From left: Ben Volt, Michael Bennett, Matt Matik, Roxx.
11 Pearl Street
San Francisco, CA
Tattoo artist Roxx is comfortable in her own skin. The owner of 2Spirit Tattoo has unabashedly loved black-work—stylized line and dot-work tattoos done only with black ink—for more than 20 years. She’s covered in the style, and proudly specializes in it. “I was always very aware that I was doing this very ‘uncool’ and ‘unpopular’ type of tattoo work,” she says of blackwork, which is reminiscent of tribal tattoos. “Some other tattooers would sneer at it and make fun of it. I would just shrug it off and keep on trucking because I loved it then, I love it now, and will love it always.” For Roxx, tattooing isn’t simply about slapping ink on a canvas of skin to create a pretty picture; it’s about appreciating the beauty of the human form. “I think the human body is such a divine creation,” she says. “It’s so interesting to study how humans have decorated themselves to celebrate themselves, mark themselves, label or identify themselves in whichever way, shape, or form tattoos have taken in various cultures. I continue to be inspired by the beauty of tattoos from the past.” And it’s the human structure—the curvature of the body, the complex musculature—that serves as the medium for her self-expression. She works with these shapes to make a tattoo flow organically with a person’s physique. “I am always trying to make a million micro-calculations as I work, deciding what is enhancing the body and what is hiding the form underneath,” she says. “I try to find a balance in between both—between adorning the body yet not covering up.”
Attaining inner balance and getting her artistic bearings have been motivational forces in Roxx’s own life. In the ’80s, she was hand-poking punk rockers in London, working as a motorcycle courier to pay for a Prestige autoclave and a couple of Micky Sharpz machines. With an insatiable wanderlust, the self-taught artist jumped around a lot. She moved to Edinburgh and opened her own shop in 1993, then went on to Amsterdam, where she worked at what she calls “some janky tourist shop.” Next, she landed a gig at Tattoo Peter, one of Europe’s oldest tattoo shops, located in the heart of the red light district. “Hookers in windows on one side, weed shop on the other,” she says of the experience that boosted her expertise the most. After getting burned out on doing “purple dolphins and barbed wire,” she opened another shop in 1998. Her stint in Amsterdam lasted 10 years, at which point she packed up her belongings and headed to “tattoo heaven”—her name for San Francisco—where she opened 2Spirit Tattoo. As blackwork becomes more popular in the States (it’s already loved in Europe, she says), 2Spirit, whose entire staff—Michael Bennett, Matt Matik, and Ben Volt—cater to the style, is ready to meet the demand.
But 2Spirit offers a far greater service than blackwork. As an openly gay-friendly custom studio, it’s a place where people from all walks of life can feel as confident in their skin as Roxx feels in her own. “I think sometimes queer folk have felt a little oppressed or intimidated in the traditional tattoo environment,” says the artist. “Some people like being tattooed by queer tattooers! Many like to support the community by supporting queer-owned businesses. I just want my shop to be a place where anyone can come and be treated with [the] respect they deserve as a human being on the planet.”
Fortunately, Roxx, who is gay, disclosed her sexual preference when she first began working in shops and never got much flak for being a lesbian in the tattoo industry. “It never posed that much of a problem for me,” she says. “I don’t take any shit from homophobes or bigots. If anyone had an issue with my sexuality they never really said it to my face.”
“I have been treated with respect by all the tattooers I have worked with and continue to be,” she adds. Granted, there was a time when some male clients would walk the other way when approached by a female tattooer, but the times—and the tattoo industry—are adapting. For when it comes to creating kick-ass art, the tattooer’s gender and sexuality shouldn’t matter, says Roxx. “I think the work should speak for itself—regardless of who did it.”