HERBIVORE: Vegetarian Culture, Issue 5
1. What was the first tattoo you got? How old, what is it, what was the circumstance, etc.
My first tattoo was flames on my forearm, a few months after turning 18. A
very 18-year-old tattoo, and kind of a played-out idea—but what it represented, and still does, is timeless: to live and act passionately. But in retrospect, the coolest (and most ironic) part about the whole experience was that the shop would eventually end up offering me a job a few years later, after I had started tattooing. And that's where I am now, Darkside Tattoo.
2. What was the first tattoo you gave? When, what, were you nervous, etc.
The first real, in the flesh tattoo I ever did was on New Year’s Day 2001. It was a fairly simple cartoon character that the recipient himself drew. He was a coworker at the shop at the time, and certainly generous for offering up a spot on his skin for a first tattoo. To say I was nervous wouldn't really describe it accurately...really no amount of training can fully prepare you for the experience of making a permanent mark on a living, 3-dimensional surface such as skin.
3. You've got your hand in a lot of creative outlets. Are they all serving the same purpose for you or do you use different mediums for different types of creativity? Meaning, does photography do the same thing for you as painting does as tattooing does?
In some respects yes, and in others, no, they don’t all serve the same purpose. Each medium that I work in has its own unique characteristics, which in turn allow for different parts of my creative self to express themselves. Photography is great because it's much closer to immediate gratification, if you will, than tattooing or especially oil painting, which both tend to be long and often arduous processes. Photography, at least the type I dabble in, is a lot of spontaneity, the capturing of single moments of time or visual expressions with literally the click of a button (to simplify the process a bit). But executing a painting takes weeks or months of planning, visualizing, layers of paint, drying times. Tattoos—at least larger, in depth ones--are much of that same process, only instead of drying times you have healing times.
However, what all these mediums or outlets have in common is that they all originate from a single drive to create and manifest my feelings and artistic visions in physical form—and so they all serve the same purpose of self-expression. Also, they all influence and inform one another, in that an idea or a look I achieve in one medium often translates to another medium. Painting helps me experiment with certain effects before trying them out on skin, where a mistake could be much more costly. Seeing great tattoos often inspires me to paint and take a certain idea and do my own thing with it. Photography helps me learn to reproduce more accurately what the eye sees (as I tend to gravitate towards realism in my work), since the camera lens closely mimics the human optical process, with the added bonus of being able to freeze that aspect of vision into a permanent physical form, a photograph. My own photography also forms the basis for most of the graphic design work I do, and provides a source for reference material for tattoos and paintings, so that I’m not copying off someone else's photos or original work. In these ways all the mediums I work in form a spiral, or a cycle, of artistic advancement or progress.
4. Does being vegan inform your creativity?
Being vegan most definitely informs my creativity, in that my art almost always represents my feelings, beliefs, and views in some way. A lot of what I see in this world is human violence and callousness towards animals of every species, the environment, other humans...and so that stuff usually finds its way into my artwork—which tends to be a little dark and a lot angry as a result—either as actual subject matter or as the basis for the feelings and mindset that creates the end result. Tattoos are the only occasional exception to this, in that a lot of the time you are creating something based on the client's wishes, not necessarily solely your own. Another aspect of your question which perhaps wasn't intended, but which I’d like to comment on, is the fact that a lot of creative output is actually not vegan, in the strictest sense...meaning that there are plenty of compromises to be made by a vegan in producing artwork in our modern age, just as in all other aspects of life. Like realizing that camera film has gelatin in it, and that developing it uses pretty harsh chemicals that will probably end up polluting the environment at some point in time, and that tattooing is a pretty wasteful process since almost everything needs to be disposable for disease prevention reasons, and that the pigments used in any tattoo ink or tube of paint were probably mined and obtained in some way by some evil corporation that harms the environment. So I guess I’m operating (or creating) under the assumption, as are most other vegans nowadays, that there are some pretty inevitable compromises to be made in doing this stuff or anything else, but that hopefully in the big picture the other things that we don't compromise on can outweigh these negative points. Action is always better than passivity.
