Miguel Montgomery: On a little bit of a different note about your tattooing, I’ve seen some Japanese tattoos with American roses in the background. I haven’t seen too much of that. Did something spark that made you want to do that? Or did you just take it upon yourself, like ‘this snake needs a rose next to it’?
Bryan Burk: There were a few conversations I had when I was working with Bob about how we should try doing that stuff. And there were some kids that I had tattooed on, one was my friend Jeff, who’d gotten a bunch of tattoos and wanted to fill in all the space around them. So he was one of the first people that I filled in with roses and water around everything because it kind of fit in all these little spaces he had. On his it worked, and I think if you’re gonna do blue water with roses and some American stuff, it works. As long as you kinda keep it pumped up on the American side of town; color clouds and blue water with black behind all of that, like Eddy Deutsche, like Eddy meets late Sailor Jerry-type Japanese compositions, it’ll work. But I think if you’re doing black Japanese background with grey water, for whatever reason, roses look weird…
It could be just to my eye that it does, like if you have a koi fish with black background and grey water and roses; I think it looks strange. I think it would look better with like a beefed up Scott Sylvia funky cherry blossom that’s done with a huge line, that’s not perfectly symmetrical that’s kinda slammed in there and loose. It’s like an American hand that’s making a Japanese style tattoo; that somehow works better to me than doing a rose amongst this Japanese scene.
M: I remember first seeing one of your tattoos and thinking, “I can’t believe this guy put this rose in the middle of this Japanese sleeve.” I was like, “Wow.” I never knew what would spark someone to do that, I feel like you always just see the standard cherry blossoms, you know…
B: I think if you read about what Sailor Jerry really wanted to do, and I think Ed Hardy took up the challenge, but I think what Jerry wanted to do was take all the Japanese forms and use them to beef up or improve American tattooing. But I think Japanese culture for foreigners is so fascinating that a lot of times you start by going to learn about it then you get stuck in it; stuck in the idea that you want to do that stuff right, because it’s so easy to do it wrong. And because almost nobody does it right, really. Even the Americans who are best at it, very few of them do it properly. I’d say the best five non-Japanese people who do Japanese tattoos; none of them really do it the way they do it in Japan. And the people that do it exactly the way they do it in Japan, it’s completely boring.
I think that what Sailor Jerry’s idea was when he started messing with that stuff, was to take their background and use it to make American tattooing really badass. And I think that aside from Ed, and Bob to and extent, Eddy, Scott, Jason Brooks, and a few other people, no one’s really done that, because most of them just get stuck (including myself) in trying to do the Japanese stuff right.
M: So you think some of those guys, by seeing that or reading about it, kind of pushed you towards doing that?
B: Kind of, I don’t think I’ve done it either. I think what most of us end up doing is putting some American elements into our Japanese tattooing. I think we end up doing Japanese tattooing with an American touch; that is really cool in-and-of-itself but I don’t think we’ve learned how to do American tattooing that has a Japanese touch to it. And that would be really awesome; it’s hard… and also because the clientele are really fascinated by Japanese tattooing because it’s mysterious to us. That’s why so many people want a koi fish… what is it about this goofy fish that it’s basically the world’s most popular tattoo? (Laughs)
M: I feel like… with Ron [Bryan’s customer, Ron Chavarria] the tattoos he has from you… I would never picture that on somebody. I was watching you; I think you were outlining the cigar box or something and I was like, “What the fuck are you doing right now?” I was surprised that all this background was going around it. You have to sit and draw all this stuff to make it work. I was blown away… it was that, doing American stuff with Japanese background.
B: Yeah, you’re throwing the American things into that setting. It’s basically a Japanese style tattoo that’s got an American hand to it, and American images within it. That’s what I mean, learning how to do American tattooing but beefing it up. Like when I do an eagle, there’s no Japanese element in there and maybe there could be, maybe it would look cool to have an eagle with cherry blossoms… do you ever try to mix that stuff in? You’re stuff is pretty straightforward but I see you do that to some extent because you put, say, Japanese style water into these American images.