NIKOLAS DURAN-GEIGER has always been fascinated by ghosts and the supernatural. Growing up, he spent weekends traveling with his mother, Deborah, a ceramic artist, to art events across the country, where he’d keep busy with a pencil in one hand and a sketchbook in another. Among his earliest memories, Duran-Geiger recalls doodling chocolate-chip cookies and vampire bats on a chalkboard. 

“My lifelong interest in ghouls and other things that go bump in the night comes from a strange sort of comfort in the idea that there might be more to the world than meets the eye,” says Duran-Geiger, who loved comic books and monster movies as a kid. Drawn to outsider characters from Frankenstein and Creature from the Black Lagoon, he often found comfort curling up to watch a horror flick. “There’s something about the controlled environment of investigating a feeling that would otherwise be pretty debilitating,” he says.

In many ways, art is life for the seventh-generation New Mexican. With his slicked-back hair, pencil-thin mustache, and painted nails, Duran-Geiger looks like he’s stepped out of the shadows in a 1920s film noir. He carries a vintage black briefcase with sketchbooks filled with watercolors, sketches, and mixed-media depictions of outcasts, ghouls, and other miscreants.

Artist Nikolas Duran-Geiger revels in darkness.

A darker, gnarlier version of Dr. Jonathan Crane—Scarecrow from the Dark Knight comics—is rendered using walnut ink and white acrylic. A woman stands in a gloomy graveyard in a black-and-white prairie landscape. A female skeleton in a red flapper dress toasts with a martini (an illustration that graced the cover of the Contemporary Hispanic Market program in July). Each piece weaves an unsettling yet familiar narrative, inviting viewers to create their own stories. “The people who have inspired me have always been unashamed of who they are,” he says.

New Mexico’s rich tradition of folklore, mysteries, and myths has also been fertile ground for Duran-Geiger. He remembers digging holes with his brother, Ryan, near the arroyos by their house in Santa Fe to catch La Llorona. “I liked the idea of, Oh, okay, maybe we can catch a ghost,” he says. Unfortunately, the only thing they ever trapped was their father, who fell and fractured three ribs. 

After studying art and folklore in college, Duran-Geiger traveled throughout Latin America, Singapore, and Thailand. “I love the idea that wherever you go, real or not, there are beliefs that you won’t ever get to [experience] unless you spend time seeking them out,” he says. “It makes the world feel a little more magical.”

With every piece, the artist is working to dive deeper into a character’s story not only to express the acceptance of the weird and unknown in himself, but also to allow others to foster their own curiosity and interest in anything that may seem out of the ordinary.

“You can be weird,” he says, “but you’re not alone.”

Read more: Eerie New Mexico author Ray John de Aragón speaks about his work as a folklorist and historian.