By Nicki Kasper
Tell us a little bit about yourself… Where are you from? Where do you work? etc…
I’ve been working in NYC since I moved there in 2000, however I’ve been doing a lot of traveling the last couple of years and six months ago I moved to Providence Rhode Island. I’m still tattooing in NYC for a week or two at a time and it’s still primarily where I make my living, tattooing at Three Kings Tattoo in Brooklyn. I think I’m going to move back in spring, or start traveling again.
Were you primarily traveling here in the states or were you also working internationally? Any specific places on your bucket list?
I was in Madrid and Barcelona, both amazing places. I love Spain. And to Bremen, Germany to see some good friends and do a little work. I took the train from Spain to Germany, I prefer trains. Looking out the window and being grounded is best. When i got back to the states, I took the train from NYC to Colorado, then to SF, then Portland. The West Coast train was awesome, the star light and the Zephyr. Though the train through the Midwest, I would skip… Not a very exiting landscape from the window of a train.
I really want to go to Thailand, or any of those beautiful places where you can survive on 2$.
Grand Canyon and Crater National Park are definitely on my bucket list, too. I’ve been staying put at the moment to finish a couple paintings, which is great, but i am looking forward to traveling again.
How long have you been tattooing, and who do you credit for teaching you the trade?
I started tattooing in 1994. I was apprenticed by Steve Gold at Steve’s Tattoo in Wisconsin. It was a busy street shop, it seemed like we had the market cornered in that part of the country. Steve had been there for over twenty years and there would be a line of people at the door before we opened at 11am on sat. Walk in day… There would be a list people would get on for the day, we stayed there until 1-3am in the morning some Saturdays and the list got up to 60+ people that got tattooed between 4-6 tattooers that worked sat. It was good times. For someone who grew up on welfare, that first year of working and making money doing something I enjoyed was a shocking experience. I was very proud.
How would you best describe your style?
I like when other people describe it, but I don’t really think about it. I like using a lot of symbolism, and feel like putting words in a tattoo to explain what it means is redundant and a bit beneath the idea of a tattoo, part of the interesting quality of a tattoo being in its subtlety. The image is supposed to be descriptive. Leave a bit of mystery!
I know you do a lot of painting… Were you a painter before you learned to tattoo? What was your art background like?
Well I have drawn and painted my whole life really, then started tattooing when I was 20. But it wasn’t an illustrious art career or anything, mainly metal head drawings of skulls and some graffiti, all a means to an end, experimenting with different mediums. I’m happy where I’ve rested, and feel confident in the direction my painting is going. I enjoy painting even though it doesn’t make me much money, but that isn’t the point of course. Painting is story telling. I don’t know how to write or play music, so painting is the way that I would tell a story, so they will exist before I forget and die. The act of leaving something behind… Time is ticking, and the hour is later than you think! (The short story “Borges and I”, by Jorge Luis Borges, sums it up quite nicely.)
Yes… I know Borges e Yo well. It’s brilliant.
“It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.”
I love that story. Would you say you can relate to the separation of selves? The ego and higher self, perhaps?
I love Borges.
Something about that line “I recognize myself less in his books than in many others”, and ” I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the outskirts to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and i shall have to imagine other things.”
Yeah the separation of the self from the ego, I’m into it. Theres something about finishing a big piece, where right up to the point you finish it it remains this thing thats alive and growing. but the minute you finish it turns into something almost unfamiliar. It’s no longer in your head but an external thing, interpreted by others, and seems like it becomes less of you. And so you have to move on, continue to try and find yourself in something else you make, or maybe it,s that you can only find yourself in the act of making.
What kind of stuff are you most excited to tattoo or paint?
I’ve been working on a series of detailed, wood-block looking paintings for the last 6 years or so. I took a bit of a hiatus working on them because I was traveling for a year, but I have my stuff out of storage now and am super happy to start working on them again. As for tattoos and paintings I like esoteric subjects, the Jungian stuff. I enjoy working on a lot of stuff really… architectural, pattern oriented, figurative. Depends on the application.
I love the esoteric stuff, but its not always the best conversation piece with customers, its just a bunch of symbols explaining the unexplainable. Same as words are symbols that can mean different things to different people depending on their experiences and intent. I don’t have to understand the symbols that people want me to tattoo on them, they are their symbols that mean what they mean for them. That part isn’t for me to understand. But the Gnostic stuff and general interest in symbolism is a practical utility, and goes hand in hand with what a tattoo is as a symbol. And like the Gnostic stuff, its knowing without knowing and has to be able to be read, in one manner or another.
What would you most want people to know about yourself or your work?
I’m a mystery, I like carrot juice but I don’t like carrots.
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