Art beat: Practitioners of the dark arts

MPLS DETH CREW takes classic tattoo imagery to a dark place

Nate Vincent Szklarski was bicycling north up Park Avenue recently when he spotted a glowing cross mounted on a building just south of downtown.

“It was this huge, red, illuminated cross,” Szklarski recalled. “I saw that and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It’s so powerful, you know? … That’s burned into my memory forever.”

In preparation for the exhibition of his and artistic partner Chris Krapohl’s tattoo-inspired drawings and watercolors at Cult Status Gallery, Szklarski created his own version of the glowing cross, which he intended to cover in vintage “flash” — tattoo lingo for the pick-your-design imagery displayed in tattoo shops. For the duo known as MPLS DETH CREW, it works.

MPLS DETH CREW’s aesthetic sits at the nexus of wide-ranging but related influences: classic tattoo art of the Sailor Jerry school, Japan’s ukiyo-e print tradition, heavy metal, horror films, magic, mysticism and religious iconography. Think biker gang, but more goth. Even the name of their exhibition was borrowed from the title of an album by a Norwegian black metal band.

Both artists are in their mid-20s and went to high school together in Thief River Falls, where they also started making art together. Krapohl, who’s several years older, moved down to Minneapolis after graduation, and Szklarski followed a few years later.

Reunited, the duo were in high demand as illustrators for bands — mostly of the goth or metal persuasion — and they formed MPLS DETH CREW in 2006 to put an identifiable stamp on their gig posters and T-shirt designs.

Classic tattoo art, with its bold colors and iconographic designs, remains a primary influence, and both are moving more into the tattoo world. Krapohl is serving an apprenticeship at Monster Ink Tattoo and Piercing in St. Paul, and Szklarski may soon follow down the same path.

He’s been pointed in the direction for a while. As a teen, Szklarski drew out tattoo designs for his mom —  “kind of a little bit of a wild lady” — and estimated he “had probably 20 tattoo designs on people” before he turned 18.

Expect this show, the first “100-percent DETH CREW” exhibition, as Sklarski put it, to be a dark, immersive experience.

There was excitement in his voice when he revealed this bit: “I even got a goat head that I got taxidermied from Colorado in the show.”

Go see it

“Sons of Northern Darkness”
Through Oct. 16
Cult Status Gallery
2913 Harriet Ave. S.