Following her inclusion in MoMA’s expansive survey exhibition ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’, the LA-based avant-garde tattoo artist Roxx talks to Sophie Breitsameter about tattoos as art, her design process, and the Instagram accounts to follow
How did your passion for tattoos begin?
It was in the 1980s in London. I was a teenager and a punk rocker and I just fell in love with tattooing. I was completely self-taught, so my first commissions were small stick and poke symbols on friends who were excited to get tattoos. It wasn’t until about 15 years later that I finally discovered my own voice as a tattoo artist and started the visual dialogue of my work today.
Are there any tattoo designs of yours that are particular favourites?
I am extremely proud of my [tattoo] body suit, which was included in New York’s MoMA exhibition ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern’. I consider myself very lucky to have clients who are so dedicated that they allow me to complete a piece of such magnitude. To have it recognized by MoMA was a huge honour. The chest piece I did on my partner is another of my favourite pieces. I must have redrawn it about 45 times, which is a lot, given I don’t usually draw on paper. I wanted to be sure it was a piece I could look at for the rest of my life!
Tell us about the design process with a client.
I usually meet my clients on the day I’m going to tattoo them, because most of them travel to me from across the US, and often from around the world. I ask them to select the pieces of my work that resonate with them most, and the location on their body they want me to work on. Through this process I can get a pretty good idea of what they want me to create. Next, I use an iPad Pro to map out what I’m thinking on a photo of them, so I can give the client a clear idea of where my mind is going. Provided they are happy with the concept, I then draw the design onto their body. If the piece is particularly complicated, I do a digital rendering and stencil it onto them, but mostly I can draw it right onto their skin, which is the best way to have it ‘fit’ their form.
Why are tattoos a fashion, or art, form for you?
They are an external statement of the internal spirit. Tattoos have now evolved into a multi-dimensional art form, with styles that appeal to different tastes and sensibilities, from crude hand poke tattoos to heavy black. I also consider tattoo a sacred, cultural art steeped in the history of mankind. It tells the story of human culture since the invention of fire. It can be so many things – art, ritual, primitive and modern.
Fashion design is a form of art. As a designer, you should have an artistic and creative personality. Being able to draw and to express your ideas on paper is necessary. You don’t have to be a great artist, but you must have a skill for combining colours and texture, and be able to work with fabric and textiles in an original way. Fashion designers have a good visual imagination and can think in three-dimensions and put their ideas into wearable garments. Tattoo designers also share these qualities – tattoo and fashion cross over in a similar way.
You recently released a limited-edition collection of clothing. Where else would you like to take your art form next?
Many people would like to be tattooed by me, but can’t – inhibitors might be my extensive waiting list, the expense, geography, or just being afraid of getting a tattoo. I felt that a clothing line would make my work available to a wider audience: people who like my work but can’t get a tattoo can now get a shirt instead. I’m excited about some potential collaborations that I’m currently exploring. I want to take my design work outside of tattooing and onto other artefacts.
Your black and white, architecturally inspired designs resemble optical illusions. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I have always loved repetitive patterns, sacred geometry and the rigidity and order found in nature. As with most artists, I am strongly inspired by indigenous, tribal art and its use of repetitive patterns.
Tell us about your first inking.
My first tattoo was a traditional snake, dagger and skull design, by an artist called Rob Robinson, whose claim to fame was tattooing the country singer Willie Nelson. I went to him with a design I had drawn and he explained that they could only do flash [a design printed or drawn already], because the stencils were already prepared acetates and he couldn’t make a stencil for anything original. So, I got the biggest flash tattoo I could with the money I had (about £25 back then).
You are based in LA yet started out in London. How do the two tattoo scenes compare?
Both cities have a rich tattoo history and culture. London’s tattoo scene is really coming up at the moment. Historically, it was built on the foundation of traditional tattooing. Recently a lot of amazing work has come out of London. And as LA is so huge and vast, like the US in general, there is a great deal of diversity in the artists producing work here, which I love and find inspiring. I’m proud to be part of the LA tattoo scene now, and excited to bring my artistic contribution to the table.
We love how you document your work on Instagram. Do you have a particular strategy or vision in how you curate your Instagram feed?
Thank you! I try to take photos of the tattoo in its best light. I am an artist whose work gets up and walks out the door, so the photograph is the only documentation I have. I try to make sure I get the best photographs I can, which can be challenging at times. After tattooing for days, both the client and myself are exhausted!
Which are your top 5 follows on Instagram?
@cats_tattoo_ Geometric patterns from LA-based tattoo artist Cats.
@castlebasas Artist Houston Patton’s fantasy-realm blackwork body art.
@bjork The madly creative world of singer and songwriter Björk.
@minimalismoarchitecture Modern buildings to drool over.
@friesianfeatures Wavy-maned black beauties: Royal Dutch Friesian horses.
Photography courtesy of Roxx (@roxx_____)