DH: Did you always plan on being a tattoo artist?
BC: No, not at all. My dad had a couple of small tattoos on his forearms from when he was in the service and I always remember being fascinated by them. That lead to me being interested in tattoos and art, especially comic books and animation, and it all lead to graffiti when I was in my teens. Eventually, it all came full circle. When I turned eighteen I was finally able to get tattoos.
DH: What were your favorite comics? As a sometimes comic artist, I’d love to know! Did you have a graffiti crew or did you work solo?
BC: Initially, I was into all the early Marvel stuff. Hulk was definitely my favorite as a little guy. I loved Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four too! Later on, I was really into X-men and the What If…? series. Eventually, it morphed into a lot of the Image stuff but I veered away from comics when I started dabbling with graff. I had a small crew of writers that I got started with. We definitely got shit on by the more accomplished writers in my area in the beginning but eventually, they began to show me some stuff and accept me a little more. I’m still in touch with a lot of those guys and have since had some great opportunities to meet some of the artists I really looked up to. It was through the tattooing medium that rejuvenated my interest in graffiti.
DH: What year was this? And did you experience the whole Guliani crackdown on graffiti artists?
BC: Around 91-92. I think the Giuliani era may have brought a stiffer policy into practice but compared to what had gone on in the train yards with Koch in the eighties and the surveillance state of today with cameras blanketing everyplace the scene kind of balances out. There were always risks involved. That was a large part of the mystique that drew kids into it in the first place!
DH: What drew you from that into tattooing?
BC: I was always intrigued with tattoos. I used to buy Outlaw Biker tattoo magazines and try to replicate the images in them. I’d sketch the images out on my school books or my bedroom wall. Eventually, I was introduced to Bruce and Damian Bart and they let me hang around their shop, draw, and help out. That evolved into an apprenticeship and I’ve been tattooing ever since.
DH: So was this the transition into a line of work you wanted to be in, or were you still unsure?
BC: It really wasn’t that hard of a decision for me. I was cooking in my family’s restaurant at the time and didn’t have much of a game plan for the future. I wanted to go back to school for marine biology but I was procrastinating and not really taking any initiative. When tattooing was presented to me as a possible career I wasn’t sure at the time how much I wound up loving it. Once I started, the first year or two was nerve-wracking but the joy it brought me eclipsed the discouragement.
DH: What was the most nerve-wracking part for you?
BC: I can’t say there was one specific thing I can single out. Tuning and keeping my machines running properly always freaked me out. I never really felt comfortable talking to customers and still don’t at times but I’ve gotten better at it!
DH: I remember everyone was super cut-throat back in the day and when I had machine problems, only the guy that mentored me would give me accurate advice!
BC: I’ve been very fortunate to have so many talented people around me for my tattoo career. Everyone I worked with was always very forthcoming with showing me what they knew. They were also just as quick to let me know when I was not living up to what I could be doing. Although I agree, it was definitely a rougher time back then. The artists in every shop I worked at were always happy to help me and sincerely wanted to see me do well.
DH: Did you need to go through a process of learning how to artistically render when you started out, or do you think your experience with graffiti carried you through?
BC: I’m still learning! I’m never really happy with what I put out. There’s always something I feel I can change. I never had any formal schooling outside of my apprenticeship so it’s always going to be an uphill climb. I don’t think I’ll ever really get to where I’m totally satisfied with what I’m putting out, but I think that’s part of the fun of tattooing! If I get to the point where I feel I can’t progress further I’d stop altogether.
DH: It’s great to always strive to better ourselves! Everyone should do that! That said, how has your shop transition been over the years? I know mine was really chaotic. I’ve worked at like 15 different shops!
BC: It’s been tumultuous at times but I’ve mostly left on good terms. As far as I know! I’ve had a couple of weird runs but I always feel that if you’re ready to depart but you stay anyways the whole thing always proves to be a bad idea.
DH: In your ideal world, do you have a tattoo style you favor?
I enjoy so many tattoo styles it’s tough to narrow it down to one. I definitely would love to do more bio-mech, Japanese tattoos, and blackwork.
DH: That’s a range! You were doing some awesome horror-related stuff the other day!
BC: Thanks! I don’t really get a chance to do that style very often. It’s fun when a client asks for something a little out of your wheelhouse. It makes me wanna try extra hard to get it dialed in. Going out of my comfort zone kind of brings me back to the earlier days when I wasn’t confident but still excited to try something new.
DH: Aside from tattooing, do you have any other side projects or hobbies?
BC: I try and paint whenever I can. I like reading and cooking as well. I try to spend as much time as I can with my dogs. I have some good boys that I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with!
DH: Do you have anything on your bucket list?
BC: I’d love to travel a lot more I’ve been pretty lazy about that for the last ten years. There are definitely a bunch of places I’d love to go, to and friends I’d like to go tattoo with.
DH: Ok, last two questions! Do you prefer rotaries to coils, and what is your opinion on tattoo TV shows?
BC: I use mostly rotaries now. I still like coils for lining with larger groupings. Especially if it’s a larger tattoo piece like a sleeve or back. But I do enjoy the convenience of being able to just change a cartridge and get right back into your tattoo. With the TV thing, I think there are pros and cons to it overall for individuals and the tattoo industry overall. Any great work of literature that’s been adapted to movies or television has been watered down and perverted to a point. So it’s naturally going to be the same with tattooing. With that being said it does bring money into the industry, not to mention an influx of people wanting to tattoo who otherwise would’ve never even given it a thought. I can’t see myself ever doing it but I can’t hate on anyone who has. If you can enhance your life and get things done for your family, and if you’re not making tattooing as a whole look ridiculous then I think everyone shod be able to get their shot.
DH: Thanks, Bobby. How can people get ahold of you and see your work?
BobbyChiTattoo I can also be reached at The Abyss Fine Art & Tattoo Studio in Long Beach NY. The number there is 5162327179.
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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!