Over the past ten years, I've sat down numerous times with one of the most acclaimed tattooers in the world -- Paul Booth -- and chatted about art, fetish, fame, and freaks, among other topics and tangents. It's always fun to learn of his continuing plans for pushing the boundaries of art as well as pushing people's buttons. And what's really been most interesting to me is his changing perspective on his long wild ride in tattooing, now that he starts moving towards elder statesman status.
In Inked magazine's Art Issue, I interviewed Paul for the "Booth Review" cover feature (shot by Mark Mann), in which he talks about whether he's still indulging in the rock star lifestyle, his new art gallery and Last Rites crew, the gay heroin addict rumors, and a host of other Booth-isms. The Art Issue is on newsstands now and the article can be read in its entirety online.
Here's a bit from our talk:
Are you mentally preparing for the moment when you'll be considered "an old-timer?"
I thought I was already an old-timer! I mean, when I was new, somebody tattooing 27 years was one for sure. They had been tattooing longer than I had been alive. At this point, I feel that, if you learned on acetate stencils, then you're probably an old-timer.
When you're asked by newbies to impart some tattoo advice, what do you usually offer--or do you just fuck with them?
Sometimes I like to fuck with the new kids, but usually it'll be more about teaching them something--sometimes subtle, sometimes in their face. You know, we old-timers can tell when a kid is sincere or there to truly get my full attention. Just a cocky little prick. But the sincere kids who have the spark, they're always fun and inspiring to me. I love to teach, actually. I just hate wasting my time. Done enough of that. You gotta be more than just a good artist. You gotta have some integrity and ethics laced in there to truly get my full attention.
In 2002, Rolling Stone deemed you "The New King of Rock Tattoos," as you were tattooing and touring with bands including Slayer, Pantera, Biohazard and a long list of others. Are you still indulging in that tattoo rock star lifestyle?
Oh, I'm just a weekend warrior now! The thought of living on a tour bus again for a month or two at a time--no, I'm OK now. I'm happy visiting my friends when they pass through town or we cross paths somewhere in the world. I am kind of a recluse when I'm home these days, but when I creep out of my lair, it's their shows I'm usually found at. Otherwise, I just stay home and try and create some weird thing. But yeah... those rock star days.There seems to be a lot of tattoo rock stars these days. Someone tattooing just a couple of years could have tens of thousands of Instagram followers. How does a tattooer stay above the din?
You know, I actually posed that same question amongst some friends a while back, and the best advice I got was from Filip Leu. He reminded me to just stay on my own path and stop giving a fuck. Of course, these days, I really can't ignore social media due to business, unfortunately, but I find my fun in it, so I cope OK. Like broadcasting a live ArtFusion [painting collaboration] video session from the top of Machu Picchu. OK, that was cool. But, in my opinion, I think it's as much about developing your own style as how good you are. Standing out in the crowd means being unique, therefore, it seems to be the only way to go. Tattooers are the new rock stars. Gill Montie saw it coming. He once told me the only people rock stars look up to are tattoo artists. And now here we are with more rock stars than we can handle. Amidst that chaos, some uniques are going to stand out. The question is "One hit wonder" or "Staying power"?
Read more here.
I also really enjoyed Adam Goldberg's interview with legendary Mark Mahoney (while Mark was tattooing him) and a number of the art-heavy pieces. Of course, it's a tattoo mag, so there's a lot boob clutching and finger sucking by young tattooed Barbies. I feel the pin-up calendar that comes as a "bonus" with it was more dumb than offensive. Toss it aside and just dig into the articles in the mag.
See more of Paul's work on Instagram and Facebook. Also, check my last blog post on Paul breaking his facial tattoo taboo.
We've seen numerous examples of how companies can successfully incorporate tattoo-inspired designs in their products by working with actual tattoo artists -- and Stetson's collaboration with Josh Lord of East Side Ink is a great example of that.
Last week, I had the opportunity to check out the hats myself when Stetson and Inked Mag unveiled the line designed by Josh at Rochelle's in NYC. I was impressed with how the designs worked so seamlessly with the black and white trilby hats, which are beautifully constructed. I spoke with Josh, who explained that Stetson had given him full creative freedom for the designs, and so he decided to work with the idea of a predator, arriving at an image of a snake coiled around feathers. I particularly like how the artwork compliments but does not overwhelm the hat.
For his cap design, Josh chose the image of a cockroach, which he explained in his Inked interview, "To me the cockroach represents the tattooing industry because it was a seedy trade that grew from the streets but we made good, eventually. We're golden now--but we're still cockroaches."
