Interview By: Steve Azzara
So we might as well start at the beginning.
Where do you start? I guess since I could pick up a pencil I’ve been drawing and making marks. It’s always been the only thing to hold my attention. I’ve been an adventurer from a young age, a fire burns in my gut for new experience and excitement. Unfortunately a lot of the time it led me down the wrong path. Early on it was music that I used as my outlet. Thought i wanted to be a rock star. That changed over the years when i realized how hard life would be if I were famous. But playing music was still a great way to let out all the crazy!
When did art creep back in?
Art was the other outlet, and much more calm. I remember my mother giving me a photograph of myself and my 8 year old school mates painting in class, and the look on my face was unusual to me, I was so focused and calm, totally engrossed in the moment. The face I was used to seeing had more of a wild look to it, always waiting for the next dangerous moment to get a kick off. My mind was, and still is pretty chaotic, it’s hard to keep it focused. which obviously spills into my daily life, so throughout my schooling I doodled and defaced my books and walls around me. I’d like to say I tried at academics, but I didn’t really. I worked really hard though on what i enjoyed which was creating. Around the same time my classmates would ask me to design tattoos for them to bring to the local studio to get done. I used to think if I could only tattoo I could be doing all these pieces I’m drawing but it seemed like it was so far away from me that I could never reach it. This was before the internet (laughs)
I come from a small village near a small town so I got bored very easily, which usually led me to trouble. I was a ‘rebel without a cause’ so I stumbled through the early days, burning through punk, grunge and rock bands, playing loud and letting my aggression out,and in the moments of calm i listened to the Doors and Zepplin and painted murals on my bedroom walls, this was my escape.
Then I met Jenny, my beautiful wife, and we both had itchy feet and a lust for excitement so we saved our pennies and and started travelling the world. It really opened my eyes to art and architecture. So when we finally came home I decided life was too short not to do the things that make you happy, so I started to look into tattooing.
How did that go?
It was a rocky road at first, I almost quit a hundred times. But with the help of my wife and family and friends over the years I hung in there. The first studio I worked in was mad. We had great fun and learned from each other. In the beginning I was just trying to do the best version i could of whatever the customers brought in. But every now and then I got to tattoo something I had drawn from my own imagination. I remember this one guy who said ‘Do something really crazy, I trust you!’, but when I produced the sketch i had worked on for hours he said “man what the hell is wrong with you?” I guess my crazy and his were a little different!
How did Screaming Canvas come about?
After a few years of hard work trying to get better, I got more confident, and myself and now business partner Paul embarked on our journey and opened up our own studio, Screaming Canvas. It’s in a small town in Wexford, Ireland, called New Ross, (we call it ‘Ross Vegas’) if you ever make it there you’ll understand the joke!
Paul was a lot like me in that he had a pretty wreckless background and the art kept him grounded also. We are a good team. I guess things got serious then as i had people relying on me, so i had to step up and build this business, as I now had a wife and two kids and i couldn’t let my partner down, so I got my head in the game. I’ve always struggled with art and I always think the piece should be better, but I tried hard. We eventually had an opportunity to open a second studio, for anyone that has done this knows it is a trying experience.
When did your style kick in?
My wife took me to Spain for a weekend once we had finished the studio “so I wouldn’t have a heart attack” and while we were there we visited a Picasso museum. I always thought of Picasso as this obscure artist. But as a rambled around these huge rooms I inspected his drawings and etchings and realized he used to do the same type of stuff I was doing right then. Some realism, portraits and whatnot. Then i noticed a quote that read ‘I paint objects as I think them, not as i see them’. Which has stayed with me to this day. I started to think outside the box, and push my artwork in different directions.
As I said I get bored easily, and the same goes for tattooing, I’ll tattoo a style for a while because it’s popular and that’s what customers ask for but after a while it can get a little monotonous. So I started drawing tattoos that people hadn’t asked for, just abstract stuff that I wanted to draw, and people got interested. Very interested actually. Every finished cubism/futurism drawing I’ve done has been tattooed on someone. I call it cubism because it’s a word that people know, but as I never studied art, I haven’t a clue what it is! Call it what you like, I’m really enjoying it, and I’m interested to see where it takes me. I like the freedom of it, the boldness and the wide colour palette, I like that it shuts me up. I really have to concentrate and focus while I’m working. It calms me. I try to use contrasting colour in the pieces but mostly it’s about the contrast of the piece to your body, I want it to fit well but really stand out.
So you’ve finally calmed down?
These days I’m doing less jumping out of planes at 12,000 feet, less fast motorcycles and less surfing storms, but I am getting more adventurous art wise. Aw man that makes me sound old! But I’m enjoying it. I think progression is the way forward. I think tattoo artists from my generation can sometimes cling onto the past, but that can hold us back. I think things are definitely changing, and mostly for the better. We don’t need to forget the past, but it’s back there for a reason. Onward and upwards. Who knows whats next!