Artists: Jed Leiknes
Let’s start by asking about the tattoo that you did for Yallzee, do you remember it?
It was the last day of the 2nd Annual Evergreen Tattoo Invitational. Yallzee and I had chatted a bit previously that day, and I had just finished up my last booked piece for the weekend.
How do you feel about being approached by a renowned tattoo collector like Yallzee? Is it an honor to have your work alongside so many other fine artists?
It’s always a bit of a big deal to get to contribute to a canvas populated with such great work from artists you respect and admire. I found myself rather excited and nervous to try to fit my piece dangerously close to one done by Paul Booth.
Now it appears as if your primary focus is oil painting as opposed to tattooing. Which was your first love? How did you get into each form of art?
I’ve been tattooing since 2004 and began oil painting around 2009. I began tattooing after being offered an apprenticeship while getting my first piece, a memorial for my grandma who had recently passed. Painting came along later on as I was introduced to acrylics, only to learn that I hated and was terrible at acrylic painting. I read a few books, watched a few DVDs and YouTube videos and began plinking away with oils.
Is there a reason that you have turned your focus away from tattooing?
Painting represents the ultimate freedom of artistic expression that I was never quite able to attain with tattooing. I enjoy tattooing, and try to put my best into each piece, but it’s easier to get swept up in a lot more negativity within the industry. That’s certainly true of painting and that whole scene, I’m sure, which I suppose is lucky for me that I’m relatively unknown to galleries. There’s a certain isolation and autonomy to the craft that I find appealing these days.
Do you have any special training in art?
I have no formal training or education, beyond my initial apprenticeship for tattooing. I’m a high school dropout who has failed virtually every art class I’ve taken.
Your paintings of owls are truly breathtaking, what is it that inspires you about the creatures? How do you capture them so well?
I think what they do for me visually makes it easier to make progress when rendering them; what they represent to me is a lot of things, none of them particularly mind-bending. They’re mysterious, beautiful, and otherworldly.
Does the subject matter you work with crossover between painting and tattooing, or do you find that certain things fit one medium more so than the other?
I’ve long since stopped trying to merge the two mediums insofar as my approach. They both offer significant advantages with the subject material I favor. That said, while my tattooing has become more uniform in approach, I’ve had fun employing several varying techniques with painting—from the ultra-detailed to the impasto-heavy and suggestive.
A while ago you mentioned on Instagram that you were going to be finishing up a couple of color projects before giving it up for good. Can you tell us about your choice to do this?
It took a lot of time and effort to get to a point where people were asking me to do color realism—for years it was all I wanted to do, and when I got there, I was the happiest I’d been yet as a tattooer. But it got to a point where every single piece became more of a math problem, and I’d suddenly have thirty ink caps out, having to remember specific color recipes and was always adjusting for complexion, healing and time. A noble, essential exercise within the milieu, but one that was burning me out and not getting the results I wanted. I found myself doing more black and grey pieces more out of serendipity than any conscious effort on my part; I’d ask clients if they preferred color or black & grey and more and more, people were opting for the latter. With each new satisfying piece, my resolve to focus on that exclusively became less a question and more an answer.
Your art often comes from a very, very dark place. Does working with such heavy subject matter ever take a toll on you? Where do you find your inspiration for your horror themed work?
Focusing on darker work was as natural to me as breathing, once I made the decision to do so. I don’t necessarily consider a psychic cost in painting darker imagery; if there’s a catharsis to be had in the act, I receive it, but it’s not mandatory and doesn’t always drive the art itself. That said, it’s difficult to say where that inspiration comes from as I absolutely loathe the horror film genre. It feels more satisfying to build something up and find a way to smash it to pieces, as a purely creative act, rather than actually doing that and merely being destructive.
What artists do you admire most?
The ones who don’t need a second job to be able to make art.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
I’ve been fortunate to have quite a bit of autonomy over the projects I’ve taken on the last few years, and hope to rebuild a portfolio gearing more towards larger bodies of work: sleeves, back pieces, et al.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
The closest thing to a “unicorn” as far as my wish list tattoos are concerned already occurred by way of taking the “lady head” concept of a woman wearing an animal’s head, and flipping the idea around. That was immensely satisfying.