Skin Deep Tattoo Magazine (Britain), Issue 129, February 2006
(The following interview draft from 5/10/05 isn't the final version that was printed--I had one more chance after what you see here to edit and add to my responses before going to print. However, that final version has been lost and this was the only file left on my computer. It's close enough to the final version that I feel it's still worthy of being posted.)
Nick Baxter is a new name for many on this side of the pond, but Stateside his name is growing fast. Admired by Artists and collectors alike, Nick recently visited Ireland and guest spotted at Triskele Tattoos in Enniskillen. At the end of his stay he and studio owner/artist Janine Ashton sat down to talk, and here follows a transcript of the conversation:
J.A: To begin, I know you have formal art training, so how far did you take that and how did you get into tattooing?
N.B: I studied fine art with a graphic design concentration for three semesters at a local art college, and then dropped out in 2001 when I landed a tattoo apprenticeship after seeing a flyer advertising it.
JA: In the college?
NB: Yes, I paid for the apprenticeship and was at the studio for one year. It was in a studio called Tattoo International, under the owner Mark Savaikis.
JA: So the typical type of apprenticeship then?
NB: Yeah, I cleaned up, did set ups and answered the phones, but I got a lot of really good one on one tuition as well. I was treated very fairly.
JA: So how did you end up at Darkside?
NB: I had been getting tattooed by Lou Jacque at Darkside during my apprenticeship, and whilst getting tattooed I was bringing photos of my tattoo work to have it critiqued by the guys there. They saw my work progressing and offered me a slot.
JA: Which you took straight away…
NB: No, I didn’t think I was ready so I held off for a few months to keep practicing and getting better, but the next time they offered I accepted the job.
JA: So when did you work your first convention?
NB: 2003. It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time but the guys at the shop were great, I was really fortunate to have nationally regarded artists to call on for advice.
JA: Darkside closed in 2004, what happened then?
NB: Well, a year prior Joe Capobianco, Eric Merrill and Julio Rodriguez left Darkside and opened Hope Gallery, and then in January 2005 Lou Jacque, George Carter, Kevin Walsh, Anthony Plaza and I all left and opened Transcend Tattoo and Art Gallery.
JA: Those tattoo studio names are quite a contrast to 'Darkside,' were they deliberately chosen for that?
NB: Definitely, the names were chosen to symbolize positivity, and a growing out of old boundaries.
JA: I am sure you must get a lot of invites to guest at other studios, what made you choose a trip to Ireland?
NB: I think I just liked the vibe I got from our emails and I hadn't been to Ireland before, only England. I am also just interested in genuine experiences with real people. I don’t care if I’m not going to the “scenester” capital of tattooing; I am more interested in new and exciting experiences.
JA: How would you say your trip has affected you?
NB: The tattoo scene is very different here, and it does make me realize how very privileged I am to work in the way that I do. The general public back home seem to be a bit more knowledgeable about tattoos and what is possible with them artistically. I guess the tattooing 'boom' that hit us some time ago is still developing here.
JA: I know you have a lot of strong political opinions, have you ever been censored?
NB: Oh yeah…. One magazine in the states specifically told me not to enter into that in the interview--that really bothered me as it’s a huge part of who I am, and I believe that everything we do as participants in modern society, including tattooing or being tattooed, has 'political' ramifications, if you want to call them that.
JA: So much for freedom of speech then…
NB: But then another magazine pretty much let me spill the beans so that was cool, but you're right in saying "so much for freedom of speech." At this point it's really just an empty concept; the media in general is controlled by a few very large and powerful corporations, who get to decide what is and is not 'newsworthy.' Then once it's allowed to be reported on, the viewpoints and biases from which it's reported are also strictly controlled. So essentially it amounts to freedom of speech for only one specific entity and viewpoint, and not so for many other people and their viewpoints.
JA: How do you feel those politics cross over into tattooing?
