Reality Check with Brad Kingett (Post interview report)

I arrive at the new Glassboro Barnes and Noble early, a feat I save for school and writing related projects. I’m supposed to meet Brad here, in the cafe’, at 6:30 p.m. The cafe’ is fairly empty and I try out about five tables before settling for one that falls victim to the least amount of sunglare. I feel like Marcel Proust, particular in my choice of seating arrangements and comfort, trying out table after table. The floor to ceiling windows of the ghost town cafe are like magnifying glasses, channeling the sun right into my eyes. Sitting down is better, it hides you from the solar death ray.

I take out my notepad and set up my laptop. I open up my interview document, intending to refer to my bullet points as the conversation ensues. I’ll wind up not referring to it much at all as the interview drives itself and I remember a lot of the points that I wanted to discuss. I order my grande mocha, with whipped cream, and relax, splitting time between my drink and watching the door. I’ve never met Brad and we didn’t elect to wear some code garment, like a red sombrero, or “Members Only” jackets.  There are now four other tables with customers, but I am the only one that looks like he is prepared to interview someone or transfer the plans for a super secret new missile system to Tom Cruise. I decide that Brad will probably be the guy to come in with his head on a slow swivel looking for me.

At about 6:40 p.m. Brad walks in. At least I think it’s Brad and hopefully not somebody looking for super secret missile system plans. He’s scanning the cafe’ and I stand up, “Brad?”

“Yeah,” he says. He’s smiling, that’s always a good start.

“Joe McGee,” I say. We shake hands, he gets a drink (something in a small cup, I’m not sure why I notice the small cup, but I do. Now I’m feeling imperialistic with the might of my grande cup. I make a mental note to stop making mental notes of his cup, forget my cup, get on with the interview).

Brad is a little taller than me, caucasian, and young (23). He’s wearing a t-shirt, flannel and a windbreaker kind of jacket. He has shorter blonde hair, with gel in it, waved over to one side in a preppy punk (and this would not be an insult to Brad) kind of neo-rockabilly fashion. He’s clean-shaven and his ears sport large gauges (those earring piercings that create large holes in the lobe). Brad will later tell me that they might be 5/8 of an inch. He’s not sure exactly, but they’re some “weird size around 3/4″ but not 3/4”. The earrings are important because they connect to tattoos, aesthetic expression and a definition and discussion of a deviant subculture, something Brad connects to and feels comfortable in the company of like-minded individuals. During the course of the interview it will become apparent, as my sleeves become pulled up, and my longer hair and obvious earrings are evident, that we share a connection to this related subculture.

We sip at our drinks and engage in some small talk. He apologizes for being late, says he’s never been to this Barnes & Noble. He wasn’t exactly sure where it was. He’s from Sewell, so he’s close.

Brad is an artist besides a photographer and film maker. I mention that I understand he has some art in a gallery here in downtown Glassboro. Yes, he says. He thinks it’s on Front Street, he’s not really sure. He knows it’s across from a BBQ place. He believes it’s been open about a month. I get the impression that he has a lot going on and the art aspect is in the background right now. I’ll come to find out later that he also works at a law firm and this weekend he spent 15 hours filming footage for the potential show that got my attention in the first place. It was a very hectic weekend, he tells me. A lot of people backed out, making for a very frustrating time. He tells me that out of 15 hours of film, he probably has 15 minutes worth of decent footage, stuff he can use for the show.

I ask him to tell me a little bit about his background and about art. I want to know what he likes to work with and how he got to where he is. I basically open the floor up to Brad and he runs with it. Brad turns out to be quite the talker and at times I have to almost interrupt him to focus in on something he says (something I don’t like to do as it can often be seen as stepping on someone’s toes). But the conversation unfolds like a tulip in May and I let Brad go, scribbling away on my notepad.

Brad tells me that he likes to work in a lot of different mediums. He started with drawing and sketching, before progressing into painting and then finally into film and photography. He names Ralph Steadman as a major influence in his art career, highlighting the fact that Steadman did Hunter S. Thompson’s illustrations for his book. Brad liked Steadman’s use of the fountain pen and how the artist can use the ink mess as part of the art.

"Rats in the Kitchen" by Steadman

At the end of our conversation, after the notepad is away and we are just two tattooed guys discussing movies on Netflix, he’ll tell me that “Escape through the Gift Shop” is about Steadman. But in the moment, we’re discussing artists who have influenced his own work. I mention artist Greg Simkins as another who does some neat things with inks. He mentions Shel Silverstein and the surreal style of Tim Burton.

