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A: I’ve had shops in New York, Salt Lake City and Mexico, and traveled all around the world. In the early days I’d go from bar to bar in Europe, start drawing, and then do tattoos right there and split the money with the bartenders. I’ve been to the hinterlands of the Philippines and Eskimo country doing tribal work. The Kuna Indians in Panama bartered embroidery and carvings.
Q: After 40-plus years, does it ever start to feel repetitive?
A: No. There are so many different schools. Old-style Americana, the black-and-gray photo realism that started in prisons, tribal tattoos so rich with meaning, Japanese style where a single image telling a mythological story covers an entire body. It’s science and art melded together, plus all the history.
Q: Will you ever retire?
A: From what? Living an interesting life and making money everywhere I go?
Q: Does giving lectures on tattooing at universities give the culture too much mainstream legitimacy?
A: I don’t think so. I don’t want the old days back. We can still make it as renegade as we want.
Q: What does it say about a person if they have no tattoos?
A: Well, everyone has at least one useless body decoration, the belly button. If that’s enough for you, fine with me. I’m not here to sell tattoos as something anyone should get. Some of my friends don’t have any, and I like them just as much.
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046