Far from being treated like a cockroach, Josh was lauded by Stetson's Art Director TJ McCoy at the launch event, who spoke of the ease in working with Josh and also hinted at even more tattoo-inspired partnerships in the future. For more, check this video on the collaboration.
The special edition hats can be purchased via Stetson's online store.
In the April issue of Inked magazine, now out on newsstands, you'll find my interview with the tireless Durb Morrison -- long-time tattooer and owner of Red Tree Tattoo Gallery, organizer of the incomparable Hell City Tattoo Fests, manufacturer of True Tubes innovative tattoo supplies, and all-around nice guy. In this interview, Durb talks about how he went from punk to entrepreneur and stayed on top of the tattoo game over all these years.Many artists today say that that community feel is gone, with the whole gentrification of the art form. What do you think about that?
Here's a taste of our talk:
You started off as a punk teenage tattooing with a homemade machine to becoming a renowned tattooist, who also manufactures innovative tattooing supplies. A lot has changed over the years.
Definitely. I was a skate boarding punk rock kid. At that time with skateboarding, there was a lot of artwork rotating around it, and a lot of that art had a traditional tattoo foundation to it. There were also some really heavily covered skateboarders, even back then, who I looked up to. When I think back, I can see how I was naturally attracted to certain things, and how I'm supposed to be exactly where I am today. But I never really set out to be a tattoo artist. I had done a lot of art classes in school, and naturally did a lot of painting, so I had the art in my blood and on my mind. Right around when I was 14, that's when my friends and I started hand-poking little tattoos on places we could cover up, like our ankles, so we wouldn't get in trouble. When I was 17, I started getting professional tattoos, going to shops, and hanging out with heavily tattooed people. Around that time, a guy who saw that I had the art skills down taught me how to make one of those homemade machines. That was the catalyst for everything because, not only did I have a tattoo machine, but I had friends who willing to let me do my artwork on them.
Did you think tattooing was something you'd do for a living back then?
It started really as recreational. I didn't take it as seriously when I was just getting into it. It was punk. It was a rebellious art form. We're talking 24 or 25 years ago. But after I started getting going with it and tattooing more people and seeing the effect it had on them--how they really loved their tattoos--it drove me to continue tattooing and dive into it artistically. I started studying it, looking at all the magazines, driving hours to hang out at certain studios and watch the tattooing. Also, there was the inspiration of the community behind it. There was just so much personality. It made me want to be a tattoo artist and dedicate my life to it.
If people say there's no community, it's because they don't put themselves out there and be a part of it. They just sit in their shops, complain and separate themselves from it. I feel very strongly about the community, and because I've been a part of it for so long, I wanted to give back. For example, by doing the Hell City conventions, we've brought people together; we've created relationships. People have even got married at Hell City. It definitely has a community feel in a creative environment.
People really have gotten married at your conventions?
We've had three or four couples get married at the conventions. We had one couple get married on the main stage on a Sunday in the morning before the show even got started. They had met at Hell City and two years later got married here. It was a match made in hell!
Read more in Inked magazine.
The Hell City Tattoo Fest in Columbus, Ohio is April 19-21. Go there. You may just meet your true love. You'll definitely get a stellar tattoo.
In the November issue of Inked mag, on newsstands now, editor Rocky Rakovic interviews Michelle Myles, boss lady of NYC's Daredevil and Fun City tattoo studios (which she co-owns with Brad Fink).
In this refreshingly frank Q&A, Michelle talks about tattooing in NYC when it was still illegal and underground (the tattoo ban was lifted in 1997), the popularity of Americana tattoos among hipsters and how NY Ink is "cast like the Jersey Shore." Here's a taste of that talk:
Speaking of competition, how do you feel about NY Ink?
It's embarrassing. I mean, I really like Tim Hendricks -- nothing but respect for him and I actually don't know much about the other people or whoever it is on the show. But I think it is unrealistic and gross the way it is portrayed. It's so heavily scripted. They're not even New Yorkers. Chris Torres is the only one from New York; they cast NY Ink like its the Jersey Shore. But it's not even reality TV -- just bad acting. They think there's some kind of truth in it, and there isn't. I think I wrote on my blog DevilCitPpress.com, that to me, their tattoo shop is equivalent of Monica's apartment on Friends because it's so unrealistic. And to hear Ami [James] whine, "I'm not going to be able to pay the rent"... I heard he made two million dollars.
You seem pretty offended by it.
It's just absurd and gross to anyone trying to pay their rent in NYC for any amount of time to hear them say, "Oh, I hope to get business" when they have ads on the sides of buses. I mean, my neighborhood used to be a shit hole and now it's super trendy, but we somehow managed to hang on. So if anybody takes away from that and saunters in with a TV show, yes, I resent that.