He enjoys working mostly in black and white and in drawing images. He tells me that usually only looks at the image once and then draws from memory. Whatever features stand out in his mind are those that get exaggerated or focused on.

Brad went to St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia. In school he tended to get in trouble for approaching projects in a different light, something strange when you consider the inherent individuality of expression in the nature of art itself. Because of this, he was mostly a “C” student. He tells me about a class they had on the holocaust and this “very dark” painting that he did. After it was graded and no longer required for the class, Brad wanted to do something with it. There were paintings hanging in the English hallway. He found an old nail and bent it a bit, pushing it further into the bricks so that he could hang up his painting. It stayed there for three years until included in an art auction where it was sold to a private buyer. “It wasn’t even supposed to be there,” he says, smiling. “It was my own little mark I left on the school.”

“I don’t think you can grade art,” he says. “You can tell if someone is there to genuinely work, or if they are there just because it is required.”

Art by Brad Kingett

We toss around the idea of defining art as the end result of someones creation. Is it something produced by someone with true skill, someone “who can actually draw”, or is it something that looks cool? Brad says that he likes drawing made up creations because it comes from his imagination. Who is to say what is right and what isn’t at this point?

After drawing and painting, he went into film. Brad was heavily into the music scene, both as a participant and as a spectator. In fact, this was where his love of tattoos and piercings started. He was (and is) into the punk and hardcore scene. He started shooting video of the bands as a result of spending so much time with them. He was following the music, spending money and discovering that the bands had no money. By filming the scene, he could be involved and maybe make a buck. However, he needed money to buy film, gas and equipment. And, oh yeah, food. You know, the important things.

Brad realized he’d have to branch out. He started Risen (pronounced Rye-zin) Industries in 2007 and got involved in infomercials. He did a 10 minute video for an Aflac insurance agent about supplemental insurance that was put on the client’s website. It successfully developed more business for Brad and gave him the confidence to pursue this further as he understood that he could expand his work.

Brad moved from web clips to television commercials. Risen Industries filmed a commercial for Empire Tattoo (Sewell, Pitman, and Clementon) that aired on MTV in the late hours, or as Brad categorized “when people with tattoos would be more likely to be watching.” I ask him if he got ink out of the deal and he laughs, “Yeah, I got some ink.” However, none is visible to me at this point (and later, Brad explains his desire to appear mainstreamed as much as possible).

Right now he does a lot of weddings, which he claims to “absolutely hate.” But he does them because they pay “phenomenally.” He explains that it’s almost a crime to charge what he does, but he has to. If you don’t charge the exorbitant amount of money that people expect to be quoted, they won’t hire you because they think you must not be good or that something is rotten in Denmark. People expect to be charged a lot for wedding photography. For Brad, the prospect of doing these kinds of things is necessary, but not very exciting. It’s like a routine documentary about people who he has no connection to. However, this affords him the ability to do the more creative projects, to fund the kinds of things he is actually interested in. He compares it, in a way, to being a tattoo artist. “You do it because you have the skill, but you are doing specifically what they want you to do.”

According to Brad, some people call this “selling out.” But again, this is a necessary means to a creative end. The fun projects will not fund themselves. He laughs at the notion of “selling out.” He says that he could show me pages and pages of scripts for so-called “reality shows.” If you ask him, that’s “selling out”, right there.

Brad is in the process of opening a second branch, Risen Industries Sucks. The original incarnation of his business would handle all of the tamer aspects, such as wedding and photography. Risen Sucks would handle all the band stuff, head shots, artwork and off the wall projects. He explains that he can’t have that stuff in his office with all the wedding photo people because it gives the wrong impression. It comes down to balancing the reality of business versus the desire to chase the imagination.

Chasing the imagination brings us to the current film project that first attracted my attention. Risen Industries is shooting a reality television show at Sinful Creations, Vineland, New Jersey. With the success of TLCs shows like Miami Ink and LA Ink, as well as the apparent attraction to a misconstrued sense of NJ (Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of New Jersey), Brad recognized an opportunity to jump on board with something as promising as this. What really attracted him to the project was the approach they wanted to take. They wanted a reality reality television show.

