Angela Boatwright (photographer),
Suzanne Weinstock (writer)
I was really young and this crazy meth-head came in, and I knew I didn’t want to work on him. And he had some old tattoo he got in jail and he was really unhappy. And I looked at it and it was probably 45 minutes of work, but I didn’t want to work on him so I said, “Sure, man. You’re looking at about $700,” which is preposterous. I expected him to be like, “That’s crazy. I’ll get Jimmy Two Shoes to do it for 40 bucks and some beef jerky.” But instead he pulls out a toilet paper roll of hundred-dollar bills, peels off seven, and says let’s go. By the end he loves it and I’m his new best friend and he leaves. About three months later I’m about to tattoo this sweet little collegiate girl. She was getting the Sagittarius symbol on the back of her neck. And I was just about to tattoo her when I hear, “I’m going to fucking kill you. You put dicks on my arm!” And this chair goes flying through the window, I hit the silent alarm, and grab the pistol.
… Essentially, someone had convinced him I put subliminal dicks on his arm and he had a knife and wanted to cut my throat. So I have a gun behind my back and I tell him, “You can do whatever you want to me, but I just started a tattoo and I can’t stop right now. So you can cut my throat but it’s going to be about 30 minutes.” And he sits down in the waiting room with a knife in his hand until the cops come in and drag him off kicking and screaming.
Did you move to a different shop afterward?
No. I was at Picture Machine for a couple years and then I traveled for four years or so. I set up camp in Madrid for a few months, and then Singapore or Tokyo or Paris. I just took advantage of the fact that with tattooing you can go wherever you want. The freedom of that lifestyle was the most exciting thing. I used that to go and work with as many people as I could.
Did each place influence your tattooing?
You absorb a little bit from everywhere. I’d read or hear about some guy in Tokyo that I really wanted to work with, so I’d go there. I got passionate about learning as much as I could.
So how would you describe your style?
You’d be better off asking someone else. I guess a lot of what I enjoy is really technical tattooing. I really like making things perfect. And I do a lot of ornamental patterns and textures. I do a lot of lettering and typography. I love lettering.
You can affect the meaning of a word or phrase so much depending on how you draw it out. One of the guys that worked at Picture Machine with me when I first started was an old sign painter, and he was out of work so he picked up tattooing because it was a way to use everything he learned in sign painting. And watching him draw letters was amazing. There was such a poetry to it.
You might be best known for being tattoo artist to the stars. Heath Ledger, Lady Gaga—huge names. How did you end up with that role?
I think it’s just geography. New York is such a crazy town. There are celebrities of all genres. When I first opened shop here I naturally developed a clientele of creative industry people and it just evolved, which is great. I’d rather people come to me because they saw work that they liked rather than they heard I tattooed some movie star last week. I think it’s mostly just living in New York that perpetuated that. It’s such an exciting town and everyone comes through here, and it’s one of those cities that if you’re really passionate about what you do and you’re passionate about it, [the city] recognizes that.”
So when did you set up shop in New York?
I moved to New York in 2001 and worked at a couple shops here in town and ended up opening Saved in 2003. Now I’ve partnered up with Chris O’Donnell and he’s part owner of the tattoo shop and helps me out. In the last couple of years I’ve taken on all of these other crazy art projects and collaborations and I’m not here as much as I should be. Chris is someone I’ve always looked up to, so we tag team. When I’m not here he is, and vice versa.