But don't you want to riffraff tourists to fill up that shop and not yours?
We want the riffraff! We want anyone's money! Anyone who comes into my shop is going to be treated well. I mean, as long as they're in line. We don't tolerate someone who comes in and acts like a jerk. But we welcome anybody in our shop. It doesn't matter if you don't have tattoos or never have been to a tattoo shop. There are no stupid questions, and we're happy to take anybody. We're not going to make anybody feel bad because they're not cool enough.
In the rest of the interview, Michelle discusses how she came to the art, her influences, and why she loves being a New York tattooer. A fun read.
See more of Michelle's work here and check her musings on tattooing here.
The latest issue of Inked magazine is out, and for the "Icon" feature this month, I had a blast interviewing LA native Robert Atkinson, who is widely respected for his Japanese-inspired as well as black & gray body suits. In the Q&A, Robert talks about how he went from tattooing tribal arm bands to crafting his signature large-scale work. He also muses on custom cars, the state of the industry and how to make tattoos hurt less.
You can pick up a copy at major newsstands or download the digital version here.
It's the making tattoos hurt less part that really had me thinking about what it means to "earn" your tattoos. Here's a taste of our talk where Robert discusses using numbing creams and sprays on certain clients:
Your clients seem to trust you with a lot of their skin. You've done a lot of huge backpieces.
Robert also shared his thoughts on how he's seen the industry evolve and where he thinks it's going. We talked about the progression of his own work and what he does for fun when not tattooing. But it's that pain part of the our conversation I've been fixating on as I'm staring a five to six hour rib session next week. In light of the news that no one will be handing me a badass trophy when I'm done, I may so opt for the Vasocaine.
For an appointment with Robert, hit him up through his site.
It's not easy setting up an interview with a tattoo legend who doesn't need any press and has no time for your shit. [Or at least my shit.] Thankfully, the Godfather of Black & Grey tattoo, Jack 'From Way Back' Rudy of Good Time Charlie's Tattooland still does a lot of conventions, and I was able to stalk him sufficiently--with the help of Edgar Hoill--to get his thoughts on everything from single-needle tattooing to kustom kars.
That interview is in this latest issue of Inked magazine, which you can pick up at newsstands or download from Zinio.
Here are a few snippets from our talk:
As one of the godfathers of Black & Gray tattooing, you're the best person to educate people on the basics. First, please describe the black & gray style.
Beyond tattooing, you also have a passion for classic cars and hot rods,and co-founded The Beatniks car club where many of its members are tattoo artists and collectors. What's the connection between tattoo art and customizing 50s styled cars and rods?
Read more in the August issue of Inked.
Ok, let's just put aside that Inked Mag's quarterly cheese
You've come a long way from being a self-taught tattooist and biker in Austria to an international tattoo entrepreneur. What's the key factor that brought you here?
Since I began, I've always tried to educate myself and explore something new. Where other people would start feeling comfortable and say, "I can do this all day long for the next 15 years," every day I look to do something different to add to my repertoire. Tattooing has been very good to me, and I try to be good to the industry--to be a part of a bigger pie. Being a slice is more important than being the pie itself.
You have a pretty big slice with so many projects going on at once. For example, you have a new Vegas studio opening up.
Yes, on April 10th, we're opening King Ink at the Mirage Hotel, which is our newest endeavor. It'll be the first lifestyle store of tattooing. It embraces what tattooing has come to. It has a Baroque setting because I'm Austrian, and it looks like a palace with frescoes showing my work over the past 25 years. I see it as a way for the general public to get an inside view of what we do every single day. It tries to educate people who walk in; there are computers where people can do research on tattooing. It's also a lounge, so you can come in and bring your laptop. There's also a bar in it.
A bar? Do you want a bunch of drunken people getting tattooed?
I've always believed in working hard, playing hard and partying hard. People have said that you should never put a bar where there's tattooing. That's bullshit. You know how tattooists are. We tattoo, we go out, and we party. That's the hardcore tattoo scene. And that's what we embrace at King Ink, so anyone who comes in better be ready to get a great tattoo or get fucked up. But the tattoo artists cannot tattoo anyone who is under the influence of alcohol and they cannot tattoo under the influence. That's just basic.
How do you address the argument that tattooing is becoming over-commercialized and has lost some of its mystique?
I don't think tattooing has lost its mystique at all. Every person who gets a tattoo has to make a decision to mark himself for the rest of his life. It has gained a lot of popularity and gave us more people to explore new avenues in tattooing, and look how the art has risen. If it didn't gain popularity, we wouldn't have a Mike Devries, Nikko, Mike Demasi or Jose Lopez--people who blow our minds every day with work. I see artists just working two years and I look at their work and want to bang my head against the wall, it's so good. This is a huge pay off.
