By Rachael Harrington
Louis Molloy started off in tattooing in the backstreets of Manchester, England in the 1970s. Back then, tattooing had just begun to grow beyond its ‘sailors and whores’ image in the West, being firmly adopted by the counter-culture. Then, around the time Louis made his first tentative steps into the world of tattooing, real artists began to embrace the form. The young Louis had a talent for art, but he also had a fascination for the underground world of tattooing. Teenage Louis was an outsider, but tattooing gave him a place to belong, and someone to be. According to an interview he gave, Louis’ first inspiration was the iconic record sleeves of the time. Already caught up in the tattoo scene, record-sleeve art gave him the inspiration he needed to start his journey towards being a tattoo artist, rather than a just hanging out in the scene…
The Rise of Louis
Louis Molloy opened his first shop in 1981, at just 18 years old, in Middleton, Manchester. Middleton Tattoo Studio is still there, and is still operated by Louis. Despite Louis’ young age and relative inexperience, it took him just five years to win the ‘Outstanding Tattoo Artist of the Year’ award, in 1986. He won it again in 1993.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Louis Molloy’s reputation had grown, and grown. People would travel to visit him at the Middleton Tattoo Studio, and he began to establish himself of one of the UK’s top tattooists, working in pretty much any style that his clients could throw at him. His versatility and artistic talent brought him to the attention of celebrities. In 1999, he created one of the most famous celebrity tattoos around – David Beckham’s ‘guardian angel’. The huge, bald, winged angel on Beckham’s back gave Louis a national, and then international, profile. It led to more celebrity bookings, and a TV deal.
T-Shirts and TV
In 2007, Louis hit TV screens as one of the artists on the London Ink TV show, a spin-off of the Miami Ink show. If people in the UK didn’t already know who Louis was, they did after that. Louis’ honest, sincere but abrasive style worked well on the screen. He is not necessarily loved by those who’ve seen him on the show, but he is certainly admired.
The TV show, naturally, led to even more celebrity requests. Louis has also tattooed Beckham’s wife, Victoria, two of her fellow Spice Girls, Mel B and Mel C, British boxer Ricky Hatton and many others. He gets to the Middleton studio at 8am every day to do preparation work, and the studio opens at 10am. He tends to tattoo celebrities after the studio shuts at 7pm, to give them the space to have their tattoos without being recognized. Perhaps, as he is a celebrity himself these days, Louis understands their need for privacy.
Louis has now even developed a sideline in t-shirts. Among other tattoo-inspired designs, the collection features Beckham’s iconic angel. Louis’ website invites people to ‘wear it like Beckham’. In branching out into something so clearly commercial, alongside his forays into celebrity tattooing and tattoo TV has Louis ‘sold out’? Would the teenage Louis, in love with the underground of the tattoo scene in all its seedy glory, have ever envisaged himself being called ‘The Godfather of British Tattooing’?
Culture and Art
Louis certainly has received his fair share of criticism, as anyone who puts themselves in the public eye is bound to do. However, Louis is not some kind of simpering celebrity lover. He does court publicity, but you get the impression that it all comes from his love of tattoos. Read over the FAQ page on the Middleton Tattoo Studio website and you can’t help but feel a little scared of Louis– coming out with lines like ‘What I don’t understand is why people email me asking to become a tattooist and don’t bother sending any images? They don’t seem to have any portfolio? They can’t draw? They can’t spell, yet just like that they think I want to take them on??’ on your official website is a sign of a certain kind of arrogant confidence.
That is probably the same arrogant confidence that allowed him to open his own studio aged eighteen, and keeps him tattooing day, after day. When Louis started out, there were just 200 tattoo studios in the UK, most of them filled with hard men, wooden benches and darkness. Now there are over 2000, light and airy, with groomed girls and boys waiting nervously on leather sofa sectionals. The fact that he still works relentlessly in the studio, and has done through decades of change, when he could probably hang up his needle and just take a director’s role is testament to his genuine love of both tattooing and hard work. You don’t need to like Louis Molloy, but it is hard not to admire him.
Louis Molloy can be found at Middleton Tattoo Studio in Manchester, UK.