Words Anthony Moore
Photos Adam Russ – Right Eye Media Australia
Rites of Passage 2015 will be our third year of covering the event and it’s always a massive highlight on the calendar. Held annually at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, Melbourne, it gets bigger and better each year and 2015 is looking to be massive! It’s held this week over the Anzac Day long weekend from Friday 24th to Sunday 26th April. With world renowned feature artists like Shigenori Iwasaki (Yellowblaze), Nikko Hurtado (Black Anchor), Carlos Torres (Sullen Art Collective) and Franco Vescovi (The Vatican), as well as another 240 artists from Australia and around the world listed on the ROP site, the event is definitely always one not to miss! As 22 year US veteran Jime Litwalk said at last years event, “It’s not often you get to walk a floor and see the calibre of artists like this, it’s a great show!”
We thought we’d put together a photo gallery as well as some info and interviews from a few of the artists we spoke with at last year’s event to give you a taste of what to expect. The names may differ from last year to this years event but the calibre is the same. It’s a small amount of what Desert Highways covered and only a snapshot of the event itself. Enjoy!
Rarely would anyone walk by a booth without checking what piece was under way. It was also very gratifying to see how many of the amazing artists were from Melbourne. Some of our favourites from the 2014 long weekend included many from our home city; Nina Grierson-Jones, Olivia Brumen, Bobby Dunbar, Dean Kalcoff and Frederick Bain (originally from NZ), as well as interstater’s Luke Muller (QLD), Jack Tattooing (QLD), Teneile Napoli (QLD), Jacob Gwynn (NSW) and Damien Wickham (QLD). Some of the big internationals that definitely caused a traffic jam were all sitting together, Nikko Hurtado, Jime Litwalk and Joe Capobianco. The three are legends in their field and were a definite highlight to see in action.
It’s a different environment to be working as well as tattooed in. The constant eyes watching as people gaze in awe at some of the work under way must be off-putting at times, but it’s the best form of advertisement for the tattooists and all of the one’s we came across seem to thrive on the excitement of those wandering the floor as well as the artists they get to reconnect with and also meet for the first time.
Some of the different vendors included Lucho Libre Mexican wrestling masks, Jubly-Umph artwork, jewellery and accessories, various ink and machine stands and the best dressed barber, Odenn Lee from Eureka Rebellion Trading, who was wearing a bloodied white lab coat.
Nina Grierson-Jones – Base 9 Tattoos, Moonee Ponds.
The major highlight for myself and photographer Adam Russ was definitely seeing Nina Grierson-Jones working in person. Her technique and skill was mind-blowing with some pretty sweet photocopy style tattooing! There were definitely some extremely impressive realistic tattooists but Grierson-Jones has that something extra that is hard to pinpoint. Maybe a tattooist’s eye would pick up what it is, but nevertheless, her work over the long weekend was incredible.
Perhaps it’s Grierson-Jones background of starting drawing as young as three; entering an adult drawing competition at age seven and winning; her fine arts background and doing landscapes and life drawing classes from age nine or starting her university degree in fashion design and millinery at 15, it’s hard to tell. I found myself almost being the one interviewed at one stage as the roles were reversed with her desire to learn, to know what else was happening at the festival, and what other tattooists were up to.
2014 was Grierson-Jones first convention which was surprising, as she didn’t feel good enough within herself. “I always wanted to do a convention and I suppose it was ticking off a goal, to experience it. I didn’t really feel I was ready up until now and Rites of Passage didn’t run last year, so that’s why I did this year.”
Nina Grierson-Jones will also be attending Rites of Passage 2015.
Jack Tattooing – Travelling the globe!
For Italian tattooist Jack Tattooing, life is all about tattooing and traveling the globe. It’s a way of learning new things and continually evolving his artwork and tattooing style. Jack has been tattooing for about 10 years and travelling for half of that time and calls Australia his second home, although he’s still travels back overseas to include conventions in Europe and the UK. It’s a freedom and way of life you can tell he thrives on.
“For me tattooing has always been a way to travel. When I started I saw tattooing like joining the army, (a way to) see the world and how it works. It’s just awesome, meet different people, and see different cultures, all the difference. It’s collecting experiences; that’s what I love.”
Jack picks up news friendships and inspirations along the way, drawing from these experiences to build upon his “modern traditional” style. With a background in ancient Greek and Latin literature, it was listening to punk rock as a kid and seeing everyone’s tattoo’s that made him first get his own. “I got my first tattoo and I thought fuck I want to be on the other side of the needle! It’s unreal, you do something on someone and they’re going to have it for the rest of their lives, it’s pure magic.”
Olivia Brumen – Pure Vision Tattoo, Melbourne.
Olivia Brumen’s portfolio covers a lot of styles and it’s something she’s proud of and feels is essential to grow as an artist. “I’m the sort of person who if someone comes in and they want me to do a piece on them, I’m always up for the challenge no matter what style it is. If they want a sleeve of superhero characters I want to do it and put my own spin on it. I think it’s important to be a really open artist and be able to take on what’s given to you because I came from a really busy street shop as well, the sort of shop where you just don’t turn down any work, you know anything that comes in off the street, if it’s there you do it.”
