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