brighton tattoos

With a fine layer of sweat covering her body from a workout class she’d just finished, Cherry approached the stranger who was standing a little too close to her antique Bentley. “Is there a reason you’re standing by my car or are you just admiring the view? She’s a sweet ride, no?”

A Thursday Interview: Conversation with Boff Konkerz!

Can you talk a bit about the differences you observe in tattoo culture when it comes to handpoke versus machine work?

I’ve found that handworkers are more relaxed. Generaly they haven’t come through the apprentice system and treat the practice as more of a folk art than business or career. Also there is more humility in handwork, which I put down to the fact that machine-free tattooers are not seen as “real” tattooists by most other tattooers.

How do you feel about the machismo of shop culture?

It really depends on the shop. There are so many tattoo studios now, and while they’re not all radically different there are different types. Here are my catagories of shops, just for fun…

1. Stretched ear shops. More ethnically and spiritually inclined shops. More likely to offer body modifications, stock and sell intresting jewelry, usually more gay and female friendly, swastika reclaiming, more accepting of DIY tattooing. Styles will be ornamental, blackwork, some old school, realism and illustrative. Least macho type of shop. More likely to host a hand poker.

2. Traditional shops. Flash on walls, everyone works in one big room, motorbikes, rock and roll, fiercely against DIY tattooing, pro apprentice system. Think they and their friends are the only ones doing tattooing “right”. Styles will be old school, realism, some illustrative. Fairly macho. May host a hand poker, but not usually.

3. Gangsta shops. Hip-hop, macho, money, bullshit, gold chains, pit bulls, guns. Will have several apprentices who don’t know what they’re suppossed to do. Think they and their friends are the only ones doing tattooing “right”, to prove this they will frequently mention the amount of “benjamins” they are “ stacking” to the “ceiling”. Styles will be lettering, chicano, juggalo. Most macho type of shop. Will not host a hand poker. Hand pokers will not want to be here.

4. Hybrid shops. Type of shop where the individual tattooers may each subscribe to one of the above stereotypes, without there being a typical shop ethos. Styles will of course be varied. Daily arguments about music are standard. Levels of machismo will vary. May or may not host a handworker, depending on attitude of the owner.

Variables- Also to be taken into consideration are the amount and type of drugs consumed by the crew, gender and sexuality distribution, fame of shop/tattoosts and area the shop is in.

Once one has worked out what type of shop one is looking at and what the variables are it is possible to get some idea of the level of machismo. From what I have learnt in the field it’s fairly safe to say that the more macho a shop is, the least likely they are to be accepting of machine-free tattooers. Machines are manly. They are loud and fast and brutal and unsympathetic.

Is that same element of machismo and elitism as present in UK tattoo culture as it is in America?

I am doing my best to resist the idea that there is such a thing as “tattoo culture”. The word culture is thrown around out of context all the time. Tattooing is not a culture. It is a practice that is present in many cultures. However, if you are talking about the tattoo scene in the UK I’d say this. I inhabit a very small corner of the scene ,and it’s pretty sweet. The rest of them can do what they want. I really don’t care what the mainstream is up to, as long as me and my client are happy, and the studio i’m in is cool. There are many talented, compassionate people in tattooing. If you don’t find them you’re not looking hard enough and deserve all you get.

The professional handpoking community is a rather small one- how has the culture of handpoking and the community changed over the years? Has the qiality and style of the work shifted?

The proffessional community is still super small. I’d love to know what the percentage of tattooers working by hand is. It’s probably 0.001% or something. What we’ve seen is a massive increase in the amount of amatuers and a small increase in the number of proffessionals. I support DIY activity, whether in tattooing, music or anything else. But there is a difference in what you have to do when you ask for money. We get more respect now, those of us who can stand up to machine workers in regards to quallity and proffessionalism. We are welcome at conventions and can easily get featured in magazines, but there are still too few handworkers working at that level.

