Artists: Duke Riley
East River Tattoo
113 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
What year did you start tattooing?
I started tattooing in 1993.
How did you get into tattooing?
I had always been interested in tattooing ever since I was a kid. I attempted some stick-and-poke tattoos on myself and my friends. Later on, when I was a teenager, I attempted to make a couple of my own tattoo machines. But it wasn’t really until I was in my early 20s when some tattoo artists moved into the building that I lived in and we became friends that I got really into it.
Where did you apprentice?
I apprenticed under Steve Williams and Don Lussier of Art Freek in Providence, Rhode Island.
Do you have any special training?
Tattooing definitely allowed me to continue pursuing my art education, and now I have a master’s degree, which I’m very glad that I have. Without having the combination of the lucrative income and the flexibility of tattooing, it probably wouldn’t have been possible.
What conventions have you worked at?
I’ve attended a couple of conventions but I’ve never worked at one. I think I feel too self-conscious working around large groups of people, so I guess it’s not really my thing. Who knows—maybe I’ll still give it a try at
How do you describe your style?
My style is pretty much made up just of line work. Occasionally there is some stippling but I really don’t use shading and very rarely employ color. I guess people have been calling it scrimshaw style, which I suppose isn’t too far off the mark.
What inspires you as an artist?
Most of my work is influenced by New England maritime folk art, scrimshaw, woodcuts, antique nautical charts, and pre-electric tattoo imagery.
What sets you apart from other artists?
The one thing that I think maybe sets my shop apart is that there is zero tolerance for snobbery
or tattoo hierarchy.
What other mediums do you work in?
Mosaic, large-scale drawing, video, and installation.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
I admire my employee Sue Jeiven the most, for coming back from massive invasive cancer surgery and insisting on tattooing before she could even stand upright.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
I like it when people come to me with their own ideas that have historical significance that lead me to do further research while I’m working out the drawing.
Is there anyone that you would like to tattoo?
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
I consult with people specifically about placement. I think it’s important not only how a tattoo looks up close, but also how it looks on the body from 100 feet away. I also usually try to talk people out of doing cover-ups. Most of the time I don’t believe in amending people’s histories.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
People often come to me and say “I want you to tattoo whatever YOU feel like doing.” I point to a piece of flash I drew of a mermaid, a merman, a sailor, and a pelican having an orgy. They always quickly opt out of that plan.