While I was still making my way around the globe tattooing it was time to see the pyramids (having felt very drawn to Cairo since I could remember). Arriving in a new country, no language skills, nowhere to sleep, nowhere to work, and having no friends was my method for a bunch of years was my norm (I was then chasing tattooing with little concern for the future but seemed to still land on my feet). An old co-worker mentioned that he had gone to the first Cairo Tattoo Convention and offered to introduce me to the host Orne (who offered to kindly host me). It was most important that the people could afford to get tattooed (making myself accessible for the people not able to spend their monthly incomes).
Several trips to countries came with fearful warnings to not be queer in any way (which felt unsettling knowing that I was only visiting, that I would go back into my life of chosen safety, but the other queers were stuck there). I was asked to remove any indication of my queerness which was tricky to do (but dangerously illegal to be so there, where people were also living) so humbly I obliged. We raced through Cairo from the airport sweating as they all smoked (it felt like I was in for an adventure but had no idea yet). I got the sickest I might have ever been, Orne’s dog got stolen, her Mom came to help find her from Italy, the dog was rescued, we ate great food, I tattooed folks, and saw the pyramids).
A few weeks later I received a call from Cairo asking for help to immigrate queer refugees that had been arrested by the sex police. I was not able to help my friends directly (somehow magically the universe provided them safe passage to Berlin). Germany is the safest place in the EU for queer refugees seeking asylum. Since then Orne has guested with me and other studios (squatted an important last stand fem queer house, started her own studio twice, become a political queer tattooer and gives back to communities).
If you have the chance to ask Gael how to make an apprenticeship happen, do so (I was very blown away and stoked). We met a few times in passing while I was working with AKA in Berlin. Our paths crossed again later (lining up easily) and have since shared space at UNIV ERSE Studio through its several iterations. It is tricky to put into words the ease with which Gael makes tattooing look to the outside world (the scale, the themes, the placements). He has the capacity to fuck with the internet (and not care about it, or at least it felt like that to me). While still having the time to run a very bussssssy multi human studio (so very shocking to me).
At his first space in Berlin he dove in (renovated it and made everyone feel welcome) he hosted Michele to do a Body Of Reverbs. I had not ever had the right timing to catch the rituals in person (thanks for that Gael). Since then he closed and opened a different space to cultivate other peoples talents and careers (across from the best Pad Thai in Berlin). Then closed and opened another with even more of a roster of people who needed his attention and energy (I’m getting anxiety even considering what those years felt like for him!).
The internet is often a vacuum for good human energy (then once again, I was suggested to meet Tamara who navigates it all gracefully). I was sitting with a mutual friend catching up before my client arrived and queer tattooing came up (he said just go now, before I knew it I was en route). I had barely 45 minutes before my client arrived that day. (a classic uber situation blasted me over to meet up at the LA Book Fair (where I walked by a number of folks I look up to). I found the Discipline Press booth but was not entirely sure who to talk to because I didn’t see Tamara (and I was running short on time). We had a quick hello and I jammed back to DTLA to tattoo.
We met up again on tour while in New York City later that same year for some diner and a longer hang out this time around. They invited me over to do the interview at theirs (we were staying just around the corner from Tamara’s in Brooklyn). We chatted and got to know each other again more in person through the time shared. I was totally smitten (this person really embodies and lives what they communicate through their work and to their communities politically, socially, perosnally). Not only through tattooing and art making but how they treat themselves (big ups).
I remember hearing again from another close friend that I should meet Bryce when I was back in NYC (most possibly Henric because they worked together in the LES). It was a blazing hot summer day (my favs) and I was trying to gather my needs from the supply shop on Canal.I was to be guesting down the street (where Henric and Bryce had worked but had just jumped ship a week before I arrived). I was waiting for the cashiers attention and was standing beside someone that had old Cris Cleen tattoos (I realized it was Bryce and introduced myself). We immediately hit the ground running, developing a very rewarding connection (on my end anyway!).
