Loading Ink for Milwaukee’s Tattoo Battle Royale

Dec. 5, 2016
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The stunning interior of Akara Arts.

Having tattoos has made me more conscious of the forces of gratitude and regret. Tattoos embellish what we already sense is true: Life leaves its mark on us as much as we try to leave our mark on life. Whether our flesh shows it or not, we get transformed, and when that happens, gratitude is like an empowering hero, whereas regret is like a bitter troll who spits vitriol at our backs.

Now, perhaps the three Homer heads on my arm are a bit repetitive, but I really, really like The Simpsons, OK? Since Scott Lashay of Akara Arts gave me ink and a story earlier this year, it seemed right to reach out when he had a Battle Royale of Milwaukee’s tattoo artists. I had no clue Scott was going to mention fights between eagles, serpents, and dragons, or make me stupefied with the phrase “marketing-driven algorithms.” Scott is full of surprises.  

Tell us about the upcoming Battle Royale. Why was it given that name?  

The Battle Royale will be a showing of the work from 17 different local tattoo artists. This includes the wonderful folks at Cornerstone Tattoo, Walker’s Point Tattoo, Good Land Tattoo and Akara Arts. Each artist will be showing however many pieces they choose to fit on a 2’x6’ area. The theme is inspired by American and Japanese tattoo traditions, where animals (usually three) are locked in battle. I would say the most common is the eagle, serpent and dragon. All the artists will be doing their own take, and I’m really excited to see everyone’s interpretation!

One intriguing thing about this event is that it will bring together competitors to achieve a common goal. Is it tricky to strike that balance between competition and community?

Not at all. It’s just about the opportunity for people to have a good time and enjoy the work of these great artists here in Milwaukee. It’s really that simple.

Which images have you inked that best represent love of Milwaukee?

I chose this one because my client wanted a winter night scene that was backlit by the moon. I think I pulled off the illusion of it being backlit and having some ambient front lighting to show some detail of the buildings.

When immortalizing an image on someone's skin, perhaps you're not a fan of what it represents, but it's probably bad for business to express criticism. Does your line of work make you more diplomatic?

Well, on one hand it is not my job to be a moral compass. This is a commission-based artisanal craft. It’s my job to express my client’s vision the best I can, through the filter of my knowledge and skillset. Fortunately, I find that artists tend to attract clients that see the world through a similar lens. Thanks to that, I usually find it easy to empathize with my clients and their ideas.

When we talked in early March, you mentioned that nothing much seems weird to you anymore. By many accounts, 2016 has been a bizarre year. Do you still feel that immunity to weirdness?

We receive more information than ever before thanks to the internet, and there are more of us than there have ever been. I would say that this massive stream of information has not broadened our horizons, but rather, it’s made us more polarized. It’s a bit in our nature to subscribe to the information that sits well with us, not to challenge ourselves with information and experiences that make us uncomfortable. Partially as a defense mechanism—and as the marketing-driven algorithms would have it as well. We can simply block what makes us uncomfortable. All this information is cherrypicked for us to have the most pleasant experience. I think a lot of events and information in the last year have really challenged that pleasant experience for many. So, it’s easy to see why people would consider 2016 to have been really bizarre. I just think the way we communicate and receive information is much more bizarre than the information itself.

When pressed for the most ridiculous tattoo you've ever done, you cited my trio of Homer heads. Months later, am I still the champion? 

I think the most noteworthy thing about your tattoo is the placement and size. You started with a small piece on a relatively large canvas: A tiny Homer Simpson head smack dab in the middle of your upper arm. Then you (or I, should I say) added another tiny Homer head adjacent to it. I tend to do larger pieces, so when someone comes to me with an idea for an upper arm, it’s a half-sleeve or to start a full sleeve.  So, it’s all relative. Your tiny Homer heads are just a wonderful aberration in the landscape I’m used to being in.

Wha?! "Tiny"? Um, false. Mr. Sparkle is a good size.

Do you have any gallery nights planned on the horizon?

Yes! I am currently planning a show for April that likely will showcase a few of our in-house artists. Then there is Bay View Gallery Night on June 2 (http://www.bvgn.org), where all our in-house artists will be showing. In the fall, I plan on having Jacob James Klapperich curate a show, which will focus on American Traditional tattoo art, and next winter I’d like to do a Battle Royale round two, depending on how we all heal up from round one!

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