Artist Profile: Amanda Wachob
Tonight, at Tattoo Culture in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is the Fourth Annual Group Show featuring the fine art of tattooists. One of the artists is Amanda Wachob of Daredevil Tattoo. Her paintings have been shown across the US and in Canada to great acclaim, but I wanted to particularly talk to Amanda about her experimental tattoo work and how she's pushing the boundaries of what makes a tattoo fine art in itself. Here's how the conversation went...
I wanna get the dirt on the experimental tattoo projects you're working on now. Tell me about them.
I have so many ideas I can't sleep at night!
Ten people in symbiosis with their own painting. The design starts on the participant's body and travels onto the canvas behind them. I am not charging for the tattoo work, I am asking that people make a donation to the Henry Street Settlement. Henry Street is a non-profit organization that has been active in providing healthcare, housing, senior services, etc. for the Lower East Side community in Manhattan for over 100 years. They also recognize the importance of art and have many wonderful art-based programs and workshops....this is area where I am hoping to direct the money. When the project is completed, I'd like to have an exhibition showcasing all of the work.
What inspired it?
I'm trying to push an abstract tattoo to the next level. It's a big experiment and hopefully it will be visually successful! If not, at least a really great organization has been given some funds to help the community.
You bring fine art concepts to your tattoos but do you consider tattooing as a fine art itself?
I see it as a tool. In the same way that a paintbrush can be used to paint the exterior of a house, it can also be used to apply paint to a canvas. It depends on how you are using it, and who is doing the tattooing.
Let's talk about your conceptual art tattoos. Describe your bloodline tattoos, the process, the designs, the type of people who get them and why. Is there something symbolic or magic to them?
I am fascinated by symbols and ideograms, simple graphic images that contain multifarious meaning. The bloodlines are only magic in the sense that the idea is based on that of a sigil. A "seal," or sigil, is a visual thought form charged with a particular magical intent and magicians often employed these abstract glyphs in spells. Austin Osman Spare has been a big inspiration. He was an artist and a visionary who created the magical technique of sigilization, focusing your will on an symbol to manifest a change in the material world. Most of the people that have gotten the bloodlines are people close to me, people who fit with the symbol.
When is a tattoo not just a tattoo, that is, when is it more than art for art's sake?
Hahaha, sometimes I wonder why a tattoo can't just be a tattoo for Pete's sake! I don't think people have a problem explaining why they are getting tattooed and what their design means to them. If anything, people over-explain almost as if they have to justify the reason why they are altering their appearance. Why not get something just because you think it's beautiful, why not get tattooed just because you like the commitment of a permanent change?! To get something in and of itself, there is no pretension in this and no extraneous meaning.
You're abstract tattoos have gotten much attention recently. They are not just beautiful but also harmonize so well with the shape of the body. What's interesting is that not all are outlined like traditional tattoos. Some may argue that the old tenets of tattooing, like strong outlines, are the key to a work's longevity. How do you respond to that in the context of your tattoo work?
I think you said it best Marisa ~ old tenets.
You also do a lot of strong traditional tattooing. How do you approach each style?
Traditional in the sense that I also do a lot of work with a black line, but I have never really tattooed a lot of traditional American imagery. I love traditional tattoos: skulls, daggers, pinups, roses, they are classic images that have a rich history in American culture. But I also like to think beyond the repetition of those designs. And for each tattoo I try to accommodate the desires of my customer...I don't always put "my spin" on it....after all, the tattoo is not about me.
In the eleven years you've been tattooing, what have been the most important lessons you've learned, whether they be about the art or human nature?
Listen to the people you respect, watch the people who are skilled, and wear a thick skin.
Working at Daredevil, a very busy studio, you must get some strange tattoo requests. What has been the most memorable tattoo that you've done there?
A cupcake on a crotch with a cherry on top.
Have you ever tattooed one of your paintings on a client? Would you want to?
Sure, if the painting speaks to them I would gladly tattoo it. I have tattooed images from my paintings before, but skin is more limiting than canvas, you can only go so far with detail and color.
Let's talk more about your painting. What's the process like for you -- is it cathartic, heavy, serene or intense?
Sometimes it's tedious. I like immediate results, and the kind of oil painting that I do...layering and glazing, requires diligence. It's good practice for leveling out my impatient nature though. In the end painting is an emotional release for me.
I see themes of sexuality, gender and race. Do such themes inspire the work? Do you look to make a social statement in your art?
Yes, those themes occasionally inspire the work. I think it's important to address some of those issues because they veil our true nature -- we are all a small slice of a larger whole, at the core we are all coequal. We forget this and judge one another based on gender and race. Sometimes I like to be subversive, other times I just like to make something pretty.
I'm looking forward to seeing your work in the Tattoo Culture Art show. Do you have any other exhibits coming up?
I have a solo show at the Castellani Art Museum next year and have been focusing on making work for this.
For the last two questions, I'm gonna get intimate. First, what is your personal philosophy?
Cultivate a boundless heart!!!
Ok, now finish this sentence: A happy life for me is ...
100 mph on the highway, the final layer of varnish, and belly laughing over a big plate of bacon.
You can find Amanda at Daredevil Tattoo in Manhattan's Lower East Side four days a week by appointment: Wed., Thurs., Sat. and Sunday. She's always on the prowl for people who want to participate in her various tattoo projects. Her next one is called the Love Club, which will be in February for Valentine's Day. We'll have details on that soon.
Amanda and I will be at Tattoo Culture tonight between 7 and 10pm. Hope to see ya there!