The next visit to NYC I was invited to work at the new space (even closer to the supply place on Canal) and gratefuly accepted. I got to know him and his partner a bit better and tattooed them both (still on my way into burnout but not yet at the bottom). They have since come to Berlin to hang, tattoo and contribute to a group art show (I was officially starting to pick myself up from said bottoming out). This was just the begginnig of being on contact with how the work really reflects the person I was getting to know (the NYC hustle is a real thing and can be harnessed with much skillfulness).
Take the time to get to know the one and only @framacho
I met Fra upon opening the front door of UNIV ERSE Studio as she was the days client (I access my creativity easiest without any consultation prior to initiate the ritual). Before I could welcome her properly she was showing me where she had free space (very little free space even back then). I realised then that she had tattooed whatever she could reach on her own body herself using both hands (really that’s so very impressive!). I can’t remember who said we should make acquaintance (but thank you very much). Since then she’s been to visit several times and I’ve been asked to do important life markings (it’s been a dream energy balance not found often for me). She fell in love with NYC and then fell in love and got hitched and stayed there (can’t wait to meet you both again one day). Fra is a powerful human, poet, queer activist, tattooer and artist (her lived experience informs her aesthetic and when you see it you know it).
Once again Michele suggested that I meet this person David from Frankfurt who guested in London with him. He was visiting Berlin to see friends and tattoo (it’s imperative that I have a particular connection with folks to share space with). I invited him over for a UNIV ERSE breakfast at the studio and immediately understood the tattoos (as they come directly from the mind of a spacial genius). This really shifted my first takes on others work when I initially feel unclear. David soon moved to Berlin to continue perusing his fine art practice (and tattoo with me at UNIV ERSE Studio when he wanted). He landed a great space and was trying to live and paint and tattoo from it (a recipe for burnout as I’ve experienced). I was away on tour once and a few of them did an event at UNIV ERSE Studio that I keep hearing about now years later (David, Michele and Paolo I believe?).
In the beginning year of developing the #qttr community Stewart was very helpful and kind (among other friends who I challenged to be transparent and contribute). It felt necessary to push our way through the masses and it caught on. We now experience tattooing as accepted and booming (a post queer tattooing dramatic sea change). So much life has passed since we sat in the kitchen at UNIV ERSE Studio and blabbed as we do so easily (Stewart and I in particular both being Libras) They since have moved back to London from Berlin and put their tattooing practice on hold for personal reasons. See you soon or else, as we go along many of the same paths.
If you haven’t already seen @makoto.chi
I feel safe and sane when friendships land on many of the same important pages (a huge sigh of relief). At the same time being humbled by intense connections that keep unfolding. Once again (gratefully, my friends know me well) I was introduced to Makoto, who came highly regarded and fills those shoes. I’m pretty sure we stumbled into each other at Michele’s in Hackney Wick (as I would have arrived disheveled from poorly managing my time / energy / expectations of myself) and as I recall they were very calm and patient to let me land and then most likely go eat great pizza around the corner. On top of being the lovely human that they are, Makoto is a brilliant artist, tattooer, activist – a partner, ally, friend to who is fortunate enough. We would have them around each summer and then I would be back in Vancouver in the winter.
Paolo was highly recommended to me, so I reached out for a guest spot on IG (we actually met upon my arrival at the old studio in Lyon). As the story goes this Canadian (who could have better french than I do) tried to keep up and was the fool for saying that I could! He is a freehand tattooing wizard, smooth as fuck skater and very fashionable (it all lines up with the French aesthetic all around) since then he has visited UNIV ERSE Studio a few times and Berlin many to see other mutual friends of ours. One day I plan to wow him with my French but probably not in this life time living in Berlin.
When you see Sally out there say hello for me and pay attention to their / her work (no longer tattooing others).
In between time spent on planes trains and automobiles, UNIV ERSE Studio was home to many. The door was always open to friends clients lovers and fellows in many a constellation. Over the years the small kitchen held the most intimate energy (we ritualistically shared a huge offering of nice food with hot tea to good music). Our conversations were initially named Tattooers Talks (then becoming UNIV ERSE Kitchen). Sally was the human to show the world (in my humble opinion) how powerful and important queer tattooing done by hand is and has become. Most folks tattooing now by hand now (seemingly generations after) might not have even heard utterance of the magical tattoo artist named Home Poke (but now have!) Thank you.
