Artists: Bang Bang
What year did you start tattooing?
I started in 2003 or 2004; I was in 12th grade. I was 18 and working at Red Lobster, and I really liked tattoos but I couldn’t afford them. I always had the ability to draw—I wouldn’t really have called myself an artist, but I had the ability. So I just bought everything online—like, a whole kit—and I taught myself. I spent about three months tattooing in my mother’s kitchen, which is the exact opposite of where you want to learn to tat- too, but that’s how I did it.
And you apprenticed under Paul Booth at Last Rites Tattoo Theater?
I worked with Paul Booth, and I suppose that anyone who works with him learns from him. I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself his apprentice and I bet he wouldn’t either, but I’m proud to say I worked for him. I was pretty young when I did. So it was pretty influential to work at his store. I was 23 at the time. I was about 10 years younger than anyone who had ever worked there, and so I was really nervous every day, and it didn’t wind up working out. I wasn’t the right fit for that spot, but when I left there, I had so much confidence in my ability to tattoo that I started cranking out really good tattoos, ones that I was really proud to show people. And so from working with him I learned a ton.
You said you wouldn’t have really considered yourself an artist, but did you have an art background before you started tattooing?
I mean, just the ability is really my background. My father used to make video games; he still does make video games. He used to work for Disney. My mother was an artist. My grandmas on both sides are artists. So the ability was always there. My problem was, once I would figure out something that I was drawing—you’re trying to figure it out as you’re going, and once I’d figure it out I was done. I would draw a beautiful eye and a nose or draw, like, a beautiful shape of a person and hands. I kept it really unfinished and kind of sketchy. But when I found tattooing, it made me complete thing. So my art grew so fast and the people I worked around just told me everything I needed to do to make it tattooable. So really, tattooing was my first medium.
Who are some of your main artistic inspirations?
So many. Man, it would be a laundry list of every artist that has ever inspired me. It’s such a long list. It would be a shorter list to tell you who doesn’t inspire me. You know? [Laughs.]
What kind of tattoos do you most look forward to doing?
Well, today it’s going to be portrait art of New York City buildings because that’s what I’m doing. I started as a portrait artist and then realized that I wanted to be really diverse, because if I’m only doing portraits there is a whole group of people that I can’t tattoo, so I wanted to learn every style that was fun for me. The only things I don’t really do are traditional Americana tattoos, and it’s really only because I’m in New York City, where everybody does it so well. If I’m not, like, one of the best guys doing it then I will totally recommend somebody better. So anything that I can do well, I really look forward to tattooing. So as long as I think I can do it well, I would love to tattoo it—I’m honored.
Do you ever go to conventions?
I used to do conventions, and then I realized that I wanted to stay out of the tattoo community until I was good enough to be proud of my work. So I haven’t done conventions in a long time. I pretty much stay at home and work as hard as I can. People know where to find me. I just crank here all day, every day.
If you could tattoo anyone with any image, what would it be?
You know, I get to do that a lot, so I’m not sure. People let me do whatever I want to do a lot of the time. They just want me to make it cool, so I get to do it. Japanese is really intriguing to me, so the last couple of years I’ve been really working on my Japanese style—which is so incredibly difficult to do, but so fun. There are a lot of rules you’ve got to stay in, but there’s also a lot of freedom. And it’s all about body motion, how it conforms to you, and then also about how it looks close up and far away, so you’re thinking of all of that when you’re designing them. And it’s big and it’s intricate and everything interacts, so it’s a great, great challenge—even more so than doing a portrait for me.
Do you have any advice for someone before they get tattooed?
Just to do your research and meet artists to see the vibe. You’re going to be spending hours with this person putting something that will be on your body forever, so you want it to be a good experience as well as a good tattoo. Make sure you like your artist, make sure you guys get along and vibe well—and that could be a knee-jerk reaction. You guys don’t have to go to dinner prior, but you can feel somebody out pretty quick. And that’s it; make sure they do good tattoos and make sure they are polite.
What artists have tattooed you?
A lot of people. Little Dragon has tattooed me quite a few times, and Tye [Harris] tattooed me. And just artists I’ve worked with throughout the years, but those are my most recent ones.
What did Tye do?
My portrait of my daughter. It’s crazy. I’m so proud of it.
Where has your favorite place outside of this shop been to tattoo?
Last Rites was really cool for me, especially my last visit there. I got to work on the stage where the guests work at, and I got to come back to work for Paul as one of the dudes. You know, when I first worked there I kind of felt like the kid who barely got the job, and when I was sitting tattooing next to Paul Booth, Robert Hernandez, and Bob Tyrrell one day, I looked around and went “I don’t belong here! uh-oh!” And so this time coming back, I was so busy—I was busier than the hours they had open. It was tough for me because I was booked 10 hours a day and they’re open for eight. So I was so busy; I was really proud to come back and contribute.
How has the reputation of tattooing changed since you’ve been involved in the industry?
I hope it’s changed positively; some artists might not think that. I like to think that I helped make it okay to get a tattoo, you know? Maybe people see these celebrity tattoos and go, “Oh! Cool! I want one!” So I think it helps the industry. I hope it helps the industry.
So what’s it like knowing that you’ve been talked about in Rolling Stone and really top-notch non-tattoo-related magazines?
I guess it’s weird to hear. Although when I see my picture in, like, People Magazine, for some reason it’s not weird to see because I was there. I remember the photo. And also, I’m not huge on celebrity buzz and stuff, so I don’t read a lot of that stuff—I’m a little out of the loop. So I guess it’s really cool, and my grandma is really proud and my mother’s proud when they open a magazine that has my name in it or something, but I’m comfortable.
Have you ever had a celebrity come in and had no idea who they were?
Yeah. [Laughs.] Sometimes now I find out before they come in their name and what they do, but I try not to learn a lot about them because I want to get to know them. So I didn’t know who Rihanna was, I didn’t know who Katy Perry was. I knew that they were on the radio, but I don’t listen to the radio, so I don’t listen to a lot of their songs—you just hear their name a lot. And when I meet them, I get to know them and see them. Every celebrity that I have tattooed I’ve really liked and gotten along with, so I’ve become their fans and I want to hear their work and I want to see their work. I’m a fan of them as a person, first off, and then I like to check out what they do.
Anything else you want to add?
I suppose I just want to reiterate that this is my first article in any magazine tattoo-related, and it’s a real honor that I’ve gotten to come into the industry so quickly and be accepted by so many great people. And INKED was the one that I wanted to do; Freshly Inked was the one that I wanted to do. I’m really excited to start bombarding the tattoo industry with my attempt at tattooing.