Erik Inkala's Speaks His Own Language Through Street Art-Inspired Works and Made-Up Words

After a five-year hiatus from showing work in Minneapolis, painter Erik Inkala opened a solo exhibition last Saturday at Public Functionary filled with bright shapes, a curious indiscernible language, and camouflaged creatures hidden within the lines. Titled "Erik Inkala: Chaos Complex," the show included about a dozen original paintings plus a large-scale mural that took over the gallery's back wall. 

There are several really interesting things going on in Inkala's body of work. He incorporates elements of what look like words, though they're not made up of actual letters from a recognized language. Not knowing the meaning of the characters, which resemble a kind of script, the viewer is invited to enter into a subconscious dialogue with the artist. Made with white paint on a black background, the characters are squished together and elongated, clumped in piles of information that's not translatable in any concrete way. 

Mixed in with the characters is an animalistic quality at times. Employing eyeballs and abstracted figurative shapes of unknown creatures, the works have a near-narrative element. Is that an owl in that one piece? Is that a big-beaked bird in another? Verging on cartoonishness, these anthropomorphic abstractions emerge from the eye-popping colorful shapes that Inkala weaves together to create his work. 

Now based in Brooklyn, Inkala grew up in the Twin Cities. He's a self-taught artist, whose work bears seeds of graffiti and pop art, having exhibited in Minnesota, New York, and internationally in Copenhagen and Australia. As City Pages' Erik Farseth noted last week, Public Functionary's director Tricia Khutoretsky previously wrote about Inkala for the magazine Industry, which she used to run. A few months ago, Inkala posted an image on Instagram that compelled Khutoretsky to bring the artist back home to close the gallery's second season. 

The work has a street-art quality, but with a structure that's quite formal. The impulses -- the colors, the strong gestural decisions -- that Inkala takes with the frenzied shapes and the unreadable words that burst with energy all are contained with a very deliberate order.


"Erik Inkala: Chaos Complex"

Through December 20

Public Functionary

Gallery hours are Tuesdays from 2 to 6 p.m., Fridays from 7 to 11 p.m. (with special happenings scheduled), and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.