Everybody’s doing it, and they’re flaunting it all over social media. Body art is taking Joburg by storm. Let’s talk about the art of tattooing and the hippest spots to go to, to be inked...
Loving your body is one thing. Adorning your body with tattoo masterpieces of your choice is another thing entirely. And that’s exactly what Joburg’s young and restless (not to mention celebrities, aspiring cool cats and the rest of us) are doing right now. High-tech tattoo parlours are popping up in all the right places, each one more stylishly put together than the last. The whiff of disinfectant is a welcome reminder that everything there is as hygienic as it can be, that the tattoo artists working at their stations are consummate professionals.
A tattoo parlour in 2018 Joburg is a cross between an ad agency and a place where you go to get an artist to adorn your body. It oozes cool. The tattoo artist is even cooler, and the art displayed on his or her body, sometimes covering every visible part, is the artist’s walking advertisement of his or her prowess. This is body art in the 21st century. Not the stuff they used to decorate mummified bodies with in the pharoahs’ time. It’s another world entirely.
“Tattooing is kind of based on rebellion – it’s trying to be different”
The tattoo artist has gone beyond traditional tattooing styles to create his or her own genre. This is inking at its most beautiful, body art that is meticulously thought out, created and applied with incredible attention to detail.
So let’s talk tatts. Rethink ink. We have to – tattoos have become as much a part of modern society as mobile phones. And the tattoo industry is growing exponentially.
Athletes, fashionistas and celebrities like Rihanna, David Beckham, not to mention Angelina Jolie openly display their body art. It’s become a status symbol, the epitome of cool. Their fans are jumping on the bandwagon, wanting a taste of that evasive something that sets the famous apart from the rest of us. Tattoo artists themselves are becoming celebrities, and we have quite a few right here in Joburg. In our ’hood. Just itching to tell us about themselves and their passion for ink.
MAKING THEIR MARK
Modern tattoo artists offer a new set of skills. Aside from an artistic bent, which could include a stint at art school or a career in graphic arts, they’ve learned the art of tattooing by putting in the hours. They know everything there is to know about skin and the body, as they’ve studied both with the same attention to detail as a medical professional.
Let us introduce you to a few of them…
MUNKY – Fallen Heroes
Jan ‘Munky’ Giebelmann says, “I was never a jock or a geek or anything like that – I was just the odd one out. It was the mid ’90s, the grunge scene, with influencers like Marylin Manson, Cold Chamber and guys like Machine Head. They all had piercings and tattoos. I think I was one of the first kids who ever got a tongue piercing at our school and funnily enough, when I was 16, I went to ask for a job at the local tattoo shop. I was told I was too young, which was kind of ironic – you wouldn’t have thought tattoo shops had a moral obligation to keep kids in school!”
Munky tried other career options and admits that it never crossed his mind that he would land up being a tattoo artist. But as soon as he picked up a tattoo machine, it became an instant extension of his arm and he’s never looked back. Drawing from his mentors’ experience and direction, Munky developed his own creative style, somewhat traditional, but influenced by bold colours and artistic individuality. He describes his personal style as “a lot of bold line work with plenty of detail. I don’t do very much colour; I prefer the contrast between blacks and reds.”
“I made my bread and butter on traditional work – bold lines. It may seem like a simple design, but at the same time, the lines have to be perfect because you know they’re going to be scrutinised. If the line is skew, you’ll see that from a mile away. That’s why traditional work is always a good basis from which to learn. It teaches you to be meticulous. It also teaches you that what looks simple isn’t really that simple to execute.”
What Munky loves most about tattooing is the social environment. “It’s the people who I work with, the social support structure that we have here that I love the most,” he says. “I’d like to say it’s stress free, but it isn’t really. I think that with every freelance, commission-based work there’s quite a bit of stress.
What is trending in the Joburg tattoo scene? “I think they want that 3D-looking tattoo. I hate that term, but I think photo-realism, big black and grey pieces of work, has become quite a big trend. Funnily enough I don’t do that style at all.”
How did the Sailor Jerry style of tattooing influence your personal style?
“I honed my skills with that traditional style of tattooing, which is Sailor Jerry’s style – every tattoo style comes from that, has grown from that, whether be it traditional, whether be it new Americana traditional, be it realism, the contrasts.”
TING – Ting’s Tattoos
Ting Thorne has been fascinated with the art of tattooing since she was 19. “I later found myself in the right place at the right time and was offered an apprenticeship with Iron Fist Ink when I was 21. I started right at the bottom of the ladder and trained for two and a half years before I put needle to skin.
“Needless to say, I was hooked. Tattooing is completely nerve-racking, but terribly exciting at the same time! It requires an immense amount of concentration, trust, etiquette and confidence. It is not a very forgiving industry to be in and there certainly is no room for error! So, you have to keep grounded and focused, which can be difficult for a creative mind.
“I’ve worked my way up through nearly a decade of hard work and patience, and I now proudly own my own shop in Blairgowrie, where I work alongside four other amazing artists. We seriously have the coolest and most rewarding job!”