4.5 . Totally. I feel that way about the magazine. The paper is recycled and all that, but how was the ink made? What chemicals clean the presses it's printed on? Even shipping involves non-vegan aspects. But it's a compromise we feel comfortable with and do the best we can. We feel like the good we are trying to bring into the world outweighs those elements we can't do vegan. Plus, once you start painting yourself into some vegan-purity corner, you very quickly have no room to move.
Yeah, I completely agree. I’m definitely not a meat-headed vegan purity judge by any means (pun intended), and I didn’t mean to come off like one in mentioning the things that I did. I try at all times to not place any ideology or -ism, like capital-V veganism or capital-A activism (or anarchism), above the actual needs of living things in a given situation. But I did want to demonstrate, however, that it’s important to think about and investigate all of the potential consequences of your actions and make educated decisions based on your personal ethics, whatever they may be. I also wanted to hopefully show that even the small and seemingly unimportant decisions we make, that we often take for granted, are connected to a complex web of life and are subject to the processes of cause and effect that eventually make their way back to us again. Essentially, we live in the hell we create or we live in the paradise we create (each by our own actions)—it’s our own choosing and there is no mysterious or disconnected ‘they’ that everyone projects their own power onto. Modern capitalist society trains people to view themselves as isolated individuals whose choices and actions are (falsely) simplified and disconnected from the world around them. To cite just one example: I want food so I obtain it and put it in my mouth, and that’s as far as I look into the process or care about it. Just go from point A to point B, and put your blinders on. But I could stand on this soapbox forever, so I’ll stop now. I swear I’m not this serious most of the time!
5. Does being creative inform your activism?
Yes, because being in a creative mindset can help you realize new and/or more creative ways of undermining and changing this horrible system, global corporate capitalism, that's destroying everything. But just like with the last question, there's a tricky underside to this, in that being creative and producing artwork on an individual basis is often very counterproductive to 'activism' as an entity, as it usually requires the artist to spend long periods of time alone fixated on this one object and goal in front of them, this piece of 'art.' And of course, a piece of art, as a fixed, static object doesn’t really do shit to help the starving homeless person in your community or the animals being slaughtered behind closed doors...the only way it can help change things is to inspire and enrich those who view it, thus helping them to then take the actual, physical steps to change things that need changing. This is one of my biggest issues I struggle with in being an 'artist' and spending so much of my time and energy creating images. But I’ve been doing things to help counteract this, like public interactive paintings, and helping to do art and props for protests, and being involved in community spaces which provide the means and resources for other people to be creative and work on projects together, and other creative activities which I shouldn’t talk about here.
5.5 . This is an interesting situation for an artist and activist or any creative person. I think you can drive yourself crazy or just burn out if you constantly feel like you're not doing enough for your causes. In your case, do you think if you dropped the art and dedicated yourself all day everyday to your causes you'd, in the long run, be more effective? One thing that concerns me with activists I know is that a lot of them give every ounce of themselves to the cause and never take time to try and live the better life their advocating for. Whereas if we all keep up with other aspects of our lives—art, reading books, cooking, riding your bike around on a nice day, etc., we'll be better activists in the end because we can take that joy from other areas into our activism.
