Inked Icon: Guy Aitchison & Michele Wortman
I had such a pleasure interviewing tattoo power couple Michele Wortman and Guy Aitchison of Hyperspace Studios for the January issue of Inked magazine's Icon feature. [It's the one with Kat Von D and Deadmau5 all lovey on the cover (pre-breakup).]
In the interview, Michele and Guy share how their distinctive artistic styles developed, some of the controversy behind their approaches, how one can be a better artist through attitude adjustment, and their most cherished collaboration: baby Kaia Rose.
Here's a bit from our talk:
You're both renowned for your distinctive styles. How would you describe them?
GUY: I work in abstract style--a lot of different abstract styles--but generally it's earned the definition of biomechanical. This can take many forms as long as it's a nonrepresentational kind of tattooing that flows with the human form. it could be something that is either kind of robotic--imagine a Transformers style--or it could be something a bit more organic, like an alien exoskeleton with all kinds of crazy textures. or sometimes you get a mix. People who get tattoos from me generally just want to get tattooed. a lot of people feel like they need to have a pretext for their tattoo that symbolizes something, but people who have collected enough often will arrive at a place where they are getting tattooed because they're getting tattooed. They like tattoos. They are looking to be decorated. That's the number one rule of this style. Make it attractive, make it flow well with the body, make it sort of exaggerate the musculature a bit. it's meant to be flattering but also meant to instill a sense of, "Wow, I've never seen anything like that before." When people come across it, they should be stopped in their tracks a bit.
Guy Aitchison Tattoo above.
When you first started tattooing and developing this style in 1988, it was really new and innovative.
GUY: Well, I wasn't the first person to do this stuff. I was attracted to H.R. Giger's paintings. That was part of what got me interested in tattooing initially. I wanted to tattoo stuff like that. For those not familiar, Giger designed the sets and monsters for Ridley Scott's Alien movie. It has this look that just has a natural flow, great depth, and a sense of realism to it. I thought it would look great on skin. in my first year of tattooing, I came across a few people who were actually doing Giger paintings as tattoos, and a few had done a really nice job of it. It definitely proved the point that it was a viable style. I then started hanging around a few of these tattooers: Eddie Deutsche, Greg Kulz, aaron cain, and Marcus Pacheco. These are the ones who were really exploring the abstract style at the time. We started working on each other and collaborating in various different mediums, and then diverged away from being Giger clones, and each of us looked to redefine what we were seeing. In particular, I was looking for ways to make it look stronger as a tattoo. I was working with bigger shapes that flowed with the body as the structure for the whole thing. and then you have basically this infinite variety of textures and effects, lighting, things that you can apply to it. So it was definitely influenced by H.R. Giger and by these other tattooers I worked with, but at this particular juncture, 23 years later, it's certainly taken on its own look.
Michele, how did your style develop?
MICHELE: My style originated from being a collector and not necessarily resonating with the early work I collected. I started to assess it more and realized that I wanted something that was more unified, that had less weight to it, and that reflected more of how I was feeling rather than the styles that were available at the time.
Around when was that?
MICHELE: It was around 1995 when I first got a half sleeve. I know that's not very much coverage, but at the time it seemed it, because you didn't really see women with the coverage you see now, and it felt like a big step. Then I got a chest piece a year later. My work had a fair amount of black in it, and I wanted something that felt lighter and a little freer. So I started getting lasered, getting rid of all the black in my ink so that I could reconstruct it, and during that period of time, I became a tattoo artist.
Michele Wortman tattoo above.
Would you say your style is more feminine?
MICHELE: It's interesting you should say that because originally I had wanted a half sleeve of flowers, and this girl looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, "You would get that. How typical of you." That bothered me, so I decided I would rebel against my feminine nature and get architecture, which is very masculine in my opinion, very manmade. The fact that i rebelled against my feminine nature in the beginning only to come back to it later was an interesting lesson for me--to be comfortable and enjoy things that might be associated with having feminine qualities and not try to fight it and be someone I'm not. That had a lot to do with the energy i was putting into my tattoo work, and that became my defining style.
Black is really part of the old-school tattoo tradition, black and bold. Have you ever been criticized for not following these tattoo tenets?
MICHELE: Absolutely. I've been heavily criticized for my style. I've had people come up to me at tattoo conventions, slam my portfolio down, and tell me that what I was doing wasn't tattooing. So I had a steep hill to climb, and I still feel like I'm climbing it. But if you believe in what you do, you need to stick with it.
Do you have a response to the technical critiques?
MICHELE: I do have a response. Early on there was some validity to their assessment because I was just learning to tattoo and my work wasn't as developed as it is now. It was definitely very experimental, not using black outlines. The black has a boldness to it, and it does seem that it stays in the skin better, so I can see their point. The thing is, work that is soft in contrast with a limited use of black needs multiple passes. If someone has a piece that doesn't look so hot, it's not necessarily because it won't work. You really need to get that saturation and develop contrast over multiple sessions, since you don't have a strong, bold line holding your design in place. It's a different approach to tattooing, so it has its own flavor of rebellion in there, even though it may be viewed as a stereotypical feminine aesthetic.
Read the rest of the Q&A here.
Also check Guy & Michele's online resource for tattooists and collectors: Tattooeducation.com.