Two Libras step into a room and a conversation ensues (as was just like our last time hanging out in Bangkok). Seeing Cape Town through the eyes of my friends who grew up there was very humbling. The segregation and political system fall out that I had never experienced in my home country was omnipresent. It is still so trippy to look back and see how much friends go out of their way to show you around (and in my case offer care for your wellness while on tour). Meeting sober humans around the world and make that a priority has kept my head above the water (my non sober friends know how important getting to a meeting on tour is for me). I was taken to swim in the ocean that was possibly nearly freezing in contrast to how scorching the weather was (the presence of Great White Sharks totally flips me out). Pretty lovely time.
I met Nick for the first time in person upon my arrival in Bangkok and immediately felt welcomed (Yui and Frank promptly took me around the block to get some orientation and amazing street food I still dream about). My shin wouldn’t stop bleeding from knocking an old skateboard shin injury and the amazing swelter (my sock was trying soaking it up and Frank was all about it). I was then introduced to David, and I got right to tattooing in the little room we were sharing. They took me around to their spots after tattooing, and I jammed around solo and soaked it all up as best I could. This was a pretty magical adventure, we had planned to get a gold tooth but I didn’t have enough time after going to meet the dentist. Some time later they all moved back to Cape Town where they kindly kept the invitation open (I was jazzed to see them again back in their home country). Getting to an airport anywhere and having a smiling familiar face (in the middle of a tour and going long distances) is really amazing and humbling. The new shop was freshly open, the people were so friendly, the city again was hot as fuck, Yui and Frank always cooking (this time I managed to get my tooth fixed by a dentist with gold). We went to art shop around the corner one day, I stumbled upon the markers I have now only used since (even when I ran out they sent me more). The hill I bombed down to the shop every day was mental, it fully blew out my wheels (I couldn’t even imagine how many powerslides to get the bottom and be jelly legged). Best time.
We managed to make time to sit together at Omonia Square before leaving for the next city (the background noise of the city energy is present). Agelos was really starting to make big changes in an already great aesthetic that tattoo so well. I still had the desire to be out in the world (to visit and be in the mix which looking back was really hectic). I would be happy to be anywhere warm 365 days a year, what a treat (probably from growing up so far North!) Thanks
It was my turn next to be interviewed (with the same lacking questions). Another PG later we were timely interrupted by the biggest gong in the UK (the sound permeates the building during a gong bath treatment). I have always felt like Hackney Wick was a second home (even as it changes since Stratford being connected and the skatepark being erased). Hearing my own voice really is uncomfortable (but its the only one I got!) Enjoy, this time capsule is lovely to revisit.
As per usual, I woke up on the roof of the tattoo station / high bed / storage, got my shit together with some spiritual practice before Michele gently knocked (on his own door). He always arrived gently to see how I was, we grabbed our skates and jammed down the road to get a full English (even though we probably didn’t have enough time before the days clients arrived). I believe this day my appointment canceled so we had some unexpected free time (he was always doing prints using various techniques and nudged me to do an edition of wood cuts). I had an email interview I was avoiding to commit to and mentioned it to him (he said he had the same email) I suggested to just use our phones and ask each other the questions the dude sent over and be done with it. As it turns out it was really easy and kind of fun (he’s pretty concise and I talk too much). This project made sense to us, choosing to catch moments in time and share them (I was still blasting around the world then burning out).Waking up in the creative space you work in and then sharing it with residents and guests is delicate balance for this Libra. I would say I never really figured it out at UNIV ERSE Studio but tried diligently the hard way. Through many years visiting each other between London and Berlin, Michele never flinched at my particularities for life rituals, tattooing, sobriety and otherwise. This is very much why it works so well (for me) I feel safe and super inspired by his process that never is at rest. What we have shared so far has truly helped shape me as a tattooer, friend, fine artist in particular.