Interview By Kore Flatmo
Kore Flatmo: Were you making art that whole time? Or did you put it on the shelf?
Shawn Barber: Yes. I was always drawing comics. Doing murals on friends’ walls, posters for friends’ music shows and album artwork. I got my first tattoo at 16, continued to get a more and more tattoos.
So there was an attraction early on.
Yeah. I wanted to be tattooed.
When you got that first tattoo, did you think, ‘I’d like to do this’?
I thought, “This guy doesn’t know how to draw.” [Laughs]…
This was in a shop?
In a shop downtown in Cortland, New York… Super-nice guy… Tattoos by Todd. I don’t remember his last name. I don’t know if he’s still around. I drew a little bit of tattoo flash for him in trade for tattoos.
Is that tattoo covered, or is it still showing?
It’s gotten a couple of shots from the laser.
Yeah. It was a black costume Spiderman. And, you know, I did the drawing from a comic, that I copied. And I think my comics at the time—and this goes back to maybe up until I was 25—there was no soul, or sincerity, or originality to any of it. I was more interested in making marks than I was in creating worlds, or really thinking for myself.
You were just mocking what you saw?
Yeah, and I was interested in the style of marks. That’s where my head was… Into girls, into drugs, into partying…
But obviously, everyone, including myself, goes through this nihilist period…
I did it for a long time.
But if you’re continuing to draw and make art, then that’s that kernel that all this stuff has grown from. It never went away.
Yeah. It’s always been there.
What do the Amish call it? When they let the kids go into the world, to see if they come back or not? I think we all have that, in a way, even if it’s self-imposed. The year of living dangerously, let’s call it. We have these ideas, and we get to this period where we have the freedom of our late teenage years, and into our 20s, and we become hedonistic. Pleasure this, pleasure that… So, I think during that period if you are keeping up on your art, then that really speaks to the connection you had.
It was an impulse.
Yeah. You did it because you liked it. If you didn’t like it you wouldn’t do it.
Loved to do it.
Were you encouraged by the reactions of others?
Everybody around me was into it.
So that feels good.
Totally. But I think I knew better. I got a lot of accolades from my friends and family, but I think I knew that I hadn’t really put myself into it, mentally. It was always an aesthetic thing, and it didn’t deserve the praise that it was getting, and I knew it. But that ego-stroke, at a young age, it does feel pretty good.
(Shawn Barber is featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine Issue #30 and can be found at Memoir Tattoo Studio Los Angeles, CA.)
Click on TAM #30 to purchase your copy: