and numbers of pieces to comment on, but he kindly answered, “—The way the world interacts with itself. I think there is a lot taken for granted in our society in terms of ecology and in the way cities interact with those natural environments. People get freaked out because there is a wild animal in the city [when] we are more in their space than they are in ours. Those relationships are very interesting to me.” And, looking at the selection of floating, self-sustaining islands with majestic waterfalls and larger-than-life flora and fauna, the viewer is asked to consider the laws of nature, the plausibility of the fantastical yet realistic elements he presents.
I also asked him what time period throughout the halls of history he’d live in, if given the choice (A+ question, I know). And out of all the possibilities (Pre-Krishna India! Da Vinci’s Renaissance Italy! Rembrandt’s Netherlands! The Prehistoric Era, the beginnings of art by man!), Hancock says, “it would have to be in the last 50 years or so.” I can’t help but feel this answer is indicative of his fresh, modern stylings of the fantastic, the ideas so “now” in our recent concerns with ecological preservation, and the gentle mix of the mythologies developed across time in a seemingly “cross-cultural” sense. His art includes subjects such as pop culture characters from Parks and Recreation (NBC) and Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990), while also including the natural characters of sea lions.
So, we talked about his influences and if he had a “group” of sorts while studying at MIAD. While not necessarily a part of a movement in his student years, Hancock excitedly showed me a wonderful new collaboration between him and the artist Green Bean Baby, another Milwaukeean moniker’d artist. Hancock also has had his personas Digital Snowman, and more recently Rogue Meat. He says he is making more of an effort to collaborate now, despite the challenges of working with other artists. He wants people to know who he is, and not just a floating entity that produces images from time to time.
The two artists take turns “designing” for each other and spinning the design into a piece of work that feels more natural to them and their medium of choice. They began with Hancock drawing a “blueprint” (in his “weapon of choice” – ruby red drawing pencil) of cottages on a rocky, floating island. Green Bean Baby came back with these houses cut out from many-colored and textured papers. They intend to collaborate many more times, eventually building a collection that could be shown in a gallery space. It is a wonderful challenge for him, stretching his process while allowing him to convey his nicely developed voice and style.
Eric Michael Hancock’s work continues to be shown online and in gallery shows around the United States. Be sure to follow him and his work on social media and via his website.
Written by Kristin Peterson