An Interview with Phil Holt

By Nicki Kasper

Lets start by telling those who don’t know you who you are, what you do, where you’re located, etc…

My name is Phil Holt. I live in Tampa Florida with my four kids. I own RedLetter1 with my friend Jeff Srsic. We have three of our friends share the space with us where we all tattoo 5-6 day a weeks. Nick Stegall, Chris Reed and David Bruehl are the best shipmates Jeff and myself could ask for. I also sell my handmade pigment under the name “Old Gold Small Batch”. The batches are still “small” but it’s really gotten busy so the facility has grown and I have a lot of small batches brewing nonstop.

How long have you been in the tattoo industry and what’s your tattoo history?  How did you come up in the trade? …

My brother started bringing tattoo magazines around when I was about 12 years old. I think he was mainly bringing them around because back then, in the magazines like EasyRider’s you could see bikes and boobs… Not that I wasn’t impressed with boobies but I became mostly interested in tattoos. Then in high school I really sunk my teeth into art and tattooing.  I started making tattoos in 1996. In 1998 I moved to Ohio on a sink or swim mission to become a real tattooer and basically I moved every 20-24 months for a decade. In a surreal sort of way, every shop I worked at had an amazing crew and I was always at the bottom of the bucket, therefor my teachers were always amazing. I’ve also been supporting a big family the whole time so my necessity to learn was always paramount and drive was never an option. Working has always been a constant.

Phil Holt Interview

Tell us about your fine art… How long have you been painting?  I know you recently had an art show in Montreal… how was that experience?  Any plans for future shows?  …

I have been painting since I was a little kid. My mother was a painter and raised me and my brother both to be artists. I have always enjoyed painting and I feel it is a completely different element of my life than tattooing is. Obviously both painting and tattooing harmonize well together, however I find painting to be more of a self-expression-fine-art and I find tattooing to be a wonderful commercial illustration job. Often times I find conflict in people when I discuss this topic because much like people assume that the word “custom” tattooing means “large-scale” tattooing, I do not find painting or “fine art” to be more important or special than tattooing nor do I find tattooing to be more important than painting. To me they are verymuch parallel train tracks. I need both tracks for my train to go in the direction I need it to go but they are not the same. They are separate. The exhibit at Yves la Roche gallery in Montreal was fantastic and I really enjoyed working with Edu, Timothy and Lango and I would very much like to show with them again. The exhibit ran along side the Montreal Tattoo Convention that was equally amazing. I’m sure we will do another exhibit in the near future. We have talked, but nothing is set in stone. I have a group show at Adrian Lee’s new gallery ATAK SF in July with my whole crew from RedLetter1. Super excited about that one.

What subjects do you get most excited to tattoo and paint? 

Again, I find tattooing to be a commercial illustration job so I get most excited when I can really figure out what the person I’m tattooing ultimately wants to look like. I tattoo a lot of pseudo Japanese tattooing and I do a lot of Biomet tattooing but in the mix there’s a bunch of strange figures and some flat America, type of work that gets accomplished. When it comes to painting it always depends on what I’m thinking and what I need to say. So… for the last couple years I’ve been going through a divorce and therefore all the paintings I’ve done the last few years have kind of been about that topic, however now that that’s becoming a thing of the past I’m sure I will come up with a new thing to focus on.

Phil Holt Interview

How would you describe your style?  

I would say that my style of art is based off of failure and the lack of skill. I’m not trying to be overly hard on myself nor my trying to be falsely humble but I believe that a lot of times this “style” that people speak of is actually your voice stumbling over words that you’re not quite certain of. It’s almost like learning a language and having an accent. I think once you fully learned the language you start to lack that accent… Sometimes that’s a bummer. I’ve seen people grow stale when honing their style. In a sense, it’s a second language to me. I don’t try to have style it just sometimes happens and I think that applies to everyone when you have a large body of work but you haven’t fully nailed the process down.

How did you get into making pigments?  What made you want to start Old Gold? 

When I started tattooing, I thought that you needed to learn how to do everything. Draw all of your own tattoos, hand make all of your stencils, build your own tattoo machines, make your own pigment, mop the floor, build needles etc. So I have actually made my own pigment since 1998 when I worked with Durb Morrison in Columbus, Ohio. I started making pigment for other people about six or seven years ago and then four years ago, I launched old gold small batch as an available product for other tattooers to purchase off of me. I still had to make the pigment every week and it has become a full-time job when I did not expect to. I did build machines for sometime and just wasn’t very good at it and I actually really enjoy making pigment it’s a super fun cathartic process for me.

Phil Holt Interview

Where do you turn to for inspiration?

I honestly don’t know how to answer this question. I don’t really go anywhere for inspiration. I feel I’m bombard by inspiration at an alarming rate. I wish I had time to express all the things I want to make based off inspiration I see daily… Nature, technology, philosophy, my kids… it’s a constant overload of inspiration just being alive. I practically try to shut the inspiration off. My friend, Adam Messmer in Seattle once told me that I needed to get some amusement in my life. “amusement” he says, and then explains to me how being amused is something like the act of not thinking… root word “muse”… so something to the degree of having a “muse” being the opposite of being “amused”… it’s a casual laugh versus a serious inspiring thought. I fight for more amusement.

Describe your ideal client.

Pale skin, endless pain threshold, professional stand up comedian and part time therapist who enjoys bringing lunch as a tip.

Phil Holt painting Where can people see more of your work and purchase your art?

I have a group exhibit coming up at Adrian Lee’s gallery, Atak SF in July. and instagraming at @redletter1…also


Phil Holt TAM issue 24

Phil Holt Article Preview for Tattoo Artist Magazine Issue #24

Phil Holt: For me, I think if I’m constantly studying and constantly trying to make things, then when the time comes where it’s like “Ooh, I need to say this,” I already have the formulas to say that. I’ve been practicing those words enough that I can articulate the whole sentence.  But if you don’t ever practice those words you never get a chance to get into the conversation. But then a lot of times what you’re saying is really only important to you.  There are a lot of paintings that I could show you that I’ve done that you’re going to look at and be like, “eh, just looks like a study,” but to me it’s huge. Matt Shamah: Right. So then what happens is, if I gave it to you, you might not even get it. And I might not want to explain to you what it means. Do you know what I mean? I actually do. I struggled with that today on the last tattoo I did. For me it was actually something and then, for the guy, he was looking at his tattoo like, “What the fuck is that?” You know? But I was like, “Well, I’m happy with it. See you later.” Yup. So can we backtrack a little bit? Go into some old stuff? Yeah, sure. So I sort of felt like, when you came to New School…

Get issue 24 here!




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