Your response to my original comment highlights an interesting problem very well: the false dichotomy of life and activism (another unfortunate byproduct of our modern capitalist upbringing). To me, these two things should be one and the same, and I guess in making my original comment I was trying to illustrate not that my art is separate from all the other things I do, but that I struggle with the validity and effectiveness of it in comparison to other forms of activism that I’m doing or could do. But really, my art is my cause—or more specifically, one part of my cause. The same goes for my life—my life is my cause as well. By making my life better through being compassionate and thoughtful in my actions as much as possible, I make the world better, and to the extent that my life and actions affect other people, I potentially make their lives and actions better as well. Because my own life and my own actions are interconnected to everyone else’s in some way, my life/actions are part of what makes the world, and life in it, how it is…so they’re not so small or disconnected, after all. And neither are anybody else’s. This is every human being’s hidden power, which a great many people displace and project onto other entities, like ‘god’ or government or the ever-present ‘they’ I mentioned before. So basically, I agree wholeheartedly with your last sentence above, and this whole tangent is an attempt to illustrate the fact that because modern life (and thus, ourselves) is so divided and compartmentalized we tend to repeat this process with ‘activism,’ or the things we care about. Activism (root word: act!) is life itself, so long as your daily actions (same root word…) follow and complement your beliefs and ethics. There’s no need for burnout or giving up on causes you care about if this is the case.
6. What are 5 things you're excited about in the world right now?
Hardcore/punk music: I've been listening to hardcore/punk music and been involved in the community for several years now, and it's been, and still is, a huge source of inspiration for me. Listening to inspired, intelligent, and passionate music gets me through the day and plays an important role in my creativity. In fact, my first real exposure to veganism was through bands like Earth Crisis who were popular in the 90's and were very vocal about things like veganism...so in many ways I owe my being vegan to hardcore music.
Art: Obviously. My one unrelenting, unwavering drive to create and express myself is what keeps me going on most days and influences every other part of my life that I can think of. Creating and seeing good art makes me happy and excited in profound ways.
Activism: People getting together and cooperating to make their lives and the world better, and sharing it with others is always exciting. Direct action—actively pursuing your goals, dreams, and positive change is essential for living a fulfilled, meaningful life.
Anarchy: Not the corporate media's infantile stereotypes of anarchy, but true mutual-aid based, non-hierarchical, cooperative, sustainable-living, compassionate anarchy. Something I will always be excited about and pursuing in some form or another.
Straight Edge and Veganism: Not necessarily hand-in-hand for everyone, but for me most definitely a symbiotic, inseparable relationship: the foundations of respect for yourself, your health, the welfare of all others, and the Earth. And a very specific excitement having to do with veganism is the fledgling vegan pets movement and the book I just read about it, Obligate Carnivore.
7. 5 things you're unhappy about in the world right now.
This list could go on forever it seems, and could lead to a book's worth of ranting and me wanting to just crawl under a rock forever. I've struggled with depression and negativity pretty much my whole life, and so I’ve always been keenly aware of mine and others' suffering and all the unhappy things in the world. So suffice it to say, a short list of what I'm most unhappy with lately would be the Bush administration, government and electoral politics in general, war all the time with no bounds and no end in sight, apathy and inertia, the corporate media conglomerate, organized religion, hierarchy, the meat and dairy industries, drug addiction, alienation and passivity created by television and suburbia...........
8. You're a very politically and socially aware person. Do you find a
lot of like-minded people in the tattoo community or are you on your
Hmmm... Sadly enough, I haven’t come across or interacted with very many likeminded, and active, tattoo artists—though there are some out there, and the few I have met or seen work by have been inspiring and left me feeling encouraged. But as far as non-tattooers, people involved in the 'scene' that simply get tattooed, I have met many who are likeminded and active, which is really great because it's been an opportunity opened up to me directly by tattooing and not by other artistic avenues. This is one of my favorite potentials of tattooing—it's an art form that has much more ability to bring likeminded people together for direct interaction and positive results than, say, a secluded painter holed up in a private studio for hours and hours on end, as the stereotype goes (which I often tend to fit...[dammit!]). I think that being vocal and up front about my beliefs and goals in the tattoo realm has been one of the best things I’ve done. I've had so much positive feedback from it and it's given me the opportunity to do a lot of great tattoos on likeminded people who are just glad that a tattoo artist with their same vegan, drug free, anarchist, etc. views and lifestyle exists. For example, and in particular to this magazine, I’ve been asked to do a bunch of animal liberation themed tattoos, that have inspired a lot of people to get in touch with me who feel the same way.