In CVLT Nation’s third instalment of the Dark Art for Dark Souls series, I have decided to showcase the considerable gifts of artist and musician Christian Degn Petersen. Largely influenced by his pastoral surroundings and love for medieval imagery, Christian’s illustrations are startling as they are calming of mood. Well-crafted and patiently conceived, the wood grain art he uses to near-perfection is a delight on the eyes that doesn’t have to exude darkness to considerable degree. It is meditative and peaceful, similar to how this creative process works for Christian. Without further ado, I introduce Christian Degn Petersen’s art to Cvlt Nation readers. Below you will find samples of his art and comments written by Petersen as he attempts some literal translation of the artwork he lends us here.
Your art is mostly illustrations. Can you tell us if you plan to experiment with color? If so, what media would you like to use?
I definitely plan to begin incorporating color into my work, but have been pretty timid about sharing any of my experiments so far. I’ve always been drawn to printed illustration throughout my life, and I think the ability to reproduce an image with ease is something i keep in mind when I’m drawing. I also love how much I can tell someone with only a line or a shape. I would like to start painting more regularly though. Gouache can be fun for me but I’d like to learn oils better, they really intimidate me.
In the black metal tradition, some of these artworks deal with medieval imagery. Who influenced your style and what other artists do you continue to admire that people could check out?
Black metal has been a huge source of inspiration to me since being introduced to it. I love album covers like Bergtatt and Dark Medieval Times, or any Summoning album. I think my fascination with medieval subject-matter and styles goes back as far as I can remember though. My mother is a medievalist so I’ve always been surrounded by books and images that fascinated me and made me want to draw. My most obvious influences would probably be the prints of Albrecht Dürer. Also the golden age of illustration is full of artists who inspire me. Howard Pyle, Aubrey Beardsley, Joseph Clement Coll, and Franklin Booth to name a handful.
You’re an art student. How does art school help shape young, aspiring artists to follow their dreams of creating art for a specific audience? Do you plan to enter the mass media field with regards to art, or do you plan to pursue art projects on the side?
As of late, I’ve been kind of dragging my feet with school. There are definitely huge benefits to be had, and still I have so much to learn that I hope school will be able to help me with, but there are times it feels like a hinderance to art-making. I do think, though, that it can really help teach a person how to get themselves into the market, making work that will get them jobs or gallery deals, which is probably the best-case scenario as far as art degrees go. As for my art, I don’t have any concrete plans other than to keep making it. I’d rather be making the art I want to see. And let’s be real, drawing for yourself can be far more edifying than drawing for a grade.
People will also like to know that you’re a musician. What sort of artwork do you plan to use to front your music? Do music and art go hand-in hand for you, the way writing and music go together for some writers?
The music that I’ve been focusing most of my energy on creating is a metal project called Moray started from ideas that were rooted primarily in visual-art. In high school I wanted to design j-cards and cd covers for imagined black metal albums that friends and I would come up with for fun. As time went on I began to actually write music to accompany these song names. Things slowly solidified from there to become more fully realized tracks with the help of my friend Brett Barrett who is a great drummer, and my friend Randy Cordner who recorded and engineered it. The cover art for the first EP is the Ego Tomb drawing from above. I use other visuals for this project, like old illustrations and religious imagery that have significance to me. I would say that music and art occupy much closer parts of my head than music/art versus writing or language.
What modern contemporary art do you also like? How is it different from the art you create?
I probably am not tuned in to contemporary art as much I ought to be. I’m surrounded by a lot of people who make art that really blows my mind, but I feel like I am usually more inspired by older artwork. There are people around me who’s work I am really drawn to though. My close friend Jefferson Smith, who I’ve been drawing alongside since high school has definitely left some influence in the drawings I make, and I think I have had some influence in his work as well. We both have taken a lot from each other artistically but I think we’ve still stayed very true to our own initial vision. Stephen Wilson, who was in the first instalment of Dark art for Dark Souls, is also a huge inspiration to me. We’re constantly sending each other progress shots and I’m always hitting him up for critiques on drawings. I also really love the work of Christina Mazzulla, Allegra Lockstadt, Neva Hosking, Terrance Hannum, and Jamie Lawson, to name a handful of people. All these artists are doing such incredible work with color and shape and texture. They’re the people that have been making me feel the most intimidated, but also inspired these days. A couple other artists who are doing work somewhat similar to mine (but infinitely better) would be Ben Tolman and Jeremy Bastian. Those dudes make me want to pick up a pen more than anyone.
