Reed McClintock: The Illustrated Magician
Have you ever seen a show where tattoos took center stage, appeared and disappeared before your eyes, morphing and teasing all watching? If so, then you've seen The Illustrated Magician, Reed McClintock, and one of his world renowned performances that have made magic cool again. I caught up with the magician, hypnotist, world record holder, former tattooist (etc) online and we had a chat. Listen in.
With a nod to Ray Bradbury, what stories do your tattoos tell? Is there a theme that runs through them, are they individual souvenirs of places or moments, or do you just collect for the hell of it...
A fun question because I have never really thought about it from this perspective. As I sit here now and really contemplate them, I find myself going back in time and remembering friends--the laughs, the fights and the sad times as well, their pasts injected into my skin almost as if having been connected to their lives for lessons learned the hard way. So I suppose my tattoos are like a time machine for me. I was a tattoo artist and thought that was my destiny until I got into art school. That's when magic picked me. I certainly didn't pick it. [laughs] I haven't tattooed since then.
Do the tattoos tell a story to the person looking at them? Perhaps they do. It is possible that they might not. I say this because there is no real theme per se. A series of abstract images that tell my stories in which regard, if someone inquires, I can share something of interest to them, a lesson learned or memory. I think of my tattoos as a direct telephone line with the past -- that these pieces of art on me are full of information for someone when it is right for them (if that makes sense in an esoteric way). Crazy! Art is often not describable.
Were they created by a woman from the future or are there present-day tattooists whose names you can share with us, at least your favorite pieces?
[laughs] Yes, an oracle from the future came to me in a dream. She put these on me and told me, "With these tattoos comes great power and of course with great power comes great responsibility."
No, seriously these are from people of our times who may be unaware of their future impact on a person's reality. I have some wonderful artists who've tattooed me:
My phoenixes and deck of cards were done by Mathew Mattison at Tiger Lilly Tattoo here in Portland, OR. My magic finger tattoo was done by Aaron Goodrich at Infinity Tattoo, also in Portland.
Eli Falconette and Justin Lee did my hypnotic spiral I use to induce hypnosis and the clock of the future, a trick where you think of a time and it appears on my chest tattooed. My throat was done by Kevin from Sea Tramp Tattoo, which I also use for group hypnosis. He was the only one who would take it on. Bless his heart and he did a kick ass job on it.
My treasure map trick on my leg was done by a brilliant artist and also a magician Chuck Nesci in Baltimore MD. Other tattoos are by Ernie from Lucky Devil Tattoo in Seattle; Soup Bone; Greg Kulz at Ernos Tattoo in San Francisco; Vyvyn Lazonga in Seattle, and from there, the names have vanished from my mind, but the memories of where I was in my life still remain.
How do you use your tattoos in your performances? For those who haven't seen it, please paint a picture of your illustrated magic show.
This is a wonderfully fun, entertaining, intellectual show. I know many readers, when they hear the word magician, instantly get images similar to that of something related to children's entertainment or television magic. My focus was to not create that image but to evolve it into the 21st century.
This particular show opens up with the question, "Who has any tattoos?" A brief bit of fun by-play. Then I ask those that responded if they can take theirs off. It is obviously a ridiculous question, isn't it?
I then cover the tattoo on my finger with my other finger and say, "I can! Look it disappears!" [It disappears because I am covering it with my finger as a blatant sucker gag.] They smile. I say, "Here, I will break the magician's code of repeating a trick," and repeat the finger gag.
Then I say, "You laugh but reality is way beyond what you can conceive, even the impossible." I then visually take the tattoo off my index finger. It is clearly gone and then it returns. You can see a brief clip of this on my site in the promo video (below). It is a stone cold shocker. They seem to always grab my finger to inspect it. It is great when they are disappointed to realize that it is a real tattoo, not some silly trick with an easy explanation.
Then from there, I do more tattoo magic: A person selects a spot on my tattooed stomach (making a random statement about touching a stranger's stomach). Then I hand that person a deck of cards, let them take out any card, and of course, examine it to be sure there's no silly trickery. That person shows every one the card they picked. They put their card back in the deck, shuffle it, then hand me the deck. [Please keep in mind my head is turned away so there is no way I could even glimpse the card.] Then, I fan the cards with the faces towards the audience, close the spread, and then re-spread them to show all of the faces of the deck just vanished...Poof! Like a fart in the wind. I ask the person who selected the card to say their card in their mind over and over. I then read their mind and say the card they selected under those impossible circumstances. I also ask them if they remember the spot they picked on my stomach earlier on. I then lift my shirt to reveal a deck of cards tattooed across my stomach, and hovering above the spread, is a tattoo of the card they selected.
I hope this sort of paints a picture for your readers, a sort of taste of what this particular show is like. I would say more but then where is the magic in that?
Beyond magic, you're also the world record holder for supine rotations on a bed of broken glass. How else is body play/manipulation part of your performances?