When it comes to her personal tattooing style, Ting loves “the finer, more intricate stuff. I really enjoy tattooing anything floral or illustrative,” she says. Every so often, she puts down her fine needles and “I whack out a bold colourful traditional tattoo. I like to change things up!”
Ting loves her job. “The satisfaction you get after wrapping up a finished tattoo is amazing! So much goes into the whole process that it is such an empowering feeling. That person chose you to do their tattoo, that trust alone is a powerful thing.”
Ting on Joburg trends: “I have noticed a few collaborations where two or more artists team up to work on a piece. The collision of styles usually results in a beautiful piece of artwork.”
On Sailor Jerry: “Sailor Jerry Collins was the master, the innovator in the tattooing world, the king of the trade and an absolute inspiration. Although my style of tattooing is different to his, I am completely in love with his originality and old-school way of doing tattoos, and I definitely feel that it fuels some of the tattoos I produce.”
RYAN – Empire Tattoos
Ryan Ansley has been involved in the tattoo industry since 2000; he became a professional in 2005 and qualified as a tattoo artist in 2011.
“My family always told me that I could never make a living as an artist, so after studying fine arts and graphic design in college, I started working in a restaurant, which I did for a number of years. Then, when I was between jobs, a close friend, who had just qualified as a tattoo artist, asked me to work in her tattoo shop as her apprentice.
“I loved the tattoo industry. It was so refreshing to be judged on my work ethic. When the shop got busy, I started helping with the designing process. Tie, owner of Empire Tattoos, noticed my talent and offered me an apprenticeship. I jumped at the opportunity and even though it was a really tough three years, I have never looked back.”
When it comes to tattoo style, Ryan says he’s a good all-rounder “but the stuff I have the most fun with is fantasy art. Whether it’s new school, Japanese or non-realistic portraiture, I love designing fantasy creatures or characters.”
What specific trends has he seen happening in the Joburg tattooing scene? “At the moment, we get quite a lot of requests for watercolour and geometric tattoos,” he says.
How did Sailor Jerry influence your personal style? “Before I did my first Sailor Jerry design, I only wanted to do very fine and intricate black and grey work. After the first tattoo I did from Sailor Jerry’s flash book, I realised that doing simpler designs with bold lines and solid color had loads of impact as a tattoo. The tattoos are tough looking and usually very easy to read from a distance, and they look impressive. I now love and appreciate bold colour tattoos as much as the black and grey stuff.”
ROXY – Sally Mustang Tattoos
Roxy Janke looks so demure it’s hard to believe she’s a tattoo artist. How did she get into tattooing? “Funny story that. Just over two years ago, I was selling paper to corporate companies. It sort of darkened my rainbows, so I resigned and decided to rather be broke and happy. I went to get a peacock tattooed on my thigh from a friend who was a junior artist at a nearby studio. The owner and I started doing crosswords together and he offered me an apprenticeship starting the following morning…”
“I’ve always had a deep love for sketching and painting and making things with my hands, so this was my dream job. And this is where I am currently, loving every moment. Sally Mustang Tattoos is the most amazing space and I get to meet supersonic people daily.”
What is her style of tattooing? “I’ve always drawn in a sketchy abstract way… I never thought people would like it until suddenly I was asked whether I could tattoo exactly what I had drawn. I guess my style is very chaotically controlled and playful with geometric elements and abstract shapes that form a visually stimulating result. I’m looking to branch out into other styles this year and push my limits.”
What does she love most about tattooing? “It’s how honoured I feel with every piece I tattoo. I never thought people would want my drawings on them and it’s such a wonderful feeling! I also am part of the Scar Project, which is about creating art over hurt. Once a month, I make a tattoo for free over a scar that has been a massively traumatic part of someone’s life. Creating a piece of art over that initial pain and the joy and cathartic emotions after our session is a real experience for both myself and the person involved.”
Roxy doesn’t see a particular trend in tattooing in Joburg. “More people are open to the idea of personal tattoos,” she admits.
Her views on Sailor Jerry? “He’s an all-time influencer when it comes to tattooing. He pushed the boundaries of colours, design, single needle usage and hospital quality sterilisation. His biggest influence on me has been colour and design. As I’m so new to the business, I have adopted his foundations with respect and understanding and am constantly learning and growing from every tattoo I make.”
HENDRIK – Rising Dragon Tattoo
Hendrik Strydom began his tattoo journey at the age of 16, when he saw an image of a Sailor Jerry home-made tattoo gun. He built a tattoo gun of his own using pens, guitar strings, cable ties and a charged battery power source. As Hendrik believed he should define his own terms in life, and one had to be 18 to get tattooed, he decided to tattoo himself with his own creation. He officially started tattooing when he was ‘legal’ (19), focusing on traditional and neo-traditional styles; these have progressed to colour work as well as tattoos in black and grey.
“What I enjoy most about tattooing is my clients – each one is very different and all of them come from various walks of life and have fascinating stories,” he says.
Hendrik says that the current tattooing trend in Joburg is “realism, such as portraits of family members or realism themed landscape tattoos.”
