Saturday, September 1, 2012
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
All photos by Thibault de Saint Chamas
Thursday, April 5, 2012
“I loved primary school, it was amazing. It was so fucking fun. All we did was our lessons, but I don’t really remember those, I just remember playtime. My friends and I would play ‘Animal King.’ One day we’d be a family of hawks, another day something else. But then secondary school happened and that just sucked.” Grace was already very into scarification at that point and remembers doing her GCSE art project on it. Her teacher found it interesting but no-one in school seemed to get her. She’d wear her hair weird, but not in a stereotypically weird way. “I dunno, everyone is confused at that age. I’m not sure I ever really got what I was about, and I’m not sure if I even do now. But I do remember everyone being particularly confused by me.”
“I was really nervous before going down there. At that point I hadn’t had anything done on my torso or my chest, but I’d experienced painful areas on my arms and legs. All tattooing is painful to a certain degree. But I was really excited about it, and everyone was really lovely when I got there. Mentally, I think I was a bit unprepared though, I didn’t really think it would be as bad as it was, but I knuckled down and since then I’ve made certain to prepare myself mentally. He’s done a few of my tattoos now, the portrait of CocoRosie on my leg is done by him too, and the Manson portrait is done by the brilliant Joao Bosco of The Family Business. There’s something about all the polish artists I’ve seen (referring to Piotrek), they do that really great dark and twisted realism. Piotrek’s blends are amazing, almost like silk. I wanted the swan to be at that moment in time where it’s about to charge through the water, just as they’re lifting their wings up. Just before they go mental!” Grace told me how she experiences a lot of frustration from people when they discover that there are long waiting lists involved with certain tattoo artists. “Time is not an object that needs to be an issue though. I had to wait around six months for the back-piece, but I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life and would have waited ten years if I’d had to.”
When Grace first moved to London she experienced a real education in tattooing. She worked at Self Sacrifice first, and felt that was when she was first properly exposed to what tattooing really was. Up until that point she had never really hung out with tattooed people so felt a little bit like the token tattooed girl, but now that is different. After a year and a half there, she moved onto Pure Ink which sadly shut down, and now she is at Red Inc in Luton, but still lives in London. “There’s four tattoo artists at Red Inc: Sam, Mark, Ricky and Kieran, then there’s Tom and I who do the piercing.” Grace also tattoos using the traditional practice of hand-poking. “I basically use something like a chopstick. I’ve always loved dot-work. My housemate and best friend, Tamara, is a dot-work tattoo artist and she’s always really inspired me. We got really into drawing symmetrical tattoos together and got really into it.” Grace shows me her fingers, “I’ve got her name on here. I’ve got lots of my friends names on my fingers.”
When Grace is at home she likes to paint, relax, have a cup of tea and get high. I interviewed her on skype and I noticed she had two strips of paint beneath her eyes so I asked her what they were. She smiled and replied, “my warpaint.”
“People like to ramble on about what tattooing means to them, but I don’t really know what it means to me. It’s just something that’s always been inside me. I just think that I do what I do because it feels natural. I don’t do anything because it’s cool, fashionable or trendy. I just try and stay as true to myself as I possibly can.”
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
In a small Cornish town Suzie was raised. Somewhat sheltered, yet fortunate to come from a wealthy background, Suzie kept herself busy by excelling in sports, even riding horses at a national level.
It was at a private school in Penzance where Suzie experienced bullying. Despite there being a wide-array of different types of students at the school - international students, kids with parents in the army, etc - a girl suffering from both dyslexia and dyspraxia found herself constantly being on the receiving end of ridicule. “Fortunately we lived quite close by, so I didn’t have to board at school. My family lived in a tiny village called Canonstown between St. Ives, Hayle, and Penzance.”
As a teenager Suzie was hanging out with people that drank and were into tattooing. Her parents felt she was a rebel because of it but Suzie believed that the reason she hung out with these so-called ‘rebels’ was because they were actually the nicest people. Because she attended a private school, which she found to be overly strict and rigid, it was inevitable that Suzie would start to move against the conservativeness of it. She started listening to punk, rock, metal, and was becoming increasingly exposed to tattoo culture. “My friends were all really into art. I used to paint as well. I lived with this one guy who was a graffiti artist, and just down the road from us was this tattoo studio that didn’t care about how old you were, so I was sixteen when I got my first tattoo.”
