By Crystal Morey
I just spent a couple weeks in Colorado, participating in the Paradise Gathering giving seminars and at Kaze Gallery in Denver, and I got a chance to sit down with one of Kaze’s owners William Thidemann. I love talking to William. His world is wonderfully black and white and he filters it through a well thought out canon of ethics that centers on respect and hard work. It is incredibly refreshing to come home to the states and find that it isn’t all reality TV and triple Big Gulps, there are still people there working to improve their lot and who inspire growth in those around them. William’s demeanor impressed me… his door seemed to be open to anyone who comes in earnest, be it a hot mess needing to cover up her old lover inspired tattoos, or younger tattooers looking for help with compositions and design. He was like minor royalty… ha-ha, like a duke. The Duke of Denver! But seriously I appreciate his pragmatic view of the world and his steadfast dedication to the code he lives by. Interviewing him was a treat…
Crystal Morey: So what got you interested in tattooing? What drew you towards it as a career path?
William Thidemann: I was already interested in art before I tattooed, I had tattoos, I had some handpoke shit from the time I was 13 on, I did my first little handpoke when I was 13, being a little punk rock kid in Richmond [Virginia] it just seemed to happened. It wasn’t really planned, I painted, I went to art school and stuff like that, with no real ambition to tattoo. I didn’t think I’d make it as an artist really, I was into the science stuff, the math stuff, but I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in a lab or doing a shitty job that I hated. I figured if I was going to make a stab at something, I might as well make it something cool. I had a friend who recommended I start tattooing where he was already working, and so I got a job with him.
CM: Did you go through a formal apprenticeship?
WT: Nooooo no, not even close. I was working at a military/biker shop at first and the owner was not very interested in the arty side of tattooing or making super great tattoos… but he had a good crew. There were some people that came out of there that are amazing, especially Nate Drew and Chris O’Donnell. There was a creative vein there, we were just all stupid and young and didn’t know what the fuck we were doing yet.
CM: Amazing… What brought you to Colorado?
WT: Before Colorado I’d worked in Richmond where I quit/got fired at the first shop and happily left and worked underground for a while before getting a job at Red Dragon for a few years. Anyway, I’d already traveled with a band so I enjoyed some time traveling and tattooing. I met the guys from Boulder Ink at a convention I think in Florida, we got stoned together and were hanging out, I came to visit, kinda looking for a place where I didn’t know anybody and Colorado seemed a very remote place, at least from my east coast perspective, plus they were doing really nice work. They had a really good staff: Jennifer Bilig , Lance Talon, Jerry Ware and Dan Gilsdorf and it was a new place where I didn’t know anybody, didn’t have any hook ups, and didn’t know anybody from the punk rock scene. I figured it would be an honest try at restarting and trying to relearn.
CM: Why the need for anonymity? Why not utilize the connections you’d made so far?
WT: You know I felt at that time that it was leading me towards something different, away from what I wanted to discover about art. It was talking me more of a social direction and not so much a learning direction. I felt like I needed to do something different and be kind of locked away from my friends and connections. I thought it would be more useful.
CM: What were you pulling from artistically?
WT: Initially punk rock shit, fucking punk rock looking tattoos, no formal stuff Pushead and Jim Phillips. I was doing oil paintings way before I tattooed so I had a idea of modern oil painting, but what I was doing tattoowise was definitely from a punk rock standpoint.
CM: Hmm. What are your top five bands to listen to when you work?
WT: That’s a hard one! Neurosis, Om, Black Sabbath… since the first day of tattooing ’til now, Fugazi and hmm, this is hard, okay I am going to give a shout out to some local boys and say Native Daughters. Good tattoo music!
CM: Okay, back to business… Do you only paint with oils?
