The sign outside says Fifth Element. Owner Nicholas "Wicked" Mandelkow says that many of his customers don't realize it's a tattoo studio as well as a gallery.
"You can't really tell unless you go into the back," he says. His storefront adds to the effect. In addition to hosting local art, Mandelkow uses the front of the shop to sell apparel, comics and various nerdy memorabilia, as well as art prints and stickers.
"We're getting a lot of the nerds, geeks and [such], a lot of people who are into fanbase kind of stuff or artwork," he says. Call it fate or fortune, but either way, this Friday, Nov. 18, Fifth Element will host an exhibition titled Revenge of the Fifth, celebrating the gallery's one-year anniversary. As per the name, much of the art on display will be Star Wars fan art, like Steven "Soul" Cedre's "Darth Maul" painting (above).
"It's a combined show with local artists," says Mandelkow. "We've got the new movie [Rogue One: A Star Wars Story] coming out. I know a lot of artists who are big into that — comic book artists that we have locally, and a lot of other people. It's a fun subject."
There are some substantial parallels between fan and comic art and Mandelkow's work as a tattoo artist (to say nothing of his own Star Wars paintings). Both are less "fine art" and more "lowbrow" art forms, despite taking just as much talent and accuracy as classical art. Both can speak to art patrons just as deeply and profoundly as anything else — the Denver Art Museum is even underway with a show called Star Wars and the Power of Costume.
And then, there's the tattooing. "[The human body is] the most unique canvas you can find," he says. "It moves, breathes, gets sick, gets drunk, everything. [Tattooing] should be respected as a high art form. It's very difficult to do and takes years of training."
In the longer term, Mandelkow hopes Fifth Element will help seed an art scene outside of what's established downtown.
He says, "There's enough empty spots up here. Why not?"