Their show is going to illustrate those things that you don’t see in the others. They want to focus on the people coming in to get tattoos, and that sometimes it’s just because it looks cool. Not every tattoo has some epic back story. They wanted to show that it is personal and invasive, that the artist is on your personal space. It’s intimate, they are touching you and the obligatory small talk is like going to get your hair cut.

The artists in the show consulted other artists to pick their brains about what they might like to see presented. One complaint is that those other shows never show a price, they never show money changing hands.  It reminds me of a placard I saw in Mean Street Tattoo (Queens, NY) shop: “A cheap tattoo ain’t good, and a good tattoo ain’t cheap.” The artists had issues that people don’t realize how much tattoos cost, that they are expensive.

They wanted to show that tattoos hurt. On those TLC shows, Brad says, you never see anyone cry. In the last weekend of filming, there was a girl getting the entire top of her foot done. There’s a lot of bone there, he explains. It hurts. “You never see tears on t.v.. The pain is real.”

Brad talks about a tattoo artist that was getting a tattoo machine tattooed on him (something that only a tattoo artist can get put on their body, according to Brad). This tattoo artist said that he “hates getting a tattoo.” He liked that tattoos, but he hated getting them. “It hurts when you are getting it and it hurts for a few days after. I hate this.” Brad laughs. “You don’t hear ‘This sucks’ or ‘That hurt’.”

They want to make sure that people know what they are getting into so they don’t waste their time, or the artists time. People need to know this stuff, says Brad. He talks a little about the pain and procedures involved in removing tattoos. “Tattoos were never meant to be removed,” he says. Incidentally, my brother John, who lives in Texas is getting a tattoo removed from the inside of his forearm. He tells me that the process hurts ten times more than getting the tattoo. He is five sessions in and probably has five more to go.

Laser tattoo removal - 5 sessions in

They also want to show the fun involved. They want to show what really goes on. On the last day of filming, the shop manager managed to clog the toilet and they filmed the entire episode. “It was just funny,” says Brad. “You’d never see that on other shows.”

And there are snippets that won’t make the final cut, but provide insight never the less. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about the correct form of terminology: Tattoo machines NOT guns. One of the artists yelled at Brad about his reference to a “tattoo gun”. Brad replied that “both put holes in you.” “Yeah?” said the artist, pulling a gun out of his drawer. “This one will kill you.”

They are shopping it to Bravo and MTV right now. MTV seems to be the most interested.

The applicants for the show submit their name, age, picture of themselves, tattoo idea, body location, color or black and white, and reason for getting it. The artists have a chance to review and sign off on the ones they are interested in doing. This is a chance for the individual artist to showcase their own skills. Some are good at portraits, others enjoy pure black and white work, while others like illustration. Brad explains that it is a combination of what they are good at and what they are interested in.

Area artists are, according to Brad, excited about the project, but at the same time a bit hesitant. Brad thinks that they are waiting to see the final project and reserving their judgment until then. He thinks the show is going to surprise a lot of people. And yet, some artists will still claim that they “sold out.”  Brad explains that everyone strives to be successful but once you hit that level of success you are out of the circle. You have “sold out.” Brad goes on to explain that the whole process is an act of doing what someone else wants you to do in the first place. With art, nobody is forcing the buyer to purchase it. They buy it because they like it. The artist did the work that he wanted and left it. With tattoos, you are doing what you are hired to do. The point I imagine he is getting at here is that, at what point do you decide to scorn someone for the success they reap by doing work for hire in the first place?

Brad laughs and says that if it were an accounting reality t.v. show, where they were auditing on t.v., they’d probably be applauded by their peers. He mentions the Sistine Chapel. It’s just hired work, he says. “Painting the walls in a pattern. Hired painters.”

Creation of Man; Sistine Chapel

Another tattoo artist echoed Brad’s own sentiment. Being a tattoo artist in and of itself is selling out, he said (his words not mine). His reasoning was that you are taking someones idea, someones creation and doing it for money. That tattoo artists are paid to create someones vision beyond their own. This particular artist was a painter and for him, tattooing was a means to earn money for his painting. “My talents get me the money to do what I want.”

We come back full circle to the art. He tells me that he has drawn up some tattoos for people. They take it to the artists and the artists put their tweak on things. He thinks it is cool that “something you created is something they put on their body.” It “commemorates something you did.”

