Art beat // Scott Seekins, icon

One of Minneapolis’ best-known faces, now on a skateboard

THE WEDGE — When the seventh-annual Zombie Pub Crawl lurched through the Twin Cities’ downtowns in early October, a few of the costumed revelers stumbled all the way to the Loring Park area, Scott Seekins’ stomping grounds.

“Sure enough, one of the guys showed up around here — a Scott Seekins zombie,” the artist said, sounding not much surprised.

Why should he be? The “Scott Seekins” Halloween costume is old hat at this point, and a spattering of fake blood hardly revives the idea.

Seekins’ longtime commitment to the three-piece suit — white in the spring and summer, black in winter and fall — is well known in Minneapolis, as is the rest of the look that makes his style so distinctive: round tortoiseshell glasses, an abbreviated pencil mustache, mutton-chop sideburns and a cockscomb of dark, curly hair extensions spilling over a headband. You spot Seekins once — on the bus; at the bar in Nick and Eddie, the restaurant below his studio; or in one of his paintings, in which he often appears — and you don’t forget him, which makes Seekins perhaps the most recognizable local outside of the mayor, the local TV anchors or the city’s professional athletes.

So, in 2008, when Todd Bratrud, the house artist at Familia Skateboard Shop in The Wedge, transformed Seekins’ iconic look into a limited edition T-shirt, it caused a bit of a stir.

“Some people didn’t get it, and the people who got it were like, ‘Oh, (expletive),’” said Dennis Burdick, a manager at the store.

The run of 50 T-shirts quickly sold out, but continued demand for the shirts and a later meeting with Seekins, who gave him their blessing, convinced them to print a second batch. It will be the first time the store has ever reprinted a T-shirt, Burdick said.

Bratrud’s design was a riff on the “OBEY” image of Andre the Giant by street artist Shepard Fairey that spread around the world in the 1990s via tens of thousands of stickers, stencils and posters. The Seekins version is just the latest of many parodies, and Familia plans to use it not just on T-shirts, but also skateboard decks, beer koozies, buttons and stickers.

In early October, near the start of his black season, Seekins wore a velvet suit accentuated with a few touches of color — red ankle boots, a red top button on his collarless black shirt and a purple-red amethyst in the Art Deco brooch pinned to his lapel — as he discussed his upcoming show at Familia coinciding with the T-shirt re-launch. His eccentric mode of dress has its advantages and disadvantages, he acknowledged: on the one hand, it doesn’t hurt his art career; on the other, his style irritates jerks and knuckleheads, who regularly threaten to beat him up.

“I’m a target, especially in white,” he said.

Anti-gay slurs are common (although Seekins is not gay). Oddly, many abusers hone in on a perceived resemblance to Elvis Presley (is it the hair?), but he has a readymade response to their taunts: “Don’t be cruel.”

Still, he admitted, “It does get to you, eventually.”

These incidents influence some of the paintings in Seekins’ recent “death series,” including an image of his bloodied body lying in the grass in Loring Park, surrounded by birds and squirrels. It must be spring or summer, we can tell, because of the white suit.

There’s a buoyancy to the work, though, in both the Disney-esque animals and Seekins’ manga-sized eyes, and that cartoony quality carries over to other paintings of Seekins perishing in a plane crash and car wreck.

“If we do everything so totally dark and violent and negative and bloody, it just gets to be overkill,” he explained.

Appearing alongside the paintings will be a photograph made in collaboration with Colin Kopp of a blank-faced, bloodied Seekins lying face up in Cedar Lake — in a white suit, of course.

Next up for the death series is a journey to Maiden’s Rock, Wis. There, he and Kopp will recreate the legend of the Princess Winona, who supposedly leapt to her death near Lake Pepin, and add another chapter to the legend of Scott Seekins.

Go see it

“Scott Seekins x Famila” runs through November at Familia Skateboard Shop, 2833 Hennepin Ave. S. 353-6930.