Body of Work: Dermographic Art Collector

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Jeremy James is a buttoned-up, hard working restaurant owner and entrepreneur. When dressed in his regular business clothes, he appears to be just like every other normal, white-collar worker. Little do most of his colleagues and fellow PTA parents know, he’s almost completely covered in some of the most amazing tattoos by some of the world's top tattoo artists.

The interesting thing about art is that it can be celebrated and appreciated in many ways, through fashion, through painting, hanging it on your walls or even wearing it on your body–and that’s precisely how James celebrates it, by wearing it, he is his own gallery.

His first tattoo was a tribal sun in the middle of his back circa 1997, “when that was the style,” James says. For the past 20 years he’s acquired many more as he progressed to taking his collection more seriously than going with trendy designs. Just as some traditional art collectors track their favorite artist’s paintings and bid to own a snippet of canvas to hang in their home or gallery, James sought out some of the world’s top guys on a mission to fill every inch of his body with a piece of their art.

Each tattoo artist was chosen specifically for their style, given a theme or idea, and set to create a piece that flowed and fit on the body not only spatially, but around (and with) the pieces created before it. It’s not only rare to have so many pieces by so many well-known and sought-after artists, who had to essentially work together–which makes James’ collection truly special. With over 300 hundred hours under the needle, his body currently includes art from the hands of Carlos Rojas, Josh Duffy, Nikko Hurtado, Carlos Torres, Boris, Eric Marcinizyn, Phil Garcia, Timmy B, Josh Carlton, Timothy Boor, Zombie Joe Chavez, BJ Betts, Carl Grace, Mat Hurtado, Steve Varner, Olyanger and Jun Cha.

When asked what his favorite piece is, James claims, “That’s like picking your favorite child. I love them all and know exactly where I was in my life when I got them.” His stomach was done almost completely by Josh Duffy, who James says is not only one of his favorite artists, but has also become a good friend. “The lady holding the skull on my belly is my favorite from him, by far. He also did a ton of fix-ups and gap fillers on me, which I appreciated because a lot of ‘heavy-hitters’ wouldn’t do that.” Of that piece, Duffy says, “Jeremy just gave me the concept, and it was left up to me to create the design…I really like the way it turned out, because of how it is placed around the navel, and how well it flows with the rest of his work.” He also adds, “I knew that whatever I did had to compliment what he [already] had and [any new pieces] Carlos Torres was to add after I completed his stomach, so adding flow was key… there is a tree on one side that made the design a bit more difficult to work with. I had to gage the mid-tones just right to be able to distinguish the two pieces.”

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Another of James’ favorites is Boris, who did two pieces on James including the right pectoral area and the inside of the right arm. Boris saw the invitation as an opportunity, and was up for the challenge of collaborating with the others to make something unique, but also fit into the canvas as a whole. “Jeremy gets his tattoos consciously and he has [a] plan [of] what [he wants, and] where he wants [it],” Boris says. "He has his tattoos from really good tattoo artists, so it is an honor for me too. I also like the tattoos on the body in a unity, not scattered on the body. I did everything to make the tattoo fit in the whole picture.” He cheekily adds that maybe his most favorite part of working with James, was that he “he had the fortune to completely blacken his right nipple.”

Carlos Torres, perhaps one of the tattoo world's most renowned black-and-white surrealist artists, did a large piece down James’ right side. “Jeremy was very covered, so I only had room to work on his ribs… [but , he] gave me free rein and I came up with the design,” Torres says. "I was working between Carlos Rojas and Josh Duffy, so I wanted my piece to flow with the others.”

“I’m really into large scale projects, and my Rojas leg is my largest,” James says. There is however, little room left for any large scale projects, since he says any new tattoos would have to literally be on his ass cheeks. “That’s the last bit of real estate” up for grabs currently. He adds, “I will have my hands, head and neck ready when I retire.”

Currently, Jeremy says he has four or five unfinished projects, and is eager to finish these works-in-progress by Carlos Rojas and Nikko Hurtado. He’s also looking to fill in some of the gaps. He also hopes to get a new creation, perhaps on one of those coveted virgin-skinned ass-cheeks, by Victor Portugal.

Maybe the next phase in Jeremy’s art collecting endeavor will be the most fascinating, since Boris says if he were asked to do anything new on James, “I don’t like to experiment on ‘virgin’ skin, usually I try new things when I cover up. So, let’s get back to this when Jeremy will be full.” And although James is considering laser and the option to cover some of the older work, he says, “I also kinda don’t want to [cover them] because its like a scrapbook of my life.”

Though art collectors throughout the world can continue to buy bigger homes to hang their paintings, James truly has the pleasure of carrying his on his back. In the end, I think it’s safe to say that he can rest knowing that his art collaboration with some of the tattoo world's most famous and most talented, is truly a collection that can never be duplicated.