I ask him about the separation for an artist, that moment that someone buys their art and takes it with them, what does that feel like and in a sense, is this feeling the same for a tattoo artist that sees his work literally walk away. Brad describes it as “bittersweet.” On the one hand, you are losing something you created, he explains, but on the other hand, someone wanted it bad enough to pay you for it. As an artist, he explains, you make a conscious decision to put a price on something that you have created. You give it value and if it is desired enough, that price will be paid. If it’s something that you hold so dear you wouldn’t dream of getting rid of, you just don’t put the price on it in the first place, you wouldn’t put it out there for sale.

Brad’s love of the entire art process is most evident when he tells me that if he were to come upon someone viewing a piece of his art, raving about it, desiring it, and talking to him (Brad) unaware that he was the artist, he would just give it to him. “It’s yours,” he says, complete with an offering hand gesture. “Because that’s someone who really loves the art, not someone saying, ‘oh, this would look great in the living room’.”

On the subject of art, I ask him to tell me his thoughts on the art’s ability to “speak.” He explains that some things need an explanation and if you are around, or if you are the bearer of the tattoo, you can offer that explanation versus someone completely missing the point. I make a note that perhaps this means the objects cannot speak on their own, if they need someone to translate, but as I write this, I begin to think that maybe they do speak. They just say different things to different people. Brad states that some tattoos have bigger meaning than others ( a sentiment echoed by other artists, most recently by Matt Doherty and Tracey Morse of Mystic Eye Tattoo).

But, to Brad, the tattoo represents a subculture. He likes when he sees someone with tattoos or piercings because he knows he’ll be able to relate to that on person on at least some level. “You share a culture,” he says. “It tells me that you’re in the same realm that I’m in. That there’s some common ground.” If he is in a room, or at a party, and he doesn’t feel comfortable, he knows that he can hang with a person who shares that connection. “A single serving friend,” he jokes. “Both oddballs.”

Brad explains that he is a straight edge (someone who abstains from drugs and alcohol) and that if he sees someone else with an “X” on their body, he knows that he has a kindred spirit.

He acknowledges that people are quick to judge. He believes that they probably think, “Oh, here comes trouble.” He goes on to say that “if someone gets to know me, they might be glad they did because otherwise they might have missed out on meeting a good person.” He understands that his choice to embrace a seemingly deviant appearance brings with it questions. It’s part of the territory. He does not get upset and tells his friends to act the same way. “People are going to ask questions,” he says. “Don’t be angry at them for that.” He doesn’t think it will ever be completely mainstreamed. The parental influence is, in his opinion, too strong. Parents pass down to their kids that you do not get tattoos.

We talk about the gauges he has in his ears. He tells me he got them because he was bored. Again, he works in a law firm during the day and can’t get too crazy. He has flesh tone gauges in case he needs them for work. But mostly he will not go any bigger with them because it’s a cost issue. He doesn’t want to buy any more jewelry.

When he gets older he thinks his tattoos will serve as memories, like a scar. “It’s a moment and a memory,” he says. These are stories of and from our lives.

This echoes my theory of aesthetic expression and inner identity as outward expression. That tattoos are shards of soul gazing.

We wrap up the official side of business and Brad tells me that he has a shoot coming up in the next few weeks and that I’m invited to come down and hang out, take notes, ask questions. He is eager to answer any other questions that I have and let’s me know that if there is anything I need to know, just shoot him an email. We talk about movies for a bit and Brad says that it is so nice to sit and have an actual face to face conversation, especially in this crazy world of text messages, Twitter, Facebook, and emails.

It’s about quarter to eight. We’ve sat and talked for over an  hour and could probably talk for hours more. We shake hands (he has a strong handshake, always a solid attribute) and Brad leaves, reminding me to email him with any questions I have. I tell him that I will, of course, do that and also keep him informed about where the project goes. I thank him again.

I pack up my stuff, spend a few minutes perusing the magazine section and then head off into the darkness of the mid-March night.

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Third Eye Open to the Tattoo Nation

In Indian tradition, the third eye, or gyananakashu, represents the center of knowledge. It signifies wisdom, or enlightenment.

As a researcher, it is that moment when your efforts work independently of your actions. It’s like shaking the snow globe and then standing at its center as flakes of information fall upon your shoulders. It’s all you can do to collect the snow piling up around you and appreciate the beauty of the process.

