I got my first tattoo when I was 17 or 18. My older brother is covered head to foot and because he’s my oldest brother, growing up I saw all the cool tats he was getting. He’s in his 50s now, and he’s got stuff that I’m into now, but he had it when it was in style originally, super old-school stuff, mermaids and all that sort of stuff, and it’s all come back around. He probably started my obsession, but I guess for me it was about growing up, being free, and as soon I was old enough, I left home to galavant around the UK. I lived all over England because I wanted to get away from my hometown and get out there and adventure.
I’m from Birmingham. It’s the second biggest city in the UK, and that’s what made me want to get out. I’m not a city person really, it’s claustrophobic, and you see and hear things that you don’t want to be around, so I was kind of happy to escape. So my first ever tattoo was actually on the east coast of England, and it was the first place I went when I left home. It was just a walk-in. I was working in a huge holiday camp and I was away from home and had no family there and it was like ‘I’m into this, let’s get a tattoo’, and that was the start of it. I went for a classic Welsh-style dragon. I’ve had it covered up since, but it was a dragon on the top of my arm. Just horrendous. But luckily it was only in black so it was easy to cover over. That was a shocker.
I moved around the UK for about five years, and then my other brother was living in the south of France, it got to the point in 2001 where I had a breakup with a girlfriend and we were living together and it was like, 'right, I need to get out of here'. So I went abroad. I lived in the south of France for five years, working on superyachts, I did a bit of everything while I was down there, picked up a few tattoos, got my sleeve done and a few on my back. I got a long term girlfriend at that point and we both had the travel bug, so we were thinking ‘Well where do we go? What shall we do?’ I had 12 months to get an Australian visa before I was too old. One of my sisters lives in Perth so we decided to go for a year. I was supposed to be there on a working holiday, but I ended up just doing the working part, labouring and stuff like that. A lot of people said to me ‘If you like snowboarding, go check out Queenstown’. We came over for a trip to Queenstown and that was it, eight and a half years ago. I never left.
I’ve got a random collection. I don’t know that my tattoos all really mean a lot. I don’t get a whole big thing cause my goldfish dies or whatever, but luckily for me my tattoo style and thinking has evolved. But I’ve only had maybe two or three covered up, because I really enjoy the fact that I can look back at them. I’ve got a horrendous big tribal tattoo
I had done when I was about 19, and as much as I don’t like it, I would never get it covered over because I look at that and I think ‘Shit, I remember that, being a young kid’. So your taste evolves with the places you go and the people you meet and as you age.
Until I left France and finished my superyacht job, I had covered tattoos, nothing visible. What actually happened was pretty much the week I left superyachts and I knew I wasn’t directly involved anymore, that’s when I went crazy. Within three weeks I had a full sleeve done, a couple of hand tattoos done, and I just went crazy. Working on the superyachts you’ve gotta look a certain way, you’ve gotta act a certain way, and for me it’s just so clear you only get to live once, and you can’t be worried about what people are thinking about what you do or how you look.
This first one on my neck here that I designed myself, I got it done in Perth, and at that time I had nobody to impress, it didn’t matter. It was a big step to do it though, and it took me a long time to make that decision to go and do it, the one that is going to be in someone's face and can’t be covered up. But it was funny though because it took me so long to get there and at the time I was living with my sister and she just thought it was crazy, she said I’d never get a job, and her saying that made me want to get it more. I don’t like to let people tell me that I can’t do something. And the buzz from having it, and knowing that people could see it, that gave me the most pleasure. From then on it was all on. I’ve got more visible tattoos than I have covered now, because once you’ve got one, you might as well get a whole lot.
For a lot of people who get covered up tattoos, there’s not as much enjoyment. I understand people have different jobs and things to take into consideration, but when you spend a lot of money on something and an artist has spent a lot of time making it perfect, I’d want to show that off. People come up to me and ask me who did what, ‘Did you design it?’ and all that. That’s better than a bunch of stuff that nobody sees.
Most of my left sleeve were done by Josh at Two Hands, Matt Jordan did my Marvin Gaye portrait and that’s probably the one that I love the most. It took me a long time to get that, and I wanted the absolute best person to do it. I’m so stoked with it. It’s a once in a lifetime sort of piece for me though because it’s very expensive to do. I had some others done in Queenstown as well, so wherever I’ve lived I’ve picked up a piece or two.
You can look back hundreds of years and see face tattoos, people covered head to foot, different tribes and different religions. I’ve got pictures at home of old sailors, guys who have been on ships travelling around the place, and they’re covered head to foot. I can’t really see anyone at that point in time going ‘Oh shit, you’re going to regret that’. Because even though people say that tattoo art has evolved and it’s mainstream and whatever else, it’s been there for so long that it’s not becoming more acceptable, it’s been acceptable for hundreds of years, we’re just a little more judgemental. It’s not that tattoo itself or the culture around it, it’s just that now everyone has an opinion. And, to be honest, most of them should keep theirs to themselves.
My favourite artist at the moment is my friend’s wife Ems at Genuine Hussle in Takapuna, she did this boxer on my neck, the big snake on my head, the death moth on the back of my arm. I’ve probably had four or five from her now, and, of all the artists she’s probably done the least but it’s because I’ve only been getting tattooed by her in the last year or so. She does a lot of neo-trad stuff. She’s the sort of artist where I can say ‘here’s what I’ve been thinking’ and she’ll get it perfect with her own little twist.
Tattooing, like barbering, is a skill that allows you to travel the world. Once you have the skillset, you can guest spot all over the show. A big part of it is the fact that they’re both a skill that you learn as you go and you get better as you go. You pick up traits and bits and pieces from other people. You’re working with your hands, you’ve got a set of tools, and you can take it anywhere in the world. Most of your tattoo artists will spend a month here, a month there, and they pay their way doing a guest spot with their art.
There’s also the fact that there is that creativity. I’m lucky enough to have a job where I can have face tattoos and I can have hand tattoos or whatever, and again I think it’s because it’s part of the expression. You’re a creative, the same as an artist, same as a clothing designer. And with that comes the fact that when you barber you’re an individual as well.