NB: There are politics in everything, I despise capitalism and in a lot of ways can see that hierarchical structure in the tattoo industry. For example, there are loads of tattooers out there who it seems have been so trained by the fucked up values of the outside world that they internalize these values and reproduce them within this subculture, or community. Values like profit over honesty and integrity, and the concept of a 'scarcity economy' where there is only so much money, clientele, or fame to go around so we all have to fight and compete for it and be jealous of anyone else doing well. When really, this is far from the truth. True cooperation and sharing can lead to an abundance of whatever for everyone, but hoarding and backstabbing and the like just leads to isolation and more hostility, and thus the appearance of scarcity. But growing up in capitalist society teaches us more of the latter and less of the former, I believe. And so you have tons of insecure tattooers out there trying to convince the general public that there is a real scarcity of good tattooing apart from theirs, and promoting themselves by keeping others down. Promoting yourself is fine but not if it is at the expense of others.
JA: So how do you feel then about the necessity of having to promote yourself and what you do?
NB: I have been trying to tread a very fine line between promoting myself enough to be able to do what I love and be successful, but not so much that I become like a mass marketed commodity, just something that people take at face value and then throw away. I don’t want to become a gimmick or a label that people grow tired of once the initial interest or shallow trendiness has died down.
JA: How do you promote those causes dear to you?
NB: There are a lot of links on my website to some great sites and reading material, so anyone interested can take it from there. And I also take part in as many socially or politically conscious activist type projects outside of tattooing as I can.
JA: How do you bring your politics into your tattooing?
NB: That’s another fine line I am treading, holding the beliefs I do whilst having to take part in a capitalist system, which is all about making yourself a product and being soul-less. I try to be as fair as I can about taking money; I never just expect it to fall out of peoples pockets. I also try to only take on the projects I am most inspired by, so I can connect with the people I am tattooing, to create a bond of some sort; it helps with the tattooing and getting theirs and my vision across.
JA: Have your political beliefs ever caused you bother whilst at work?
NB: No, I tend not to discuss them unless it’s with someone like a long term client or what have you. Although I have done many politically-oriented tattoos involving topics such as animal rights, bringing these beliefs into the imagery.
JA: Could you say that this attracts a certain type of person wanting to be tattooed by you?
NB: Definitely, and I consider that a great thing, because it has hooked me up with some amazing people.
JA: Considering the amazing workload you set for yourself, how often do you feel close to burnout?
NB: Every couple of months!! I tend to (and it’s my own doing) get trapped into trying to please everyone, but once I take stock of the situation, it's all systems go again... till the next near-burnout. I have a love of extremes, and I tend to always want to take things to the limit, or beyond.
JA: I know that you paint a lot, and that you are into photography and digital art, are these as important as your tattooing to you?
NB: I feel they are all equally important to me, I don’t necessarily tattoo to fund my other mediums, thought it's certainly what supports me the most right now. But all the mediums I work in are essentially equal avenues of expression. Painting-wise I get a couple of commissions and sell a few pieces a year, but the fine art 'scene' is really hard to break into, unless you know someone or are prepared to work in a particular way that's considered sellable by galleries at the moment, and I think that sucks.
JA: How would you like to see your tattooing progressing in the future?
NB: I just want my tattoos to look and feel epic, to have the viewer get the feeling of walking in to the subject matter and having their reality changed somehow; I’d like it to be intense, powerful and above all inspiring. Who knows if all that is possible but it's worth aiming for. There are certainly a few tattoo artists out there who have come close.
JA: I think tattooing has an effect on all of us, from viewing it to wearing it, to being lucky enough to apply it – how would you say it has affected you?
NB: Tattooing has made me more comfortable in my own skin and I feel very privileged to be a part of it all. I have very shy and reclusive tendencies and getting to interact with so many different types of people through tattooing has helped me come out of my shell a great deal (Sam nods in enthusiastic agreement).
JA:You need to start paying Sam……!!!!!!! Well Mr.Baxter, it has been a pleasure.
NB: Thanks so much for hosting my visit here and for being so accommodating, it's been a blast. Anyone wanting to know where I am, convention or guest spot-wise can contact me via the website www.nickbaxter.com.