I have been overwhelmed with the amount of cooperation, enthusiasm, passion and commitment that I have found in my research so far. The people I have interviewed have provided me with more information than I could have hoped to acquire and yet, stand ready to offer more should I need it. The purpose of this blog is to not only thank them, but to illustrate the point that those involved in the tattoo industry are proud, dedicated and supportive of their art. This is no loosely associated fraternity of like-minded individuals.

This is the Tattoo Nation.

Brandee Gordon

Brandee Gordon, of Native Ink Tattoo, has gone out of her way to answer my questions, provide me with pictures upon request, and share her time with me, despite the fact that she lives half her life on a plane, traveling from one client to another. She has taken new pictures upon request and agreed to let me use photos for my Harper’s Magazine annotation and film footage of her work, if needed. I have been in almost daily communication with her via BlackBerry messenger.

Christine O’Donnell, Mean Street Tattoo, spent hours answering questions, after a busy night at work, using her cell phone because her laptop was broken. She was determined that I understood what her craft means to her and that I knew how important her mentors are. She was excited to help promote an art and industry that she is proud to be a part of. In fact, she went on to send me a lengthy follow-up email (thank you) and has since been pursuing me to conduct a follow-up interview. Christine and I swap emails a few times a week, usually trying to chase down a time to talk in our mutually busy schedules.

Eric Foemmel volunteered to help me from the onset after hearing what I was doing. He’d been in a similar situation and was eager to help. He took time out of a busy road schedule, foregoing coffee (in the middle of his trip to get some), on one of his few days “off”, to spend 45 minutes on the phone with me. He was pleased to talk, filling pages with great information and opening up to me as if we’d known each other for ten years. He’s made it clear that if I need anything, any help, I just need to pick up the phone and call.

Brad Kingett, Risen Industries, sat for over an hour with me and talked. He’d had an entire weekend of filming and we did not know each other any more than a few emails. Our conversation was as genuine and informative as if we were not absolute strangers and I like to think that, upon leaving, we’d both expanded our circle of “friends”. He has agreed to invite me to his next film weekend for a tattoo reality television show he is spearheading.

Besides that, I have been at lunch and realized that everywhere I turned there were tattoos, and tattooed women and tattoos sneaking out from under sleeves to wink at me. People walk by engaging in conversations about tattoos. I’ve received Sunday comics about tattoos. I think I even saw that guy “Tattoo” from Fantasy Island pass me on the street the other day.

Tattoo of "Tattoo". Yep.

In other words, my research is everywhere, inundating me with resources. My Third Eye has opened to my research, and that is what we hope to accomplish as writer/researchers.

And the accumulation does not just stop with this project. It doesn’t stop with the story and the Harper’s annotation. I have at least eight other story ideas from this. I have intentions to travel to Indiana, Queens, and the remote part of Western Pennsylvania to get tattooed. Now, if only I could hit that Megamillions to support my ink desire.

I think it is important to understand that all of this does not happen unless you, the researcher, does not commit yourself fully to the process. If you are writing about miniature golf, you need to live, eat and breathe miniature golfing. Word of advice, never try to make it under the windmill. You need to blend active interviewing with ethnographic research, with intuitive creativity.

And when that third eye opens, and the snow starts falling, just spread your arms, ingest it, and be thankful for those who elect to share their world with you.

Thank you, now let’s get inking.

Incidentally, as I prepare to publish this blog tonight, Brandee Gordon is tweet connecting me to three other gentlemen with whom she believes I could learn more about the tattoo subculture from.

It’s still snowing here.

Pre-interview for Christine O’Donnell, Mean Street Tattoo

So, tomorrow night the whirlwind of interviews continues. Interview number three in three days. Christine O’Donnell is an apprentice tattoo artist

Christine doing her first tattoo, 2009

at Mean Street Tattoo in Queens, NY. She has been kind enough to agree to talk with me tomorrow night, via Facebook chat at approximately 9:30.

In the course of my research for this project/story, I have found Twitter to be an excellent resource. If used properly, like-minded individuals, or those exhibiting an interest in a common topic, can connect regardless of time and distance. Twitter is how I “met” the artists and creative minds behind Mean Street Tattoos, to include Christine.

I am very interested in interviewing Christine for a number of reasons. To begin with, I find the tattoo apprenticeship fascinating. I chose to research tattoos, tattooing, and the artists because I find not only their craft to be powerful and beautiful, but also their very lifestyle and mindset to be liberating. So, how does the tattoo artist reach their journeyman status? What does it entail and how does it mold them? This is a very intriguing calling, and I am excited to hear what Christine has to say about it.