He says that Sailor Jerry inspired him “because of his pioneering nature and how he defined the industry. One day I would love to have a legacy like Sailor Jerry.”
The legacy of Sailor Jerry
Sailor Jerry is firstly an expertly crafted spiced navy rum; but it’s also a celebration of the iconic tattoo artist that bears its name, who is regarded as one of the biggest influencers of the tattoo industry. Like the person it is named after, the rum is a celebration of being unconventional.
Sailor Jerry was born Norman Collins in 1911. In an era where people were expected to bow to convention, he chose to define himself on his own terms. Instead of completing school and pursuing a conventional career, Collins left home as a teenager and hitchhiked and train hopped across the USA, camping and taking on temporary jobs.
Like other free spirits of that time, he developed an interest in tattooing. His first tools were very primitive: a single needle and black ink. He learnt his craft by tattooing volunteers one painful poke at a time.
Collins could have continued in this fashion and died in obscurity, but two events changed his path. The first was a chance meeting with Chicago tattoo legend, Gib ‘Tatts’ Thomas, who taught him how to use a tattoo machine. Collins became obsessed. He gained experience and developed his style by paying bums with cheap wine or a few cents to be tattooed.
Collins’ thirst for adventure meant he was always on the move. This led to the second important event in his life – he joined the navy and developed a love of ships. He travelled all over the world and eventually settled in Honolulu, Hawaii. In those days, the islands were relatively under-populated and under-developed. This changed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and sailors on military duty swarmed the island. Many of those on shore leave headed for Honolulu’s Hotel Street, a seedy area lined with bars, brothels and tattoo parlors. That’s where the Sailor Jerry legacy began.
To escape the horrors of war, sailors had a wild time on Hotel Street. They also made sure to receive a tattoo as a war memento. Collins captured the zeitgeist with designs that were at once practical and elemental. His minimalist style was popular, as war does not leave space for frills. This, along with Collins’ deft touch with the tattoo needle, soon made him famous, and his nickname, Sailor Jerry, was born.
Despite developing his unique style, Sailor Jerry remained a continuous student of the craft and became the first westerner to enter into regular correspondence with Japan’s famous tattoo masters (called ‘Horis’) to share techniques and experiences. By fusing American and Asian sensibilities, Jerry created his own style – iconic and artistic, irreverent and soulful, radical and beautiful.
He was an iconic sight on the island, cruising around in his canary yellow Thunderbird or on his Harley Davidson. In 1973, at the age of 62, he suffered a heart attack while on the Harley. He somehow managed to get back on the bike and drive it home before he died.
To capture and honour the spirit of Sailor Jerry, his two most famous protégés, Ed Hardy and Mike Malone, established Sailor Jerry Ltd, which produces clothing and other items, as well as a navy rum to capture his essence. The rum is made of a unique blend of spices with top notes of vanilla and cinnamon. The label on each bottle can be peeled off to reveal a Sailor Jerry design, ensuring that his legacy is never forgotten.
Feel the sea breeze with Sailor Jerry’s South Seas cocktail
The combination of seaside relaxation, sunset gazing and sipping on some fine swills seems like a far-fetched idea for many. Sailor Jerry, the bold and smooth-as-hell original spiced rum, invites you to mix up the South Seas cocktail – typically made to give you the feeling that you’re on a beach somewhere exotic, irrespective of your actual location.
That doesn’t quite clear up what the South Seas combination really is, though, does it? That’s because South Seas is many things. On the surface, it’s a celebration of the sea, tropics and relaxing, with a deeper undertaking of good will between matured grapes and spiced rum. The combination of which takes the edge off the rum.
Traditionally, there were two ways to take the edge off rum. One was to age the liquid in wooden casks, which sailors rarely bothered with. The other way was to blend in spices. This is what most sailors did and it’s what we do
Our higher proof spirit is historically accurate. In fact, the term “proof” comes from the method whereby sailors could assure their rum rations weren’t being watered down. The ship’s captain would ladle out a sample from the day’s rum barrel in front of the men, douse it with gunpowder, and give it a spark — if the rum was full strength, the powder ignited, giving sailors “proof” of the integrity of their rum.
Staying true to the old-school tradition of spicing high-proof rum results in a uniquely bold, smooth and balanced liquid. You can do all kinds of creative, tasty things with Sailor Jerry, and the South Seas cocktail is an ideal blend to help you unwind and imagine an ignited and blissful day at the seaside.
However, the question remains, why would the combination of Sailor Jerry Rum and wine taste so damn good? Apparently it’s based on old-school DIY sailor recipes infused with exotic Asian spices, meaning it’s pretty much born to taste amazing. Put ‘em together and you get the perfect balance of spice and subtle, mature, sweetness in the South Seas cocktail.
2 parts Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
2 parts red wine
½ part fresh lemon juice
- Build Sailor Jerry, wine and juice in a rocks-filled mixing glass.
- Shake vigorously.
- Pour into a rocks-filled highball or pint glass.
- Top with soda and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Remember, great cocktails start with responsible measuring.
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