Suzie finished school with ten GCSE’s and also having completed all her BHS rider instructor exams. She got an NVQ through working at a care home and decided not to go to college. “I was a bit bored of normal education once school was finished.” After finishing her NVQ, the manager of the care home told Suzie that she’d be an amazing nurse, so she decided to get into that. She always wanted to go to university because her dad did and really enjoyed it himself (her mum had dropped out) but Suzie was very keen to take the appropriate route into the healthcare industry.
She arrived in Bath three years ago to attend university. Also, her family moved to Bath too as her mum was finding Cornwall quite a lonely place to be. Having known the area for some time, they decided to give Bath a go and have been in Bath ever since. At the time Suzie had kind of wanted to stay in Cornwall because she had a boyfriend there, but they broke up a week before she left.
Suzie, now in her third year of university, is now just months away from applying for jobs in the healthcare industry. Her particular interest is in A&E and surgery, and would like to find a job along those lines. Fortunately the course is arranged that you start applying for jobs before it is even over, so hopefully you can move immediately into a job by the end of it. “I have a placement coming up in the elderly ward which is a bit stressful. There are lots of mental health problems which is really sad. But recently I did CPR on someone and brought them back to life, and it was my first time ever doing chest compressions on someone. This woman had had a massive asthma attack, and because I have asthma too, I could really relate. I had this connection with her.”
The first tattoo Suzie got was on her stomach. It started with one small tattoo on her hip, and after immediately getting a taste for it, started to add others. “I then got another star on my other hip, and it just grew from that. Four artists in all have worked on my stomach. I remember the first star was done by this old pervy guy in Camborne, in this proper dive. But luckily the younger apprentice started doing more on my tummy. Two guns appeared, then a rose. Then I was at another place in Penzance and this awesome tattoo artist added some diamonds and touched up the rose. Then I had some burning dollar bills done by Celi in Melksham. Well, one of the bills is burning, the other is brand new. Then an anchor and a heart with wings was done. One side of the tattoo is supposed to look new, and the other side old. The old side represents the bullying at school, and the new side is about being me and being confident.”
For her eighteenth birthday, Suzie got a bracelet tattoo done that includes the inscription, ‘All I Will Ever Be Is Me’ and also features her mum and dad’s favourite flower and hers. She also designed it herself. She remembers when she was younger and being a rebel, she felt that her parents didn’t like her for a while, but she got the tattoo because she loves them but also because she won’t change and wanted them to see that. “As soon as they saw it they thought it was amazing, and now they’ve accepted that I get tattoos, despite not particularly liking them themselves.”
“The lilies on both my shoulders were done by Celi because I’ve always really loved lilies. All my tattoos are about the combination between having a meaning and just looking really great. But I’ve never got one just for the way it looked, there is always some kind of meaning in some way, even if it’s not mega-personal. I really love Greek mythology for example, and so that explains the tattoos on my arms and back. The tattoos all represent a love that I have for something.”
There is a peacock that goes all the way across the top of her back and merges into a Medusa on her left arm. Eventually Suzie plans on having a Pegasus done on her back, so the whole thing will turn into one very large set-piece. All those tattoos were done by Toni at Broad Street Studios in Bath. “I love anything that isn’t normal, like Greek mythology. Things that people don’t think are real, like fantasy. So anything that is different from our own world. I’m really into the alien theory. I prefer all that stuff to any kind of religion. For all we know, Greek gods could have been around, and the stories are just amazing. I don’t really like the really gory looking tattoos, so I went for a really pretty Medusa as I generally just prefer the pretty side to things, and because the rest of that tattoo is really colourful and beautiful, it would be a shame to have a really evil and ugly-looking Medusa be a part of it.”
Suzie had her feet done also at Broad Street, but by Fil instead. She remembers how when they got into the last hour of the second foot, she had had to have the numbing spray put on, “because I was literally wanting to kick him in the face!” They are hour glasses with the scroll reading ‘No Time To Waste.’ “I always feel like I’m in a hurry to do everything. And that I should be better at what I do, but I’m impatient, I feel as if it should happen immediately. It’s the same with everything I do even though I know I should relax and take my time, but I can’t help but feel I haven’t done enough in my life and I just want to do shit-loads and cram it all in.”
Jo Black of Black Inc in Frome did Mexican skulls on the back of each of Suzie’s calves, a boy and a girl. “I’ve always liked the Mexican way of celebrating someones life. The English can be so morbid. It’s not nice to lose someone you love, but there’s no point in mourning someone forever. No-one would want to see their loved ones depressed because they’d died, and I think it’s cruel to wish that people could live longer. For example, my Granddad was really ill, and I think it’s selfish to be wanting people to stay behind just for you.”