Christine also comes from a tattoo background. Her father is a veteran artist and has a hand in her training. So here we see a lineage of artists/craftsmen. This is an other interesting angle to explore. I wonder how often this happens? Is this a trade or craft that continues through families like so many other trades or professions (i.e. electricians, plumbers, musicians, teachers, police officers)?

I would be remiss if I did not point out that I will be looking at Christine’s gender. There are many, many more men in the tattoo industry than women. However, that is quickly changing as the number of women tattoo artists continue to enter and prosper in the trade. Kat Von D may be, perhaps, the most known or notable in the industry, but there are a lot more following suit. This is not in any way a gender issue or women in the workplace slant, but it is a subject worth noting.

Lastly, I instantly admired Christine’s honesty and forthright attitude, something that became instantly apparent in the few tweets, emails and brief phone conversation we had. She was quick to point out to me (for which I am grateful, keep teaching me, Chris) that it is NOT a tattoo gun. It is a machine.

"Guns kill. Machines create."

Guns kill, machines create. We discussed some possible ink work on me and she flat out told me that there are things she can do and things she cannot and she knows her current limits or capabilities. Furthermore, she was eager to help me with my research because she is “more than happy to help and spread the word about tattoos” and that there was “no need for thanks. It’s great to see so many people in and outside the business as passionate about tattooing as [she is].”

Christine is a young (24), refreshing and promising young talent in the art of tattooing. I look forward to speaking with her tomorrow and sharing her insight.

Though I do wish that I could sit down with her for a face to face interview, time and distance again play a factor. Facebook chat will allow for a real-time exchange and the ability to follow newly presented paths of thought (something email would not allow for). Also, I am happy that the interviews have fallen so close together. There have been ideas introduced and information presented in the previous interviews that spark new questions and branches for Christine, and Brandee Gordon on Wednesday.

Check back here as I post my follow-up, post interview blog before the end of the week.

Research Interview Schedule & Ambiguous Flux

As it stands, my interview schedule is in a somewhat tenuous position. The players are there, but the stage has not been set. However, I can tell you this:

Christine from Mean Street Tattoo, NY, will be interviewing with me via Facebook chat on Tuesday, March 15th at 9:30. Christine is an apprentice tattoo artist with a year’s experience under her belt.

Brandee Gordon, of Native Ink Tattoo, has graciously agreed to conduct an online interview with me. I have mentioned Ms. Gordon in several blogs and she has expressed her consent to help me in my research. However, she is currently out of town on business and I am waiting to iron out an interview time.

Update as of 3/8/2011: Brandee and I have established contact and will be conducting our interview via Blackberry Messenger next week at a time to be determined.

Brian Dicola, of Eddie’s Tattoo and Loyalty Ink, has communicated that he would be willing to talk to me at the Philadelphia shop (he is there on Wednesdays). I am trying to nail down the night of the 16th (March), but have not received confirmation.

Erin Kane, of Infamous Arts Gallery, will be unable to interview with me. She is suffering from some wisdom teeth issues and is in major pain.

I took this opportunity to look at the scope of my potential interview subjects and realized they were all tattoo artists. Christine offers a nice perspective as an apprentice, a role I feel is crucial to understand in my forming of trade roles and cultural establishment. It occurred to me that I ought to expand my interviewing scope.

Tonight I sent an email to an old friend of mine and extremely interesting (and knowledgeable individual), Dr. Lucio Angelo Privitello. Dr. Privitello is a professor of philosophy at Stockton College with interests in a variety of genre crossing and pseudo-mystical studies. In fact, he recently created a ran a course last semester focusing on philosophy and the HBO series “True Blood”, using the show to study death and immortality. Immortality, a theme I conceive will take a lead role in my eventual story. I am awaiting a reply from Dr. Privitello.

Dr. Lucio Angelo Privitello

Update as of 3/8/2011: Dr. Privitello has agreed to interview with me. His recent class (and subsequent class composed book length project) explores death, immortality, and the preservation and understanding of the self. These are aspects that are very close to the heart of my project. I will be attending his lecture on Proust, at Stockton College, on March 26th. We will be sitting down to talk after his lecture.

