Artist Interview: John Reardon
On Friday, Marisa posted a bit of an introduction on tattooer John Reardon, which let's us skip the foreplay and get straight to the Q&A.
I met up with John at Brooklyn's venerable Saved Tattoo in Williamsburg and headed around the corner to Roebling Tea Room to talk about tattoos, his book (the Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting a Tattoo) and cheeseburgers. Here's how it went.
PS: I think I'm just gonna get the oatmeal. I actually ate before I came over here...
JR: I'm doin' the pork roll. I was actually here for breakfast, this morning. I had the granola then... Ah, fuck it, I'm getting a cheeseburger. I kind of eat like an asshole.
(Laughs) All right. Wanna start?
Where're you from originally?
And how'd you get into tattooing?
My dad had tattoos. I don't know, we were kinda white trash.
How long you been tattooing?
It's thirteen years this summer.
And how'd you learn?
Just started hacking away at my friends. A guy up in New Hampshire helped me out, showed me what to do, but if I ever had any questions, I could usually call him up and he'd help me out over the phone.
Did he give you a machine?
Ah... I ordered some shitty machine from the back of a magazine. I was 18, just graduated high school, my friends chipped in. It was illegal in Massachusetts and we were tired of going to Rhode Island or New Hampshire to get tattooed. I was going to art school and they were like, 'You're gonna learn how to tattoo.'
And you went to Pratt, right?
I heard something about you teaching Eli Quinters how to tattoo?
Um, no, not really. I mean we just kind of hung out. We were like the only Straight Edge kids on campus for the most part. The first time we hung out was at a Hatebreed/Bloodlet show. And he's like, 'Hey, uh, you do tattoos, right?' and I said yeah and he had this big fucked up tattoo on his back and he asked me to fix it so I said all right. We just ended up hanging out after that. And he asked me to teach him how to tattoo. I was like, 'I can show you all the shit that I know,' but I didn't really know shit at the time. And then he ended up getting an apprenticeship at the shop I worked at.
Where was that?
Medusa on St. Marks. It's not there anymore. I started there in '98 and he started there in '99, I think.
So how'd you end up at Saved?
I knew Scott Campbell for a while and we always used to drink together...
This was after the straight edge phase.
Oh yeah, yeah (laughs) that kinda fell off around 2000. But Eric Jones was quitting so I filled in for him.
And are you still tattooing over in Copenhagen?
Well, I used to (regularly). I was married to a Danish girl. We opened a shop together and we're now divorced. I was going back there to work a bunch, but I think we just decided it's better if I don't. So I'm gonna work with my friend Franz at Le Fix.
I was trying to go back a couple times a year, but rent's expensive here so it's hard to get away. Now, I wanna travel the U.S. a bit. I'm gonna work at (San Francisco's) Everlasting around August 5th or 6th through the 15th/16th, then travel. But I'm gonna be back in Copenhagen around September, October.
Good deal. You've got a really eclectic portfolio. Is there a style you're always itching to do?
The themes kind of change. Now, I'm kinda into doing more women heads, pinup-style stuff. The kids seem to be into that, too. I like to take an idea, draw it, make it reflect me.
So what makes a good tattoo?
Good solid outline. Nothin' too thick, cause it'll spread, but a good solid outline and lots of black.
Now on to the book. So it's basically a guide.
Yeah, well how to get one. It's kind of like... it pretty much answers all the questions. Like for people that work in a street shop, answering the same fucking questions every goddamn fucking day, again and again and again, back to back, same shit (laughs). So I just tried to answer all those questions.
Have you had a good response?
Yeah! Well, from the people that have actually looked at it (laughs). You can find it on Amazon. It's under an imprint of Penguin. Barnes and Noble is supposed to have it, too, but they never restock it.
What's it under, self-help?
I think arts and crafts. I think it sort of depends. They probably don't know where to put it. I need to get Hot Topic to take the damn thing. I gotta get off my ass and send it to 'em.
Ah, I bet kids would love that.
Yeah, I mean a lot of people. My friends that have read it, they were like, 'Oh, cool, it helps,' I think it's all stuff they'd want in there. And I had to ask my friends, too, when I was writing it.
So it's been a good response from tattooers as well?
Oh yeah yeah yeah.
I wonder if it's kind of creating a more ideal customer, too? Makes it easier on you guys, I imagine.
It's just easier when people have more freedom. I mean, some people that get a lot of freedom shouldn't have a lot of freedom. But you know, when you're comin' to people, you should be fairly comfortable. I covered some design stuff, too.
Right, I know you featured some of your work in the book.
I felt uncomfortable asking people for stuff, so I stuck close to the New York people I knew. So yeah, I would just fill it with my shit. It was just easier than having to email people. Eli helped out a lot, he sent me a lot of stuff for that. I lived down the street from him while I was writing it so I could just ride my bike to his house, grab a bunch of shit, bring it back.
How'd you get hooked up with the publishers?
Well, my sister wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Exotic and Pole Dancing, so her editor found out I tattooed, and his boss was on him to do a book about tattooing.
I'm sure I saw the book maybe a year or two ago on your website? It seems it flew under the radar a bit?
I'm really shitty at promoting my own stuff. It's such a pain in the ass and I'd rather just be tattooing. This book nearly killed me writing the fucking thing. I'm glad I did it, it was a great experience. But I just wanna tattoo people.
I wonder if maybe five years ago it would've been a bigger deal? Maybe ten, before the TV shows happened?
Well they wouldn't have made it then. The only reason major companies are getting into this shit is cause they're trying to bank on it. TV shows are like 'Oh, we can make money off this shit.' I mean, people are still into the Kat Von D stuff... I don't know her. The more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned. The more publicity tattooing gets, the better for all of us, to a certain extent. But certain things shouldn't be out there although they've been pretty good though about covering up a lot of stuff that shouldn't be shared.
They need personalities, not tattooers... But I'd do it in a heartbeat, man. The [tattooers on the shows are] set forever now, they're booked for months in advance. You know, the broader client base you've got, the longer you're booked up. And I'm not as booked as I could be, so I'm lookin' ahead.
So are there any tattooers you're into? Anybody whose work is blowing you away right now?
Tons of 'em. I love Shige's work, Dan Trocchio. All my friends' stuff is amazing, those guys over at Smith Street. Thomas Hooper is killin' it. Anything Scott Campbell touches is amazing, you know what I mean. Ray of Sunshine known as Bailey ...
He was a ray of sunshine when I came in today!
Yeah his stuff's really, really good. It's fucking infuriating (laughs). Noble's stuff is awesome. I never go online to look at stuff because once I'm outta work, I just don't wanna think about it.
I draw everything the day of, I only give myself a couple hours to draw all this shit and I'm concentrating a lot. So by the time I get out I'm like, 'God...' But I worked three days where I had to draw twice each day and I was so burnt. My back was killin' me, too.
I know that's a constant problem for tattooers.
Yeah. Well if I'd actually get off my ass and do some sit-ups it evens it out. I also sit like an asshole, too. But that's why I'm doing Tai Chi.
(Laughs.) Last question: any upcoming projects?
I'm always in the process of making t-shirts. One day I'll actually make them. I don't know, I just wanna tattoo. I should be working on paintings, too.
Well, says who?
Yeah, well, I want to. I don't know if you know Dennis McNett, he's a print maker, makes really sick prints. We talked about maybe doing an art show. He actually did the sneakers I'm wearing. He's a real cool dude so I'd like to put together a body of work to do a show with him, maybe a couple other people.
Cool. You can finish your burger now.
Here, dude, eat some of these fries. The more you eat, the more you save me from being a fat ass.