You’ve been poking ten years, what are the most drastic changes that you’ve seen over the course of your poking adventures?

I guess the wider understanding and awareness of hand poke, both good and bad. When I got my first handpoked piece by Xed Lehead 11 years ago nobody had really heard of it at all. Of course there were prison tattoos and whatnot, but to my knowledge there was only one full time handpoker in the UK. That was tattoo Pier at temple tattoo in Brighton. You have to remember this was before social media. Pier would work conventions and have the occasional piece in a magazine, but he was not well known. He was also brilliant, by the way.  I heard he quit to keep bees in south africa, dunno if that’s true, but i choose to believe it. So now we have people aware of low rent stick and poke via a bunch of articles in the fashion press and a load of instagram/tumblr blogs, and we also have people aware of the top end stuff via things like Charles Bodays book “Handpoke Tattoo: 23 Artists’ Words and Ink”, as well as social media.

How do you feel about ‘stick and poke’ tattooing?

First we have to agree on what we mean by “stick and poke”. All hand poke could be called stick and poke. You use a stick and you poke in the ink. I’m guessing you mean DIY, home done tattoos. I think it’s brilliant!Just fucking do it, fuck your own shit up for free!

Do you feel that the recent increase in the popularity of stick and poke style tattooing has had an impact on handpoking as a craft? What does this sudden surge in interest mean for professional handpokers?

It’s been a mixed blessing, i suppose. If someone’s first encounter with machine-free tattooing is some shitty home done effort then that may well close their minds to the more refined work that’s out there. On the other hand people are probably more aware of how good it can be also.

What, in your opinion, are some of the biggest misconceptions that people might have about handpoke method?

That it’s inferior in quality and hurts more.

Do you find that the negative stigmas associated with stick and poke- that its unsanitary, unskilled, etc, have an adverse affect on what you do as a professional?

No, I’m busy enough. If anyone thinks that handwork is unsanitary or unskilled I’m happy not to tattoo them. It’s not my job to educate or overturn prejudice. If they have done their research they’ll know the facts.

In addition to mentoring and supporting other handworkers, you also have an apprentice, Habba Nero, whose work is phenomenal! Can you talk a bit about how you came to take Habba on as an apprentice and what prompted you to take an apprentice when you did?

She’s not my apprentice, if i say she is it’s tongue in cheek! I don’t believe apprenticeships have any role in hand poking. It’s a very simple technique and takes no time to learn. Once you’ve learnt the basics how you progress is up to you. Handwork is like riding a bike, you don’t have lessons or take a test, a member of your family just shows you how it’s done. Machine work is like driving a car, it’s a good idea to be taught by a professional and not be allowed on the road before you know what you’re doing.

How has handpoking served to enrich your life outside the context of tattooing?

I’ve traveled and met lots of interesting folk doing this. I don’t have a boss. I do what I want and go where i wish.

As a world traveler, can you speak a bit about your time traveling and tattooing and how that has shaped your work?

Travelling has made my work suffer. On the road you don’t get much opportunity to do the big work I like to do. The back pieces and sleeves in my portfolio date from before I went on the road. This is one of the reasons I’m settling in Iceland at the end of this summer. Travelling has been very good for me personally, but bad for my work and finances. After settling down I’ll still travel, but much less. However I am aware that after a couple of years living and working in one place I might get the urge to go on the road again.

I’m seeing a new school of handpokers on instagram and tumblr honing their skills right before my very eyes! What can this new generation of handworkers learn from our tattoo elders, and how can we preserve knowledge that is passed on from more experienced tattooists?

That´s not  for me to say. It’s up to the next generation of handworkers to decide what they can learn from those who’ve gone before. I don’t actually care what other handworkers, or tattooists in general, do. I literally do not care whether handwork is around in a few years, if it’s gotten more popular, better or worse, I’ve played my part, and will continue to do so.

Thanks, Boff!