A lot of controversy surrounding you in particular came from the Inc. Magazine profile on you in 2007 where you were quoted as saying that you wanted to create the "Starbucks of the Tattoo World." People heard the word "Starbucks" and freaked out a bit. What's your response to that?
People didn't understand that reference. I like the concept of Starbucks because someone took something so simple and made it so chic. I've been drinking coffee since I was ten years old, and I never thought it chic to do so. But I don't want a chain like Starbucks. I own five studios. There are people who own ten or fifteen, some in the same city, and those are the people who claim that I want to be the Starbucks of tattooing! The message I wanted to get across is that my interest is to elevate tattooing to a new level, to a new standard. I've seen too many people throughout my career who, when asked what they do for a living, kept their head down and said [mumbling], "I'm a tattooist." Keep your head up, man! We deserve to be successful and recognized.
Read more in the May issue of Inked Mag.
The March issue of Inked Mag is out now and, as Marisa has previously pointed out, along with featuring beautiful heavily tattooed women in lesser and lesser states of undress, there are occasionally some righteous articles written by some or one of these here contributors on N+S.
This month, I got to speak with living legend "Bowery" Stan Moskowitz. And while I was nervous that he'd somehow be able to reach through the phone to break my face and toss me down a flight of stairs, I managed to get through the interview in one piece.
Here's a little preview of why you didn't -- and don't -- fuck with Bowery Stan.
There are a lot of rough stories from [the Bowery] days.
...You didn't know who the hell was comin' through the doorway. One time this guy comes in and he punches me in the stomach. See, I have to remember that 'cause no one ever did that before. And he says to me, "You do a good job, kid," and here he punched me in the stomach, the fuck. I picked up a ball-peen hammer I had and I hit him right in the head with it. Right in the forehead! Holy shit, it starts to bleed like a bastard!
And then you tattooed him anyway.
Yeah, I tattooed him. Well, my father saw the guy bleeding and he was spurtin' blood everywhere. He had a hot towel he put on him and he put this here blood-stopper on, and finally it stopped. So then my old man sat him down and I tattooed him! He gave me a tip and said he was sorry. [Laughs.] You know, it's laughable. It wasn't laughable then. Jesus Christ, now that I think of it--it's a good thing I wasn't older.
The December/January issue of Inked Mag is now out and along with beautiful heavily tattooed women in lesser and lesser states of undress (it is a men's "lifestyle" mag after all), there are a number of features you got to check out, especially because we wrote them.
Our Patrick Sullivan has a great feature on how technology is changing tattooing including the new air-pressured tattoo machine and one-shot laser removal inks.
There are the party photos from my Black Tattoo Art book release shindig at Tattoo Culture.
And my Icon interview with Brad Fink, the most fun I've had interviewing a tattoo artist in a while. Here's a snippet as to why:
[As a young tattoo apprentice] Did you have to clean toilets and all the nasty stuff?
I did it but it wasn't Mitch telling me to do all the disgusting things. It was me knowing it needed to be done and doing it myself. This leads to my disdain for the younger generation coming into tattooing today. Back then there were no references or all the information on the Internet that is readily available. Back then, I had to search and search for it. I had to go to the library, seek out Easy Rider tattoo magazines and Ed Hardy's Tattoo Time series. Today, there are instructional DVDs and all this crap on how to tattoo. They even have premade needles now. When I started, I had to get to the shop two hours early to make my needles for the day or next two days. Today, people get very good in a short time, and there's this sense of entitlement young people have in the business that everything should be handed to them.
We didn't have a "shop person" back then to wipe people's asses. Today, these kids want to come in, do their tattoos, and leave. Back then, I had to make needles, clean the shop, stock my station, and answer the phones.
Did you also walk miles in the snow to the shop barefoot back in your day? [laughs]
Yes, I did! I wrecked enough cars by 17 years old and my insurance was cancelled, so as a matter of fact, I had to ride a bicycle or walk to the shop. Yes, Marisa, I did have to walk to work in the snow. [laughs]
Now you have a young apprentice. What lessons are you passing down?
I teach him life lessons! That there's more to tattooing than actual tattooing. I teach him everything from adapting to every quirky personality that walks through that door without those people you would have nothing. I'm teaching loyalty and respect. I want him to know the history and how tattooing got to this level.
Brad splits his time between his three studios, DareDevil and Fun City in NYC, which he co-owns with Michelle Myles; and Iron Age in St. Louis, which he co-owns with Mark Andrews and spends most his time. Brad is also a partner in Me Against The World clothing, a new advertiser to N+S.