In the November issue (yes, November) issue of Skin & Ink magazine on newsstands now, you'll find my profile on Jesse Smith of Loose Screw Tattoo in Richmond, Virginia. I came to know Jesse's work upon seeing two of his clients at a convention sporting bold and colorful bodysuits, which seemed to illustrate stories that would be beloved by children but best appreciated by adults. Jesse shared his art and his own personal stories for the magazine. Here is an excerpt:
The characters that populate Jesse Smith's tattoo and fine art work are up to no good. Rabbits, squirrels, and mice may look cute but they play out evil plots in full-body tattooed color bombs reflecting the political and religious views of the wearer. The juxtaposition of heavy subject matter relayed in light and charming form has become a signature for Jesse that has attracted an international clientele since he began tattooing in 1999. Today, he welcomes these clients into Loose Screw Tattoo in Richmond, VA, which he opened May 6th of this year.
When asked about the serious undertones in his art, Jesse offers this example of how one of his larger tattoo projects developed:
"One of the pieces that I feel really had a lot of political fuel behind it was the 'Oppression' piece. The client who owns this piece really had no idea as to what he wanted when we first sat down together. His main concern was to cover-up this rather large piece that ran across his shoulders. I asked what his political and religious views were and if he'd be interested in trying to illustrate something that revolved around those particular themes on his back. We soon came up with the concept of oppression. In this particular piece, the gorilla represents the government/corporations and their massive size. The gorilla is trying to give the squirrels--which in this piece represent the average person--a toxic acorn. The toxic acorn represents all the things that the government/corporations try to give us that aren't good for us (i.e. credit cards, high interest loans, etc.). The squirrels take the acorns, but rather then eating them, they turn them into acorn bombs and will eventually give the government/corporations a taste of their own medicine."
Of course, not every tattoo Jesse creates bears enormous ideological weight. His portfolio is peppered with playful works that stand on their aesthetics alone, from pink bulldogs to a penis on a swing. But most are crafted in a distinct style that is very identifiably his own. It transcends the old "New School" label. Jesse has called it "Lo-Brid," and explains how he coined the term:
"When I first started tattooing, New School was the genre of tattooing that I looked up to and connected with the most. As I matured as an artist I noticed that the artists who were being grouped into that particular genre had surpassed what all that genre encompassed. I had discussed this thought with other artists and they all seemed to share the same opinion. So I started to brainstorm a bit and came up with the name Lo-Brid. I liked how it played off of the words hybrid and low brow and seemed to run parallel to their meanings. I, personally, consider the Lo-Brid style a movement of tattooing that has collected inspiration from graffiti, tattoo, comic book and lowbrow art.