Brumen is 27 and has always loved drawing and painting and happened to have her portfolio on her when she went into a tattoo shop when she was younger. “Everything changed when I was probably like 16 or 17, I wagged school one afternoon with a friend. He said to me ‘come watch me get tattooed’ and I went in with him. It was awesome; from that moment I was watching him get tattooed I was like ‘this is the coolest thing ever’. I remember I had all my drawings with me and I showed the tattooist and I asked ‘what do you think? Do you think I could be a tattooist?’ He said ‘yeah you can draw, it’s cool’.” From that day forth Brumen had it in her head, “I’m going to be a tattooist.”
With a love of portraits, life drawing classes and observational drawing where she’d sit and draw objects, it seems it’s built her patience to work well with fine detail. That coupled with the diversity of styles she can cover it will continue to set Brumen up well for the future. Some of her favourite tattooists including Sara Melder, Jordy Cole and Owen Williams have the skills to cover a broad range which she continues to aspire to and doesn’t want to pigeonhole her work.
“I know some artists probably wouldn’t be able to take on certain work because they’re like ‘I just don’t do that style at all’. They don’t actually know how to do it but everyone’s different with what they like to do. I just like to keep my work really broad and open.”
It was an absolute pleasure to see US veteran Jime Litwalk working up close. Although there are many tattooists emulating his style, he has his own edge, with almost an innocence and child-like spin on his designs. Litwalk has been tattooing for over 22 years and although he’s honed his craft, he’s stuck with his style since the beginning. After all this time it’s inspiring to see that he’s still so passionate and loves what he does. “I love it everyday. It’s still fascinates me that after this length of time that I still get to do this. It’s amazing, I draw pictures on people for a living. How could you be upset or bored with that! It’s fantastic!”
The tattoo TV shows that have popped up over the last five to ten years receive mixed press. All of the artists interviewed mainly had positive things to say about them as it’s brought tattooing to a broader audience who generally may have never gotten a tattoo and keeps them busy. Admittedly there is also some bad press and Litwalk saw the opportunity to be able to be a part of the Ink Master TV Season 3 competition series as a way to showcase what tattooing and his style is all about. The show’s judges included Chris Núñez (Miami Ink) and Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. Litwalk was the 2013 runner-up.
“I felt like I could represent my style of tattooing well so before I could complain about something I wanted to show them this is what I can do, this is what I feel a 20 year veteran can showcase.” Litwalk knows that they’re going to make shows about the tattoo industry anyway, so why not try and showcase what they do in a better light. “If we love what we do then we need to stand up for it and not just let media take over.”
Litwalk explains that it’s the same thing that happened with tattoo magazines as now hardly anyone reads them and complains that they’re not what they’re used to be; which is partly due to people not sending in good artwork so how can they complain if they’re not helping to raise the profile of the industry. “I want to watch good shows about our industry, well then get good fuckin tattooists to sign up for it and that’s how I looked at it, that’s why I did it.”
Luke Muller – True Love Tattoo, Brisbane.
For Brisbane artist Luke Muller, tattooing is as much about finding out about the roots of his preferred traditional style and where the designs first came from. Muller collects and searches through old books, magazines and maps containing ships, mermaids and other themes originally used by the first tattooists.
“I try and find where the old guys got it from like old Webster’s dictionaries, old editorials they found from here and there and photos and pin ups out of pin up mags. I collect Man magazine which is a ‘40s magazine. It’s full of pulp art and that sort of style.”
The stories behind the themes and mythology can be awesome in themselves. More recently Muller has been researching sea monsters and their origins.
“The last couple of years I’ve been right into the whole thing behind sea monsters, where that history comes from, what sea monsters were and the stories you read about that are amazing. The best one I’ve ever read was actually a bunch of guys on a boat, it was just a past time, they used to get an anchor and they’d keep on hooking seaweed up and hold it to the side of the boat. Then eventually they’d long line it and let it go out and then they’d get the young guys and go ‘SEA MONSTER’! It would just be a pile of seaweed and that’s how the mythology of the sea monster sort of started.”
Muller has been tattooing for around 13 years. He used to draw cartoons and has always loved the traditional side of the tattoo art. “It’s the simplicity of the designs, of the designer, it’s the impact you can get with something so simple. It doesn’t have to be over the top. It doesn’t have to have too much going on but it’s just the way that it’s arranged and the colours put together that can smack you in the face.”
Peter Sheringham – The Piercing Urge, Melbourne:
One of the stand outs at the convention was watching Peter Sheringham from The Piercing Urge doing body scarification, literally in the flesh. Not for the faint hearted but once you get past the fact he is meticulously slicing into the skin of his clients, it’s quite amazing to watch. His skill and perfect lines is testament to the fact it is an art form all unto itself. Speaking with one of his clients it was a very liberating experience. Sheringham applies a vascular restrictor in the form of a gel. It lasts for hours; for the artist it’s more for the vascular restrictive effect to stop the blood flow, for the person sitting in the chair they would of course love its anaesthetic quality. The client explained while watching it being done that he felt removed from what was happening as he couldn’t feel it and explained the piece is covering up old self-cutting scars and turning a negative and dark period in the his life into something beautiful and positive. Some of the onlookers were repulsed watching it done but once getting past that, most stopped and watched on with fascination. While some scarifications are done by removing strips of skin, Sheringham explained that with this actual piece, “if you know how to cut it, the skin just opens up”.