The last tattoo that Suzie has had done was also done by Jo. It is a poison bottle with a rose, crossbones, and a scroll with her brothers nickname on it. Her brother got it for her twenty-first birthday and so for his she is going to do the same. They are very close, despite an incident when they were younger when he stabbed her with a fork. As he approached the end of school they became best friends. The poison bottle represents the fact that when they’re together they like to party.
“I really love tattoos. It’s a shame that it’s not recognised more as an art-form. It’s weirdly still a taboo even though it’s massively popular. Even now, in nursing, there is a lot of criticism and a lot of discrimination aimed at people who are tattooed. But tattoos have been around for thousands of years, and I find that even people who pretend it’s not a big deal, still make smart-ass comments. People celebrate their love of oil on canvas, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t celebrate ink on skin. I’m not a big person for regrets, so I’ve never regretted my tattoos. Everything you do makes you grow. If you didn’t make mistakes in your life you’d never grow and become a better person.”
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
As a young girl, Riki-Kay once drew a picture of a ballerina and showed it to her friends. There was one girl who liked it particularly, someone that had been profoundly effected by it. Today the same things happen with her drawings and that is what continues to drive her. “I’ll just draw something, people will say that’s it’s nice, and then randomly someone will come across it and be in tears. That’s the best feeling in the entire world.”
Riki-Kay has honed her skills since she was a child and continues to work very hard at it. “Drawing is my first memory. I’m kind of addicted to it, like it’s my other half.” Born and raised in Ontario by nomadic parents (their three children were all born in different provinces), she was always supported in her artistic pursuits. Her grandma, also an artist in her own right, would draw and paint with her granddaughter from when she was very small. “We were really tight, us art-weirdos! Like kindred spirits. She taught me how to paint in watercolour, acrylic also. She exposed me to a lot of art from a young age. Also, when I was younger my parents were quite strict in the sense that we were made to do chores. At school I was really active in extra-curricular stuff too. Sports, theatre. I never really cared about having a social life.”
Despite not coming from a religious background, she was taught by her parents to be open-minded to everything. Instead of being focused on one train of thought, her and her siblings were encouraged to become critical thinkers from an early age. In a way that led to her feeling somewhat out of place. “A lot of people I knew had something they could belong to, but I never felt like I really did. But I wouldn’t change that for the world, I love knowing a little bit about a lot of things. Also, there’s nothing wrong with religion, I feel that it’s pure. It’s unfortunate that people associate religion with what people have made it. ‘Do unto others as others will do unto you’ is my golden rule.” She recalls how she used to stay up late into the night discussing politics and philosophy with her father.
Roughly five years ago Riki-Kay was displaying her artwork at a show in Toronto when people started to ask her if she drew tattoos. “The idea of putting drawings onto someones skin? Man, that blew my mind as a kid! It’s like a whole other canvas that you can actually wear!” She remembers a neighbour from when she was a child having loads of tattoos. “I used to just stare at them, they were really blown-out, really shitty, but they were amazing to me. I loved how they’d aged.” Riki-Kay once drew a tribal piece of flash on an envelope and showed it to her dad. “Is this considered artwork, Dad?” she asked. He paused and looked at the drawing. “Yeah, it’s artwork to someone I’m sure.”
But the love of tattooing had been born, and so it came as no surprise to her that people were starting to notice that her art could translate to somebodies skin. There is an old-school quality to it and looks almost like etchings that you feel you might have seen many years ago. There’s a lot of detail in it. She practices Pointillism, the labour-intensive dot-work style, and in order for her to translate that to tattoo flesh, some of the detail would have to be taken out. “So I’m at an interesting transition artistically. Art is going from just my drawings to tattoo requests, so the way I draw things is changing, and the way I see things. Everything is different. I’ve always liked putting things you wouldn’t necessarily see together, together. Or trying to make something pretty that isn’t generally seen as something pretty. When I was in my own little drawing bubble I was drawing darker things like skulls which I thought was really unique at the time, but the more I got exposed to the tattoo world, the more I realised it wasn’t that weird.”
“The industry in this part of Ontario (Waterloo) has changed a lot in the last five to six years. It was really raw hardcore shops, and now it’s expanded to being more about artists who really appreciate the traditional aspect of tattooing. They want to give you something original. They really appreciate when you use their flash, but they particularly want to be doing custom work, which is really nice. The Toronto scene is really different though, filled with a lot of rockstar personalities. It’s very intense and very competitive. But Waterloo, Guelph, Cambridge... You can move throughout the shops and everyone is real friendly.
