Inked Icon: Pat Fish
The inimitable Pat Fish -- "The Queen of Celt" -- is internationally renown for her powerful and intricate Celtic knot work tattoos. She is also known for being quite outspoken, calling bullshit on issues she believes harm the tattoo industry and collectors. Pat does just that in our Icon Q&A for Inked mag.Your work has moved towards pointillism and other new directions, but still largely keeps to the traditional Celtic designs. Where are those influences coming from? Conventions?
In the interview, she raises some of those controversial issues, like potential dangers in color tattoo ink as well as the ethics of giving clients exactly what they want. Pat also shares some of the lessons she learned from her mentor, the legendary Cliff Raven, who changed her life, and how her pet mule, Tobe, has done the same. Here's a taste:
Absolutely. When I worked at the NIX Tattoo Convention up in Toronto, I met both Colin Dale and Cory Ferguson, and I was stunned by their pointillism. All the time when I was at UCSB art school, I was using pointillism, using dots to do my shading. But I had never done it in tattooing. Why not? I don't know. So I started exploring how to pull that into my style. Also, I had a pretty strong feeling that the governments of the EU and the US were going to outlaw colored tattoo ink, but I was wrong about this. I figured, well, maybe it will just happen that I have to adapt my style so that black ink is all I'll have, and it's good enough. I can't imagine why [colored ink] is still legal. It's just wrong. It's a hugely dangerous thing to have something that nobody knows what's in it. There's no oversight or MSDS [Material Safety Data Sheet] provided. Here we are hoping for the best and sticking it in our clients.
Don't you think that there would be an epidemic, with so many color tattoos, if the inks were dangerous?
I think the big risk is that there are so many more suppliers today than there were in the past. It used to be that you would get powder and put it with your own preferred suspension agent and there you go, you have your ink. Now there are, what, a hundred ink suppliers and none of them have any MSDS, and even the really famous ones have ended up with fungus in a batch.
Beyond health issues, there are also moral issues to consider in tattooing. For example, there was a lot of buzz over a woman getting a huge "DRAKE" tattoo (in honor of the singer) on her forehead and whether the tattooist should have done it. What do you think about that?
I interact with a lot of the older generation of tattoo artists and they say, "Somebody is going to do that tattoo. Why do you pretend that you care about that person? It's money." My attitude is that I rather have them angry with me over something I didn't do than something I did. I have morals, and I have to be responsible in this life for everything I do. If I really feel that it will make them a person who relied on welfare because now they made themselves into a freak and can't get a job, then I need to step up and tell them No. I've had people come in and thank me later for not having done a tattoo that I refused to do. That's a nice moment.
You have a lot of people flying into Santa Barbara from all over the world to get tattooed by you, but is Celtic work still as popular as it was, say over ten years ago?
I've been selling my designs online now at Luckyfishart.com since 2001, and there was a point where people were buying a lot more Celtic stuff than they are now, but it's hard to tell. Right now the trend is words. People will call me and go on and on about how much they love my designs and then just ask for two Gaelic words on their arm. Give me a break. For me, words age badly and look goofy. Unless they are really big, they don't have a graphic quality to them. I usually decline to do it, which is hard to do in this economy.