Yes, it's true. I set a world record of spinning bare backed on broken plate glass. When I was a boy, I can remember looking through those record books saying one day I will get in there. So I thought, What can I do?
My last world record I set was at the Lila City Tattoo Expo in Spokane, WA. I smashed my finger with soup cans from a distance of a foot above my finger. If you look in Tattoo Review #145, there are some brilliant pictures of that occasion.
In my stage show, I do several mind-over-matter things. I love this act for many reasons and one reason I have to tell you is ... What is real, people think is fake. What is fake, they think is real!
[For example] I put a real blowtorch out on my tongue. People always assume that is fake. It is the real deal. If I could figure out how to do that with no danger involved, I would. You just can't screw with propane tanks. Also, I walk up a ladder of swords in a straight jacket barefoot and blindfolded. I do a beautiful piece with razor blades that is a signature for me as well.
Now I know these may sound like the typical sideshow things that you've seen a million times before. Rest assured, these are made to be beautiful and elegant, and tell a story. I am not a fan of look how gross I can be or look at what I can do to amuse you. Not that there is anything wrong with that; it is just that we have seen it a million times.
I have to say I am very conscious of not being like anyone else, performance wise. I want people to have me at their event because of something special that I bring, otherwise they could hire anyone.
Did you ever watch the film Walk the Line? In it, Johnny Cash is having a conversation with the producer at Sun Records. The producer says to Johnny something that hit me so profoundly that it has become a moto for me when I create a new piece. The producer says (now I am paraphrasing here), "I am sorry. I can't sell that. Gospel just doesn't sell anymore. We have heard that same old song, sang the same way a million times. If you were laying in a ditch and you could sing one song, you mean to tell me that's the one you're gonna sing or would you sing something different?" There is a mighty pause after that, Johnny says some words, and then plays something he wrote himself.
There is only one Enigma; there was only one Houdini and only one Johnny Cash. Every celebrity that we know of and respect got there because they weren't afraid to be who they are. I swore to myself that I would be me! It isn't fair to my audience. Or myself.
You've said, "People are riveted to the magic. I am riveted to the people. Together, through the experience, we are both changed." Do you think being heavily tattooed similarly creates this communication and connection?
This again is a wonderful question. I would have to answer in this way: When I am working with the people that are as tattooed as myself, I think it creates an almost instant camaraderie--a bond because we know internally what we have had to go through to get where we are and to break through those judgmental barriers. When I perform for clientele who are not tattooed, they know who they have hired and accept me and my type of entertainment.
Let me share a story from many years ago when I was new to magic: I went to a magicians' meeting, a group that gets together as a "brotherhood of like-minded people." I was sitting in a chair off to the side and the president of the oldest magic society in the world comes up to me and says, "Get the fuck out of here you tattooed freak...nobody would ever want to watch someone like you do magic." This left a scar on my heart, deep and long. I almost listened to him. Then I realized, Hey I was punk rock when I was a kid and I didn't listen then, so fuck him, I am not gonna listen now. With that fire in my belly, I went out and did it and continue to do it. I know I have thirty thousand days to live my life if I am lucky, so I live everyday as if it is my last.
I surround myself with people who are positive and wonderful and accepting. I show support to those that have hurting hearts and use my hypnosis and magic skills to make them feel good, even if only for a moment to forget the world they have created for themselves.
My performance is not a matter of my wanting to; it is a matter of my needing to. I need the people I perform for because they bring me so much joy and life. Everyone that I perform for gives me a gift so amazing; they give me some of their time and that is so precious and valuable.
So with that, I want to give them something worthwhile. Magic is not about me, it is about the people you are with! It is their experience; it is their moment that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.
Ok, I said only 5 but here's a bonus question: Considering your background, have you ever thought of using hypnosis to take care of pain when getting tattooed?
You sneaky girl! I use the power of hypnosis every time I get tattooed! Tattoos hurt. I don't care who you are. If you have a tool that is natural like the power of hypnosis, then ... ah, life is good. You know I have offered to teach this particular set of skills to tattoo artists, not many, but a few, and they have said No. It's fairly easy to grasp, especially with the way I teach it. They could use hypnosis on people who are terrified or even just to get the movers to sit still long enough to get the tattoo perfect. Because I was a tattoo artist for many years, I know the different scenarios they would need hypnosis for. This is a skill that I can teach at tattoo conventions as a workshop and could have artists doing this in just a few hours.
I'll be sure to suggest it to convention organizers! Thanks, Reed, for sharing your time and thoughts.
I want to thank you so much for asking me to do this. I am honored and grateful to you and every one of you who read this long-winded diatribe. Yes, I have the gift of gab as you can tell; so one day when I meet all of you, be ready to tell me all about you. It's only fair. Remember, the magic isn't the trick -- it is the experience you take away. And that goes to everything in this life, my friends!
You can see Reed live on Sundays at Dante's in Portland, Oregon when he's not on tour. His European tour starts in June and will include France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and many more. Check Reed's site and Facebook page for updates.
Photos by Dave DeCaro and Jocelyn Dean.