“I hang out at this cool tattoo shop called Thrive. It’s basically four massive boys who literally have face tattoos and head tattoos and big beards with shaved heads. They’re ‘scary looking’. I hang out with them a lot and they’ve been tattooing me. I’ve definitely started appreciating the experience of getting tattooed. But with mine, there’s pretty much no sob stories. Fortunately, I don’t have a TV, so I have very little exposure to things like LA Ink. I don’t really know what’s going on in that world, but I hear a lot of people complaining about it.”
The first tattoo she ever got was done by Travis McGregor towards the end of high school, and it was one of his very early tattoos. Riki-Kay, not keen on the way black ink fades, was adamant that the tattoo would be done in brown ink. Farsi script that translates into 'Unity of Man Kind.' He wasn’t particularly comfortable with tattooing in script at that point, and she remembers him wanting to tap out when he was only halfway through. “He’s phenomenal now, amazing. So he’s pretty much embarrassed by these tattoos! But that was my first tattoo experience and I loved it.”
Riki-Kay’s lifelong love of art and tattooing has led her to seek out an apprenticeship. “I feel like my whole life has built up to this time and as if I’ve been doing a life-apprenticeship along with what will soon be a tattoo apprenticeship, it’s surreal. The way I’ve trained myself to draw, just picked up books that really interested me, always used that heavy line-work, as if subconsciously I’ve been training myself all along to draw tattoo-style.” But Riki-Kay has found it difficult to find an apprenticeship. “A lot of kids who go into it are 16-18 years old, and they’re already covered in tattoos. They’re obsessed with the industry and hangout at shops, just kinda working their way into it. Any stories you hear about great tattoo artists, well, that’s how it pretty much started for all of them. But I’ve had a strict upbringing, with school and being an athlete, and so now I’m falling into it from a different perspective and at an older age. When I was looking for an apprenticeship in the last four or five years, I was always shot down. They wouldn’t take me seriously because I wasn’t covered, and I hadn’t emerged with the scene. But I kinda like that, it’s made me feel that I have to double=prove myself. And now that I’ve landed an apprenticeship that I’ll start in a few months, I really feel like I’ve had to work very very hard for it, and proved that and consequently won the respect of an amazing tattoo artist.”
“Okay, here’s my sob story, or whatever you wanna call it, my tattoo with ‘meaning’. I like the whole idea of being a trooper and fighting, paying your dues and really work hard, never giving up. I have had to do that with life in general, and so when I came across this saying a long time ago, it really spoke to me” Along the back of her neck she has 'Fluctuat nec Mergitur', a Latin translation of ‘She is tossed by the waves but will not drown.” When she was first getting tattooed she was a bit nervous to get a picture done on her. She felt it was safer to get writing, and so around that time too she also had ‘Petite Femme’ tattooed on her leg and has also had 'PMA' (Positive mental attitude) tattooed on her finger. This was when she was living in BC (British Columbia) and the guys she was hanging out with had all these big bold tattoos, and she was having a hard time wanting to be tattooed like them. Eventually she started to get pictures done though. She has even given one of her legs to her friend Andy, otherwise known as AMFG (Andy 'mother-fucking' Gibson). “I love what he’s done so far on my leg because it’s traditional flash. Sailor Jerry, etc. I love how he’s done them because he hasn’t fucked with them, he’s stuck with the original flash, and I don’t really like a lot of what people are doing with traditional tattoos these days. I'd love to get some of Ben Corday's flash as well as his stuff is super rad and a bit softer. When I start tattooing, I’ve got my other leg for myself.”
Riki-Kay has a big ‘Spider-Mum’ tattooed on her forearm that was done by Chris Anthon at Thrive in Cambridge, Ontario. “The funny thing about that one was that he’d already tattooed it on some guys palm, and then used the same size for it on my forearm and it looks fucking massive! I thought it would be smaller but I still love it. I’m planning for it to join up to some chrysanthemums that I’m going to have done higher up my arm in a traditional Japanese black and grey style. He was the one that taught me how to use watercolour too, so I'm pretty lucky. We paint together all the time, we did the snake on the flash sheet.”
