art | Interview with Matthew Lukesh by Iva Kancheska 26/12/2011
Q: How long have you been tattooing? What made you to become a tattoo artist?
A: I sort fell into tattooing. At the time, the local tattooing I saw supported the old mindset that tattooing was strictly for bikers and sailors, with little room for "art". I'd always been approached by friends to design tattoos for them, which I gladly did, but I only drew what I knew. Eventually, I thought I'd better look around to see what was the "correct" way to design tattoos. I picked up one mag with a feature on Stephane Chaudesaiges and my prejudices were deflated. What I saw coming out of Europe was fine art on skin and I was instantly sucked in. That was 15 years ago and I've been tattooing 14 of those years.
Q: Do you have an artistic background growing up?
A: Yes. I grew up in rural New Jersey where there was very little to do. Living on a street with no other kids, my options were to play with my little sister (which wasn't going to happen) or to explore the woods and develop an imagination. Growing up, my sister and I weren't spoiled at all, but whenever I needed art supplies, my parents provided. They fostered my artistic drive and desire and I am forever grateful to them for that.
Q: What kind of art interested you at the time?
A: I started drawing around the age of seven. At the time I was intrigued by both Mad and Famous Monsters magazines. So I was really drawn to the cartoony thing, as well as the horror thing. I tried to replicate what I saw in those magazines.
Q: I can see a lot of customs works in your portfolio. From horror designs to photo realistic tattoos. Is there any style you prefer?
A: Horror has always been one of those cornerstones in my life. When I started drawing and looking at Famous Monsters, my dad also introduced me to two movies: House of Wax with Vincent Price and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. So yes, I love horror-related work and I am drawn to it, as well as realism. I try not to pigeonhole myself into only doing one thing, but I tend to post and share the realism and horror stuff a lot. I love realism due to the challenge and pressure of replicating life.
Q: In which one you find most creative freedom?
A: Of the two, horror definitely allows more creative freedom. Realism tends to have some "rules" of actuality, whereas horror lends itself more towards imagination. Also, the clientele that's attracted to horror tend to be a little kooky, relaxed and open-minded to interpretation and the ideas I have to offer.
Q: To be a creative person means to be open minder, educated, fun, well balanced etc. How do you get inspired?
A: When it comes to tattooing, I'm most inspired when the client is. I can be approached with subject matter that doesn't thrill me, but if the client is open-minded to my interpretation and have put a lot of thought and research into their decisions, then I'm inspired to push the idea into new territory.
Q: What is your favorite medium?
A: That's always a tough question and the answer is based on my mood at that very moment. Usually I tell people that I'm passionate about tattooing, but painting is my passion. No matter how much I love a particular tattoo, it's commissioned work. It's for someone else. Unlike painting, where the creation is a child of mine, a tattoo is a child I have to give up for adoption every time. To see a piece of work walk out the door, one you've grown attached to, can be rough but expected. Painting, for me, is the truest, unfiltered form of expression. There's no boundaries. It's my form of peace.
Q: How much time was necessary for you to develop your skills to this great level?
A: So far it's been 14 years of tattooing, 28 years of drawing, but I can't describe my skill level as "great". I have yet to attain that. I'm my worst critic, as most artists are. The outcome is never good enough for me. I don't know if it's humility or dissatisfaction with one's self, but it pushes me to strive for better results.
Q: Do you also work on custom paintings for sale? If so, please share with us some of your best experiences.
A: Funny you're asking me that now. Usually, as I've already mentioned, I paint what interests me and over time I loosen my attachment with the work and make my paintings available for purchase. At the moment, however, I am doing a very large commissioned painting for a couple I frequently tattoo. I usually don't accept commissioned work solely because I barely have time to paint for myself. Call it selfish if you wish, but I need to create for the sake of creating at times.
Q: Many of your compositions features dark motives. What is their significance? Is there any message?
A: Maybe it goes back to the early introduction to horror, maybe not, I've just always been attracted to the darker subject matter and atmosphere. I like unsettling images, things that make people uncomfortable. There's no tragic background or repressed memories, it just interests me more than soft, cushy things. That's one of the reasons I turn down commissioned paintings. Portraits of children, depictions of a client's motorcycle-- don't interest me enough to paint them in the little free time I have.
Q: Have you ever thought to experiment with different kind of art?
A: Not really. I love oil painting so much and I have so far to go with it. I'd rather focus on bettering and refining my oil painting technique, than partially reaching out in another direction and dabbling in another medium. I have enough irons in the fire right now.
Q: Since tattooing does require so much dedication and drive, how you separate the laborious aspect and keep it fun?
A: This partially goes back to the topic of inspiration. The client is the deciding factor on whether or not a particular day feels like work or not. In the past, I've written about this "belief system" I have in regards to tattooing. There are three entities present during every tattoo: the artist, the client and the work of art. If any of the three is lacking, for whatever reason, the moment feels like work. Money-hungry artist, an art-directing client, a poorly drawn tattoo taken off of Google-- all bad elements. However, a qualified artist, an open-minded client who's done their research and a well-thought out design brought to its fullest potential, when brought together, can be a very magical moment. When every part of that "triad" is harmonious with the other two, it is never work. It is a perfect unity of Art.
I really stress the importance of the tattoo being a third entity. On occasion I'll have a client come in with incomplete work because their artist skipped town or something. Sometimes I'll feel sorry for the client, but usually I'll feel more for the abandoned work. It's almost unfair that that piece of art can't be its best. I don't know. Maybe my thoughts run too deep on the subject. Am I making sense?
Q: Art could be a great influence on someone's personality. What is your biggest challenge in this job?
A: The biggest challenge is keeping it fresh. Certain visuals are timeless. I run into this challenge quite a bit, especially when tattooing Japanese subject matter-- easily my favorite next to realism. Nine out of ten times, when someone wants a "Japanese tattoo", the word "dragon" or "koi" will shortly follow. Which is fine, but how can I better it? How can I keep it interesting for all parties, especially after tattooing for 14 years?
That's a challenge which will always be present and one I'll continue to welcome.
Q: Tattoo industry has a huge progress, especially in the last decade. There are many new tattoo artists coming up ... Any advice for those who are starting out their career?
A: Advice? Respect the past, learn from it and better it. Take it as far as possible. If you're looking to get into tattooing, you'd better have an art background. With today's caliber of art, it'll take a lot more work to stand out amidst the greatness. Read, research, go to art school. Most importantly-- don't walk into a studio and ask for a job like you're at a Walmart. Tattooing was built on sacred ground and it should remain that way. Be respectful of what we do. A lot of people think that if they can draw that they can tattoo. That's not the case always. There's endless work ahead. Remember that.
Thanks Iva for this opportunity. I greatly appreciate it.