I first glimpsed Eric Drooker's odd name on posters pasted on fire-alarm sides, construction walls checkered with advertisements, & lamppost junction boxes in the vortex of Lower East Side Avenues leading to Tompkins Square Park, where radical social dislocation mixed homeless plastic tents with Wigstock transvestite dress-up anniversaries, Rastas sitting on benches sharing spliff, kids with purple Mohawks, rings in their noses ears eyebrows and bellybuttons, adorable or nasty skinheads, wives with dogs & husbands with children strolling past jobless outcasts, garbage, and a bandshell used weekly for folk-grunge concerts, anti-war rallies, squatters' rights protests, shelter for blanket-wrapped junkies & winos and political thunder music by Missing Foundation, commune-rockers whose logo, an overturned champagne glass with slogan "The Party's Over," was spray-painted on sidewalks, apartments, brownstone and brick walled streets.
Eric Drooker's numerous block-print-like posters announced much local action, especially squatters' struggles and various mayoral-police attempts to destroy the bandshell & close the Park at night, driving the homeless into notoriously violence-corrupted city shelters. Tompkins Park had a long history of political protest going back before Civil War anti-draft mob violence, memorialized as ". . . a mixed surf of muffled sound, the atheist roar of riot," in Herman Melville's The Housetop: A Night Piece
I began collecting Drooker's posters soon after overcoming shock, seeing in contemporary images the same dangerous class conflict I'd remembered from childhood, pre-Hitler block print wordless novels by Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward. Ward's images of the solitary artist dwarfed by the canyons of a Wall Street Megalopolis lay shadowed behind my own vision of Moloch. What "shocked" me in Drooker's scratchboard prints was his graphic illustration of economic crisis similar to Weimar-American 1930's Depressions.
In our own era, as one Wall Street stockbroker noted, "Reagan put the nation in hock to the military," with resulting collapse of human values & social stability. Drooker illuminated the widely-noted impoverishment of underclass, "diminishing expectations" of middleclass city dwellers, and transfer of disproportionate shares of common wealth to those already rich. This economic information, including facts of multi-billion savings & loan bankruptcies paid for by federal funds, was reported in neutral tones by newspapers of record but Drooker illustrated the city's infrastructural stress, housing decay, homelessness, garbage-hunger and bitter suffering of marginalized families, Blacks and youth, with such vivid detail that the authoritarian reality horror of our contemporary dog-eat-dog Malthusian technoeconomic class-war became immediately visible.
". . . It is a question of genuine values, human worth, trustworthiness," Thomas Mann commented, introducing Frans Masereel's novel in woodcuts Passionate Journey
. Drooker spent his childhood on East 14th Street & Avenue B, exploring the city early, observing "shopping bag ladies, stretch-cadillacs, screaming unshaven men, junkies nodding, Third Avenue prostitutes looking at themselves in rearview mirrors of parked cars." His maternal grandparents were 1930's socialists, his mother taught in the neighborhood's PS 19, on 11th Street & First Avenue, his father, white-collar computer programmer, tripped him to art museums all over city.
1970's he attended Henry Street Settlement art classes, graduated from Cooper Union, moved permanently to East 10th Street close to Tompkins Park. Following family tradition he organized rent strikes, supported local squats and tenant organizing against police brutality. By 1980's working as freelance artist for many leftist groups, with reputation as radical street art-provocateur, he was arrested and thrown in District of Columbia jail for postering. In "denial" of economic crisis, city bureaucrats cracked down on Punk and political postering as a "public nuisance." Xeroxed flyers were considered "illegal graffiti."
By 1990's observant Op-ed editors at The New York Times
invited him to contribute art for their pages, as did The Nation, Village Voice
. Under a new post-modern regime at The New Yorker
, he published many illustrations, even covers, including a celebrated image of two bums huddled round a bright garbage-can fire as big snowflakes fell under the Brooklyn Bridge. His novel in pictures, Flood!
, with its fantastic social dreams, won an American Book Award.
Our collaboration volume began as byproduct of an illustration of my poem The Lion For Real
for his St. Mark's Poetry Project New Year's Day 1993 Benefit poster.
As I'd followed his work over a decade, I was flattered that so radical an artist of later generations found the body of my poetry still relevant, even inspiring. Our paths crossed often, we took part in various political rallies and poetical-musical entertainments, the idea of a sizable volume of illustrated poem-pictures rose. Eric Drooker himself did all the work choosing texts (thankfully including many odd lesser-known scriblings) and labored several years to complete these Illuminated Poems
- Allen Ginsberg, Lower East Side, Manhattan, 12/28/95