Provo-based artist Christian Degn brings viewers into an abstract, dark, and magical world with pen-and-ink illustrations that grace album covers for well-known metal and ambient bands.
PROVO, UT—Solely using pen and ink, Christian Degn teleports viewers into medieval, dark, and mystical realms. Whether working on a heavy metal album cover or his own depiction of the tarot card character The Hermit, Degn’s contemporary black-and-white illustrations always tell a dark and magical story.
Degn works out of a studio in Provo, Utah, a space that’s filled with curiosities that include a door at the back of his closet leading to a secret room. His reach surpasses the conservative Brigham Young University domain and pulls fans in from all over the world with an iron claw. The highly detailed illustrations call for close inspection as the textures, linework, and saturation of true black are so delicate that full appreciation could be missed upon first glance.
Degn’s current career in music and music-related art took hold in high school when he designed numerous fliers and cassette cover art for the band Dreameater. Later, he began experimenting with screen printing by making a batch of shirts for his first band, though his first attempt didn’t go so well due to a printing mistake.
A similar knack for trial-and-error runs through his music. After jamming with various folks in high school, Degn started his solo metal music project Moray when he was nineteen, and eventually released some songs about four years later. He’s currently learning how to record so that he can release a full-length record. “It’s been a long process, but I am slowly chipping away,” he says.
As far as the origin of his visual art technique, Degn initially set out to be a comic book illustrator. “The more I tried to draw comics, I realized I didn’t want to draw comics,” says Degn, who adds that the experience was not a full loss since it brought him to the pen-and-ink technique he uses today.
“There was an obvious lineage between comic books, old book illustrations, woodblock prints, and etching that I really loved at the time,” adds Degn. These technical skills, combined with his parents’ influence—Degn’s mother earned a PhD in medieval studies and his father obtained a PhD in romantic literature—were integral to his art-making foundation. “All the pieces were there and it was a matter of reinforcing all of those practices and not letting them fall to the side,” Degn says.
Degn’s portfolio includes art pieces for bands as well as non-commissioned works, which often depict cliffsides, castles, surreal landscapes, medieval characters, and tarot card references. To the Evening Star, which portrays a meticulously detailed skeleton that’s pulled diagonally by a star far up in the right corner of the sky, especially caught my attention. A moon mirrors the star and a singular eye is placed between them. The background behind the main figure looks like a Photoshopped pattern of stars but it’s not—the evenly spaced and equally distributed composition is just one example of Degn’s signature cleanliness and machine-like precision.
Like many artists, Degn gained his interest in art in his adolescence, but it wasn’t until years of development and life’s unpredictable circumstances that led him to become the full-time artist he is today.
“I had been saving money to quit and pivot to freelance, but then got in a car accident that ate up all my savings,” says Degn, who had left his job at a screen-printing shop at the end of 2019 due to its new automation method. “I was starting at square one in 2020.”
He then received the COVID-19 stimulus checks as well as the Utah Individual Artist and Creative Workers Emergency Fund from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, which gave him the stability to kick off his freelancing career. “That was like the ‘training wheels’ year for me where I could see if this was even sustainable,” Degn says.
Degn’s largest piece to date, a mural for the Sundance Resort, is also the artwork that helped peg him as an official professional artist.
“I loved the opportunity because when else am I going to be able to do something that large?,” says Degn about Vertigo, an approximately seven-foot-by-six-foot painting of a mountain in blue and white. “We wanted to feel like looking up at a cliff face and feeling the massive weight of it.”
Today, the bulk of Degn’s commission work is taken up by wide-ranging metal and ambient bands requesting artwork for merch and albums.
“That’s my favorite thing because of course I love music,” says Degn, who has created pieces for regional and national bands such as Alto Arc, Black Wing, Deafheaven, Inter Arma, Indigo Kidd, Little Moon, Mother of Sighs, Pallbearer, Temples, Yellow Eyes, and Yob. “It’s very cool to be able to work with bands that I love and have loved before getting to work with them.”
When thinking of where he wants to be in the upcoming years, Degn finds direction from his favorite American abstract expressionist artist, Clyfford Still. “He’s an example where near the end of his life, he was just blowing his work open and reducing it to its purest elements but not losing his voice at the same time,” Degn says. “I want to get there someday. I feel I haven’t earned it yet.”
Degn is currently preparing for JKR Gallery’s Autumn Apparitions show in Provo, where his work will be displayed from October 7 through October 28, 2022. In the meantime, you can find his artwork on his Instagram or his website. And although he is a self-proclaimed introvert, you can find Degn at every monthly SLC Punk Rock Flea Market at Sugar Space in Salt Lake City.