What’s your role in that?
It’s tough to say that I have a role. I feel my role as a tattooer is just to build on history and try to bring it the next step further. I feel like that’s everyone’s responsibility. To not just keep doing the same thing, but building off of tradition and taking it to new levels. And new work always comes by taking risks.
A lot of people in the early 90’s, when I was buying magazines in high school, everything was crazy and twisted and chrome. When you look at the work there’s nothing about it that screams any bit of tradition at all. It was completely new and exciting for everyone so everybody was getting work like that because there was so much frosting on it. But now nobody gets that stuff because nobody likes it. And it didn’t last because it didn’t have that foundation that traditional American and traditional Japanese have.
I think that’s the duty of every tattooer, to understand what came before and know that you need to step forward and build upon that. It’s such an important recipe to know you have to study your past masters, know the contemporary artists and then you have to look at nature. It’s like the perfect recipe to understand nature, and understand history, and contemporary tattooing.
I think it’s working for you. Your name always seems to pop up when other tattooers get asked whose work they admire.
That’s nice to hear!
Well, there’s a short interview with Valerie Vargas I was thinking of.
Oh she’s awesome, that’s so nice. Her work is so nice. It makes me feel like, “Oh, how has she heard of me?” Maybe ‘cause I work with Mike? (Laughs.) I’ve seen her work around and she’s really awesome. Since I don’t travel that much, I mean, I’ve been here and there, I went to Japan, I went to Italy. But overall I just stay here and when I travel, I don’t travel for tattooing.
Does it feel like you’re doing something right?
It does. Because when you get respect from your peers it’s the ultimate compliment. I think it’s really important that your peers respect what you’re doing. I’ve seen her work and I guess she’s seen mine and it’s important. I remember some of her specific tattoos and it obviously had an affect on me. It’s like a little dialogue going on there, and I’ve never met her and she’s never met me but it’s almost like you know someone a little bit when you look at their work. Your work’s out there and it speaks for itself. I look at her work and I know she’s creative and her work has an excitement to it and it has the history. It has that foundation that’s so important. It’s really flattering to hear someone like that say something.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve been able to take away from tattooing?
Wow. That’s a good one. I feel like I learn off of other people. I sit back and watch and listen a lot. I don’t try to give my opinion, necessarily. Knowing your place and sitting back. When I was learning how to tattoo and getting tattooed by guys, I wasn’t sitting there and asking a lot of questions like, “What kind of ink are you using, what kind of needle do you use?” I would sit back and watch them work and I feel like I came leaps and bounds by getting tattooed. And I still do. Seeing the way another person works. I wasn’t necessarily given that advice because I’ve always been that guy. I’ve always kind of been in the back of class, listening.
I remember when I was younger and we’d be snowboarding and I’d want to go last because I’d want to see what everyone was doing and then I could hit the jump and try whichever one I liked the best. I feel like I’m a super observer.
So basically back to that phrase, “Two ears, one mouth.”
Two ears, one mouth. That’s important.