The Picasso of Protest

From embattled streets to the cover of The New Yorker, Eric Drooker's images mix politics and passion

| May / June 2004

Wherever I go, I get the biggest drum I can find,' says artist Eric Drooker. 'I like to be out there making a lot of noise.'

A lifelong resident of Manhattan's Lower East Side until his recent move to San Francisco, Drooker says he is 'obsessed' with fighting police brutality, displacement, 'economic cleansing,' the prison-industrial complex, and other formidable opponents.

During his long involvement in the anti-gentrification battles on the Lower East Side -- including a bloody struggle for control of Tompkins Square Park, a longtime refuge for the homeless, street artists, and musicians that was cleared out and fenced off at the behest of developers -- Drooker's posters, fliers, and zines informed people about the underground battles going on between the haves and have-nots and stirred many to action.

Drooker's work ( has popped up on lampposts and walls around the world, and he has been featured in magazines as diverse as The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Spin, and Maximum Rock 'n' Roll. He has also published several books, including the graphic novels Flood! A Novel in Pictures (Four Walls Eight Windows) and Blood Song: A Silent Ballad (Harcourt).

What is the artist's role in society, particularly right now, in the midst of the war on terrorism?

The artist's role is a subtle one. Artists perceive reality in ways that most people are oblivious to. They see the world with a kind of X-ray vision that enables them to construct aesthetic works, layer by layer. Art is much more than self-expression. It's an actual language -- a universal language with which one can communicate. The simple act of self-expression as an end in itself, like jerking off -- a pleasurable yet temporary relief of pressure -- is ultimately unsatisfying. It's too solitary, too self-absorbed. Great art communicates to the masses, utilizing the vivid details of common experience and transforming them -- condensing them -- into works that enable people to see through society's endless layers of bullshit: its lies, obfuscations, official myths, propaganda. Art cuts to the quick. The truth can be funny as hell and make you laugh out loud, but it can also make you cry like a baby. It's beautiful.