Update, as of 3/8/2011: Alexa Mantell was kind enough to point me in the direction of her friend, Brad Kingett, owner of Risen Industries (A film and photography company with dedicated art interests). Brad is working on a project that has not released any official information yet, and so I will not divulge. Needless to say, it is related to my research project. The following application was posted to Risen Industries Facebook wall:

Brad is interested in my research topic and has agreed to sit down with me for a face to face interview. We are tentatively scheduled to meet Monday, the 14th.

 

As changes and scheduling updates occur, I will post them to this page, maintaining a current interview schedule.

State of My (Tattoo Research) Union Address

The findings of my research so far (and let me tell you, I still believe myself to be only ankle-deep in research) has been richly rewarding. The sociocultural connections that I have discovered to date provide enough material to fuel several stories. And let’s not be fooled, my direction has been fully plotted for a rich story of darker magical realism. “The History of Tattooing” (Dover Publications, 2009) is rife with incredible real world examples of tattoo history that could easily find itself in the pages of a Stephen King, Clive Barker, or Joseph McGee novel. Yes, I did just put myself in the same company, lol…my blog, my rules.

For instance, there were several early beliefs ( as written in Sinclair’s “American Anthropologist”, vol. X and XI) that the soul was regarded as a tangible object. Upon physical death, the soul, or spirit, assumed an “exact replica of the earthly body”, to include any tattoos or marks. These tattoos served as rites of passage through the afterlife. Take the Sioux Indians for example. They believed that tattoos received in life would allow for their passage to the “Many Lodges” in the afterlife. It was Sioux belief that the spirit, mounted on his spirit horse, would be stopped in his ghostly passage by an old woman. It was her duty to inspect the dead warrior for his marks, or tattoos (often on his forehead or wrists, and sometimes on his chin). If he was discovered without, he was thrown from the cliff, or cloud, to wander aimlessly and melancholy through the mortal world.

Page Notes from "The History of Tattooing"

The Northern Tangkhuls (India) believed that tattoos linked husband and wife in the afterlife. The Abor tribes (Himalayan) considered the tattoo the “poor man’s identification mark in heaven.”  Those of wealth were adorned with possessions befitting their station. Those without were inked up.

These are only a few of the examples that I have begun to unearth in my research. These are the kinds of details that make for great storytelling. These are the kinds of facts that, when tweaked by an overactive imagination, become stories.

As I prepare to move into the interview phase of my research, I have lined up the following potential resources:

I will be conducting two face to face interviews for the story, both with practicing tattoo artists. Erin Kane is an artist at Infamous Arts Gallery in Plymouth, PA.

Tattoo by Erin Kane

Brian DiCola is an artist at Loyalty Ink, in Kenvil, NJ and at Eddies Tattoo, in Philadelphia, PA.

Tattoo by Brian DiCola

Both have agreed to chat with me about themes, concepts and ideas that I have mentioned in my previous blog about the direction my story was going. I am awaiting an answer on speculative times and dates.

I have also requested two of my recent online (Twitter) contacts to interview with me. Christine Murphy

Christine Murphy

(@ChrisMeanStreet), an apprentice artist at Mean Street Tattoo,College Point, NY, has agreed to interview with me. Due to the busy and irregular schedule of their work, we are trying to set up a time for a slower night of the week. Chris is more than willing to help me out and we have been in email communication to establish a firm time. I am waiting to hear from Brandee Gordon

Tattoo by Brandee Gordon

(@nativeinktattoo), of Native Ink Tattoo, Central Indiana. I mentioned Ms. Gordon and her studio in my previous blog.

And, perhaps reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson, as the research begins to develop and I get deeper into this world of ink, I find myself with appointments and invites from the artists I have been in contact with. I have tentative appointments with Erin and Christine. I fancy the thought of one day flying out to Indiana to get work done by Brandee, and Brian is right across the bridge, inking away. In fact, the more I grow to learn about and appreciate the deeper implications of the craft, the art, and the people who do it, the more I find myself intrigued by the idea of traveling to new artists for different pieces.

It seems that this adds another dimension to the piece, in which it is no longer JUST a piece of who you are, it is a tale of where you’ve been and who you’ve met and in this instant (and for every instant after) that inkwork on your skin tells a tale of a person and place with whom you will forever be connected. It is, in this sense, a “talkative thing” (as described by Lorraine Daston in her introduction to “Things That Talk” (Zone Books, 2008)).