The art here isn’t always dark to extreme degrees. The artwork “as if the light never shone” has a skull seemingly smiling more than wickedly grinning in brutal fashion. Do you hope to add a little more darkness in your work? Or is the artwork more subtle for a good reason?
I used to try to draw darker or more shocking or overtly “heavy metal” things, but it always felt forced. Beauty has typically left a stronger impression on me than violence or brutality, so that’s what I feel compelled to draw. I’m still a somewhat morbid person, though, so a lot of themes of death and solemnness end up making their way into my drawings. I really love the contours and symmetry found in bones and skulls, and the fact that they host our minds inside them.
What are your plans with art shows and commissioned work? As an art student, do you plan to incorporate more movements and styles to your arsenal of abilities?
I’ve been looking into doing shows, but I don’t know if I have a body of work that would be up to a gallery’s – or really my own – standards quite yet. I have been working on a few commissions, but I am usually very selective about starting them, since I can be pretty slow getting a piece to be where I want it. I think I would love to be at a point where I could live off commission work. I’m open to anything, though, with new styles and techniques and mediums. Drawing is just as distinctive as handwriting, and I don’t think you can truly escape your own style, but I think you can move it around a little. But learning new mediums can open so many opportunities to create the exact images you have in your imagination, or even new images you never thought you would have ever seen, which is why I try to stay open-minded to all art.
Tell the audience what music moves you during the creative process. Do you listen to metal, folk music, pagan instrumentation while you work on art?
This is a big question! I will always be listening to music when I draw, but usually just whatever I’m in the mood for in that moment. Usually it’s metal; death metal and thrash in the warm months, black metal and grindcore in the cold. Lately it’s been Immolation and Death (always Death) and I’ve been going back to that Tukaaria Odz/Manouk split a ton. Also I’ve had that Ustalost record in the mix almost constantly, I love that album. But I like to listen to other genres as well. I have been really enjoying ambient and experimental stuff like Kelly Moran’s last two albums, Grouper, and Harold Budd. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Dweller on the Threshold and Marissa Nadler.
With regards to the samples here, do you consider any renaissance or neoclassical leanings with your existing works, or can we expect your body of work and preference of style to show only medieval influences?
I let any art that truly resonates with me inform the choices I make in my drawings. I would say neoclassicism as well as renaissance art have been influences at times, but most art I’ve seen and liked enough to study has planted a seed in me that will manifest itself somewhere. It’s fun to try to emulate a period, but art is so fluid that I feel like when I see an artist cut themselves off from certain techniques or tools for the sake of historical accuracy only does them a disservice. I think every input our bodies can take in, across all of our senses, leave enough impact on us they will inevitably and unavoidably sneak their way into the things we create, in some way or another.
Do you also do band logos or non-traditional art? Any graphic design work?
I’ve done pretty basic design work for jobs I’ve had in the past and it wasn’t my favorite use of creative energy. I was also probably kind of bad at it. Band logos can be fun but even they tend to give me trouble. I think my eye is fine but I run into trouble when I have to make certain decisions. I’m still learning how to approach making those decisions feel like second nature the way they do with drawing or even music, but I don’t know if I’m invested enough to really try yet. I have been branching into more abstract ideas in my newer drawings and have some stuff that’s pretty exciting for me going on there. I’m hoping to use what I’m learning from my exploration there as I try to pick up some different mediums outside of ink.
Thank you for speaking to us, Christian, and best wishes for your career in art and music.
Christian Degn is an art student and illustrator living in Provo, Utah. His work deals with themes of mysticism, death, and nature, influenced heavily by the landscapes and culture of his surroundings. He also draws inspiration from all types of art and music and enjoys spending free time playing guitar.