I’ve admired Riki-Kay’s artwork for a while, and before our conversation came to a close, I asked her if she could do a drawing for me, for which she kindly accepted. One of these days, hopefully not in the too distant future, I’ll have a unique Moby-Dick inspired Riki-Kay tattoo on my forearm. Hopefully, it’ll be her that gets to do it.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
In September of last year, Prestel published ‘London Tattoos’, a visual exploration of tattooed individuals living in London. Recent years have seen the rapid growth of books attempting to portray the world of tattooing, but no other appears to come as close to nailing it as this particular title did. Clear, beautifully designed, and to the point, ‘London Tattoos’ presents a wide-ranging group of individuals in their everyday dress, then shows with great clarity their tattoos and some words from the individuals themselves on what tattooing means to them.
I spoke with Alex MacNaughton this week about how the tattooing community took to a book produced by someone with no tattoos. “I was a bit anxious to know what people would think about it, but so far everyone has really liked it. I was worried people might get anorak-y about it, but I think people appreciated where I was coming from. It was a good cross-section of the tattooed community, but that happened more by luck rather than by design. I was also lucky to have Doctor Matt Lodder write the introduction.”
Alex had done a news job that involved a tattoo artist and eventually got chatting with him. “I’ve always been into graffiti, and have done a few books on the London street art scene, so I had those contacts in the publishing world. Anyway, the guy suggested that I do a book on tattoos.” He looked through books on tattooing and came to the conclusion that they were all rather similar. “There is a weird thing in the tattoo world, everyone wants to say it’s just art now, it’s not about bikers and prisoners anymore, but when you look at the books they’re all gothy and really dark. People say loads of people have tattoos, and that is true, but you still never see a tattoo shop called ‘The-nice-friendly-tattoo-studio’, they’re all called ‘Blood-and-needle’ or whatever. Also, most books aren’t about the people with the tattoos. You see a very tight picture of the tattoo but nothing about the person at all. So the way I pitched it to the publisher was a ‘portrait book of people with tattoos.’ I obviously did the bit that showed details of the tattoos because I realised that essentially the reason for people coming to books on tattoos was to seek inspiration, but I think it really adds to the book when the individual gets to say something about themselves too.”
Initially they set up a website for people to apply, and then they printed out cards that were handed out at nightclubs and similar types of venues in London. There was a surge of interest, which fortunately began to dwindle just as they had the right amount of people for the book. Alex feared that with the sharing capacities of the internet, they might suddenly be bogged down with individuals wanting to be featured, but fortunately they had just the right amount of people and they didn’t have to turn many away. So the individuals were asked to upload photos, the studio was booked and they were asked to come at certain times, and those that turned up were the ones that eventually made it into the book.
“I think we ended up with a really interesting cross-section of the tattoo world. There were one or two elements of that that I feel we missed out on. It would have been cool to have a biker, or perhaps an old guy with aged prison tattoos, but maybe they’re not the sort of people who are tied into the tattoo-blog world. The book has some extremely tattoo-covered people in it, but there is n0-one with anything particularly controversial in there. I don’t want people to think this is wrong, but it may have been interesting to get someone with something a bit like that. But it would have been awkward to figure out just how to place them in the book.”
“The book itself was designed in Germany. Prestel have a series of books at the moment that use a certain template. One is called ‘Style Diaries’ which was a book about people that write style blogs from all these random places in the world, like Minnesota. They photograph themselves in clothes, write about them, and have these massive followings. So the same template was used for ‘London Tattoos’ and it worked really well, because it gave us a lot of pages and was nice and chunky. There was an option to do a bigger book, but it would have had fewer pages.”
They chose Grace Neutral (soon to be on Tales of the Ink) to feature on the cover of the book. Grace is a tattooer and piercer at Red Inc in London. “Grace is amazing. She was one of these people that just turned up and you could have almost done a book on just her. Getting the cover right is a really big thing and there were a number of choices we tried to work with. But there was just this sweetness to her, something about her. The way she looked. It just worked. It tied in really well with how I look at tattoos, the way she just sort of turned up, right down to her grubby plimsolls.”
After having the initial idea for the book, there were a few false starts. They weren’t entirely sure how they were going to do it. Eventually Alex decided that the easiest way to go about it would be to go directly to the people with the tattoos. There had been a few attempts at going through the tattoo shops, but it can be quite political, and tattoo artists move around a lot. “You can speak to somebody one day, but then suddenly they’re not there when you come around to speaking with them again. There were only a few months between the website going live, and then the manuscript being delivered to the publisher. So despite it being quite a process, it was quite swift in the end.”