When death metal bands need art that lives up to their brutal sound, they call Mark Riddick. Outfits like Arch Enemy, Dying Fetus, Morbid Angel, The Black Dahlia Murder, and other bands whose sound Andrew W.K. compared to having an orgasm for the first time regularly enlist the prolific 42-year-old Virginian for posters, album art, and merch. He’s been in the underground metal zine scene since he was 15, honing an instantly recognizable aesthetic.
He told VICE in an email that he views his work as having a unique visual language consisting of “oozing rot, dripping cobwebs, worms and maggots, extreme detail, and a strict adherence to black and white pen and ink work.” He counts as his inspiration both active artists and metal art legends, including Chris Moyen, Brad Moore, Sean Carr, Vincent Locke, Dan Seagrave, Alfonso Ruiz, Daniel Corcuera, Matt Carr, Daniel Shaw, and Mark Richards. Despite the mind-bending perspectives and imaginative scenarios he creates, Riddick says he doesn't use any mind-altering substances to come up with ideas.
The process of drawing such utterly creepy images is actually meditative. “It’s a way for me to decompress,” he said. “When I put the pen to the paper, everything around me is pushed into the background and becomes white noise, the focus is solely on where my next pen stroke will occur and what kind of decisions or creative steps must be taken to complete an illustration.” Riddick estimates that, in developing his look, he’s drawn well over 1,000 skulls over the years.
He also wrote the book on metal typography—it’s called Logos from Hell—and is such an authority on the scene that Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Pusha-T have all asked him to help channel black metal fierceness into their own shows and merch. He’s said yes, notoriously charging the pop stars the same low rate he gets from underground metal acts, a move that predictably drew heat from metal fans.
He stands by the work, arguing that it’s better for an artist who actually understands metal to make work for someone with Bieber’s reach, rather than a poser. And while he’s spent the last few years returning his focus on the metal community, he says he’s still open to working with other celebrities or brands. “I believe it is very important to take on uncomfortable challenges or requests that are ‘out of the box’ to push myself as an artist,” he said.
For now, that means collaborating with streetwear brands like the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired outfit Death Saves, as well as showing work in galleries like MF Gallery in Brooklyn, All Star Press in Chicago, and Mograg Gallery in Tokyo. Martina Secondo Russo, owner of MF Gallery, which has been showing his work since 2007, told VICE, “Even when people don't know his art, or even when they aren't particularly fans of gory horror art, they always admire the quality and originality of his work.”
Check out some of Mark Riddick’s latest and most iconic illustrations below, and learn more on his website.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.