WT: No, when I started tattooing I opened up to watercolors and acrylics more, partially for the production and partially for the media flash that watercolor works so well for. Acrylics work really well for shitty deadlines and people needing paintings without enough time to get an oil painting done. Most of my acrylics end up looking like oil paintings anyways, they’re just super layered, you know, a lot of translucent layers on top of each other. I prefer oils though, certainly for everything but flash.
CM: What kind of tattooing is most compelling for you? If you had someone come in and say do a bodysuit for me any way you want, what would you do?
WT: I’d prolly be drawn to doing death imagery you know, darker stuff…
WT: Yeah imagine that! Ha. Yeah dark/pretty I guess. Not flowery per say but something that shows the different stages of decay. I’m interested in things that deal with mortality, both in tattooing and painting.
CM: Ha! Are you imagining a guy or a girl right now?
WT: A girl. But I don’t know why really because lately I don’t distinguish relative to the subject matter. Girls get real macabre stuff and a guy will come in wanting a big ass flower, you know, it’s all over the fucking place. There’s not a super big distinction between the sexes now as far as the content of tattoos go. Just the other day this chick comes in, cute little hairstylist, sweet and nice and she wants this snake skeleton with wings and fucking gore, I was like ‘whoa you want that?!’ and she wanted it big, like from her back going down her hip… so you never can tell.
CM: Is there anything you won’t tattoo?
WT: Yeah I mean if someone wanted to get gang shit tattooed on them at this point in my life I would probably say no. Faces… If you are heavily into tattoos and are heavily tattooed there is some stuff I might do but if you are some kid that has two wrist bands and a neck piece and that’s it and the rest of your body’s empty then fuck no. Definitely not. That’s silly. If you’re and old man and your tattooed everywhere else then yeah fuck it, I’ll tattoo your face, fuck it, your an old man! Hell when I’m an old man I might even get a nasty ass face rocker that just says, “Fuck off and leave me alone,” ha-ha, not literally I mean visually. That’d be pretty useful! Who knows?
CM: Ha-ha-ha awesome. Okay, tell me about Kaze…
WT: Kaze Gallery was established by a different owner who decided to dissolve her business so we took it over and started Kaze Gallery and Tattoo. I left Th’Ink Tank, amicably of course, but felt I needed a new space. I was talking to Sandi Calistro and we realized we could work together. Initially this place was totally hidden, no one knew it was here, when I first saw it I didn’t want to work there because it was so outside of where things were happening, but money-wise it was a sound move so we said fuck it let’s try it. We got a lease, set up the business and it’s been going pretty good for three years so far and is currently myself, Sandi Calistro and Matt Hays.
CM: DO you think you’ll be tattooing 20 years from now?
WT: Well to be honest if you’ve been tattooing that long and you enjoy it you really can’t not tattoo. You aren’t gonna wake up one day and say I’m not gonna be a tattooer anymore.
CM: True, I guess my question then is do you have any other ambitions you’ve yet to actualize?
WT: Yes, but a lot of my ambition in life is to simplify stuff and appreciate stuff for what it is. So making things more complex I don’t think is really a smarter way. Like my aspiration is to make better art and learn some of the super secret stuff related to art whether it be some cryptic stuff related to masons, or weird demon stuff here, or when I go to India and see some Buddist thing I don’t understand, I want to know all that shit, it’s just fun, information junkie style. It’s addicting. And seeing people who actually work seriously and I’m not talking about the tattoo artists who got TAT2GUY on his license plates and roll around looking cool… I’m talking about the guys that have serious practice, that it becomes like a spiritual thing, not to be all fucking hippie or whatnot, but they have an understanding or reason behind why something might be a certain way and maybe you ought to respect that or make a clear distinction that you aren’t trying to pursue that. There are all these little, not so much rules, but suggestions from art before, all these clues and keys, that help you figure out things… I can’t imagine ever being bored of that mystery. Retirement never really was an option. I grew up poor. Retirement for me is a coffin…
CM: There it is, black and white. William can be found at:
Related TAM Blog Articles: