DH: So, as a part of what I would consider the “new wave” of tattoo artists, what got you into this business? I remember when I started, it was really looked down on as a disreputable profession. I don’t get the impression that’s the way it’s currently viewed.
AM: So what got me into the business was a native curiosity and the intense drive to be a part of what I saw as a community. I started hanging out in tattoo shops when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old and even then I knew this was going to be my life. I just had to find the way in. Time went on and I finally obtained an apprenticeship. I think the profession is still disreputable depending on who you’re speaking to, but the younger generations actually think tattooing is awesome. They don’t have the same mindset on tattooing as the older folks. I knew tattooing was for me the minute I stepped foot into my friends family’s tattoo shop.
DH: Your background is Indian, right? Is the profession more looked down on in your culture?
AM: Well I’m Trinidadian & Guyanese. They call us West Indian but my ancestors would be Indian. The artistic side of tattooing is definitely looked down on in my culture but if it is religious then it’s okay. My grandparents have tattoos that signify their marriage and their religion. They got these tattoos back in the 50’s. At the end of the day I don’t let the stereotypes of my culture influence my decisions with tattooing. I love tattooing more than my own culture for sure! I would say tattooing is MY culture.
DH: Yeah, my dad is the parent of missionaries, and my mom is from bullshit southern aristocracy. They call this “that horrible profession you’re in”. Are you on good terms with your parents? Are they supportive of what you do?
AM: I recently just lost my mother to Covid-19 but she has always been supportive of me following my dreams. My father didn’t really like the idea of it because he thought I wasn’t going to be able to make a living for myself, but I put in the work and proved him wrong. I was in the Local 79 laborers union for NYC and when I took the leap of faith quitting that job to go full time into tattooing, my parents were scared for me but they never shunned me. I love my parents though, even if they weren’t going to support me.
DH: Did you do any other art before you tattooed? Were you heavily influenced by comic books, famous painters, or anything like that?
AM: Before I got my apprenticeship, I was painting with oils and drawing with charcoal and graphite. Those two mediums heavily influenced my thought process on how to go about tattooing. Even though they are completely different mediums. After working with great artists when I first started tattooing, I was opened up to creating in even more artistic mediums. I still draw and paint, just not as much as I’d like to because tattooing all day six days a week takes up a lot of energy and time. I’m heavily influenced by fine art and many illustrative tattooers. I go and get tattooed by the artists that impact me the most so I can learn from them and add their lessons to my arsenal of techniques and methods. As time goes on I find myself becoming more influenced by different styles that I never thought I’d take a liking to. Some of my favorites are: Paul Booth, Brandon Herrera, Kamil Mocet, Frank Frazetta, Alphonse Mucha, Miguel Camarillo, Cristóbal Lòpez, Dan Kobasic, the list goes on. Those are just a few tattooers and painters that I really love.
DH: OK, so, dialing back for a minute, how did you go about getting your apprenticeship?
AM: So I got my apprenticeship at Hungry Wolf Tattoo around August of 2018. I made an appointment to get tattooed by the owner of the shop, Whiteytattoos and while he was tattooing a color realism portrait of a vampire girl on my inner thigh, I just kept bombarding him with questions on why is he doing this and what does this needle do and what colors he was using and so on. With my collection of tattoos by reputable artists, my drive to learn, and my passion for tattooing, he decided to give me a shot. I didn’t get the “traditional” apprenticeship experience, I would say it was very unorthodox compared to what you might hear regularly, but I loved every minute of it. I owe a lot to my friend Tomtattoos for also having a big influence on me getting my apprenticeship. Ultimately, I was trained by a team of heavy hitters in the industry: WhiteyTattoos, Pattydovee_tattoo, Guiffre. I will always pay homage to them for opening the doors into the craft for me. I have much love for these guys.
DH: Yeah, I didn’t really have a standard apprenticeship either. I went to art school and moved to NYC to be a comic artist. It took a lot of learning how little they paid and how hard to deal with they were before I accepted an apprenticeship offer from a friend of my brothers. But, as I think has been proven over time, it’s not the beginning that matters nearly as much, as it is how your work looks in the end! That said, are you still in the shop you started with?
AM: I agree and no, unfortunately the shop I started in was more of a private studio. In order for me to build my clientele I had to move to a walk-in shop. I am currently tattooing JohnsTattoo in Islip Terrace, NY and I also GuestSpot at The Abyss Fine Art & Tattoo Studio in Long Beach, NY.
DH: Well, we are glad to have you. It looks like mostly what you are doing right now is realism based. Would you say that’s accurate?
AM: Yeah. I eventually want to evolve my style into some sort of dark illustrative surrealism/realism. In color or black and grey.
DH: Sort of like a Jesse Levitt or Tommy Lee Wendtner?
AM: I don’t really want to try and be a copy of anyone else’s work, I just try and get influence from certain artists and then evolve them into my own thing.
DH: I draw inspiration from the work of Tommy Lee Wendtner, Robby Latos, Jesse Levitt, Guy Aitchison, all the artwork put out that resonates with me. I don’t think you need to copy to be inspired by someone’s work. Illustrators and fine artists do the same thing all the time.
AM: I understand, I’m influenced by guys like Brandon Herrera, Kamil Mocet, Edgar Martinez, Anjrisstraume, and Miguel Camarillo. Gia Rose and Eric Andrade have been a huge influence on me as well. There’s plenty of artists that influence me for sure. I try and take bits and pieces from everyone and mash them together until a piece is too my liking.
DH: I know, back when I started in 99, I got a lot of shit for doing more realistic work. The whole “throw a line around that” and “tattoos don’t look like that” crowd. I was called a “frustrated painter” all the time. Then again, I was at flash shops in NYC. Is that still a thing, and have you encountered it?
AM: Yes, I definitely think it’s still a thing and No, I have not encountered it. Yet! There are definitely ways to make a black and grey realism or even a color realism tattoo stand the test of time. With the right usage of black along with some other tricks. I also think it depends on what crowd of tattooers you’re around. You know, it’s a very similar situation to “loyal to the coil” guys. As long as the work is good and clean who cares!
DH: I agree. Like I said, this would be flash shops in the city 21 years ago. Those were different days. So, changing topics again, are you leaning towards a more comprehensive, large coverage style along the lines of Jesse Levitt, or more unique, large single pieces like Robby Latos?
AM: More Jesse Levitt for sure. His stuff is sick! They’re both heavy hitters but if I had to learn towards one it would be Jesse.
DH: Have you started transitioning towards that style at all? I remember, I needed to tattoo quite a few friends, at massively discounted rates, to get out some more interesting pieces.
AM: I wouldn’t say I’m transitioning towards any certain style right now! I’m still trying to figure all that out!
DM: Well, you seem to have the right approach. Rushing and refusing to look around at possible game changers only shuts you down and turns you into the dinosaur of tomorrow. Anything else you want to add, and tell me how people can see your work.
AM: I just want to say THANK YOU to all my clients and potential clients for working with me and letting me create one of a kind art on their skin! A special thank you to my mom and dad, everything I do is in their names. I love you ma, rest easy.
DH: How can everyone see your work, and how should they contact you?
AM: You can check my work out on Instagram AaronMtattoos and you can contact me through my website at aaronmtattoos.com. A link to my email is there! You can also directly email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Dan Henk has been working in and as a part of the tattoo community for 20 years. He writes novels, illustrates magazines and books, and owns The Abyss Fine Art & Tattoo Gallery in Long Beach, NY, and competes in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jujitsu. Check out all his adventures on danhenk.com!