An Interview with Matt Gone

Published: 13 June, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 131, March, 2006

Tell us where you grew up and what aspects of your childhood are most memorable.

I was born in New York, raised in Chicago and attended the University Of Arizona in Tuscon. I studied art, drafting, and history. My childhood was a bit hellish. I got into trouble a bit, but that was mainly due to the bad influence of others. That ingrained in me a major streak of vengence and anger, which much to the fear of people who piss me off, has only grown stronger and more cunning. My childhood taught me to depend only on myself, and not on others.

 

I was born with Polands Syndrome. It causes a rare set of birth defects brought about by the disruption of blood flow to the foetus on the 46th day of incubation. I have no left major pectoral muscle, no left inner biceps and have had major gastrointestinal trouble throughout all of my life. The stomach trouble is getting worse as I get older and the shoulder needs to have surgery to ‘rehang’ it. I can expect a load of shit medically in the future it seems. The tattoos are what I did to compensate for my caved in left chest and arm, not to mention the pain. I now do not see the obvious deformities and the pain is easier to deal with because I feel more valuable and special because of the tattoos.  So basically, I got the tattoos in order to hate my body less.

 

During your teenage years what were your influences and who were your role models?

My teenage years were troublesome and then got worse. My mother died horribly when I had just turned sixteen and I got sent around the relatives. That did not last long and I had my own appartment at the age of seventeen. My best friends now and then have been my lawyers who handle most of my financial dealings.

 

Probably my most influential moment was seeing a picture of a man named, Hollis Fletcher. He had an Ed Hardy bodysuit and is one of the most featured people in the Tattootime book series put out by Ed. It was Hollis who made me truly have a vision of what a bodysuit could be.

 

The most influential person, now, and then, is a tattoo artist by the name of Roy Boy Cooper. Just being tattooed by him and knowing him from the age of sixteen to the present day, has truly shaped my life. He is the most badass human being I have ever known. He tattooed me over a period of eighteen years and his pieces are still my favourite tattoos. Roy Boy is a legend in the tattoo world. His website is www.Royboysplace.com.

 

I got so much publicity back then through him that my whole outlook on life got better and the concept of not hating my body came about due to the beautiful tattooing. Since then I have appeared in fifty or so tattoo magazines, a dozen movies, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, the Rikki Lake Show, and many others. To take off my shirt and not have my deformities noticed is an amazing thing. For the world not to see them is fantastic. Many people with defects such as mine are afraid of showing their caved in chests or a slightly asymmetrical, withered arm.  

 

What is the theme behind your bodysuit and why did you choose that particular style of work?

The theme for my bodysuit is checkers. The subtheme is of mythological creatures. I also like animals and have a bat themed backpiece and a Frank Frazetta Woolly Mammoth on my side. I have a compass tattooed on the crown of my head so I know where I am going, food tattooed on my hands because I am a chef. There is a phoenix collar tattooed around my entire neck by Richard Stell of ‘Pair O’Dice Tattoos’, Dallas, Texas. Randy Muller of New Orleans has tattooed me most of all, completing over forty sessions spaning a period of seven years. He has re-done my chest, right arm, and has also tattooed my head and hands. While Xed LeHead has begun my face tattooing, it will be completed by Randy, who is my favourite tattoo artist. 67 artists have tattooed me. Many of the most influential tattoo artists on the planet have worked on me. Sailor Moses, (R.I.P. 1997), tattooed my leg, phoenix tail designs from hips to knees on both legs. Moses also reworked my backpiece. After Sailor Moses retired, Sailor Cam Cook of Seattle finished much of his work.

 

Cam also tattooed the blue anchor/noose on my left foot. He tattooed me ten times during a period of ten weeks in the summer of 97. Dennis Dwyer has tattooed me extensively and started most of the torso tattooing but I was not very happy with the results and had the majority of his tattoos redone/reworked later. The mammoth was done by him as well as the torso graphics and the Egyptian piece on my right thigh. That work has been mostly left alone.  Gil Monte tattooed the skull below my navel. Trevor Marshall has tattooed my pubic mound. An artist by the name of Mike Z, in Lulling, Louisiana has done most of the torso rework of the backpiece and the stomach.

 

Mike also tattooed the Church Of Canterbury maze on the top of my right foot. Most of the checkers below the neck have been tattooed 2 or 3 times and Mike Z, has done most of the secondary sessions.

 

Lyle Tuttle has signed my wrist. Capt. Don Leslie signed my ankle. Crock of London has tattooed my navel Samoan style. French Thomas tattooed a souvenir on my leg. Paul Jefferies of ‘Flying Buddha Tattoos’, tattooed the words, ‘your name’, on my inner thigh. Jeremy Motherfucking Justice of New Orleans has tattooed a stripper girl on me and has also retouched some of the leg tattoo work. Ben Wauuuuuuugh of Chicago tattooed a hurricane Katrina souvenir on my knee. I have tattooed myself extensively too. I have worked on my genitals, balls and asshole. That was difficult but the results were righteous!  I cannot possibly list all of the artists who have worked on me. I would suggest checking out my website, www.mattgone.com for more info.    

 

You lived in New Orleans and were affected by the recent disaster. What were you doing at the time when the flooding hit?

At the time Hurricane Katrina hit, I was at home watching through my boarded up windows the acute destruction of the city. My neighbours had their roofs torn off, my roof was lifted up and holes appeared all over the building. Basically, the area was a complete disaster. My home was destroyed. Mold came in and I had difficulty breathing. At the time I had been a chef for eleven years at the same restaurant, Coop’s Place, (Coops Place.Net). I had not had a vacation in the entire eleven years. Whilst working at the restaurant, my boss had never let me get my face tattooed. Now I do not work there and have my face tattooed.

 

After the hurricane, my boss drove me and six other co-workers out to Lafayette, Louisiana, where I stayed with another co-worker. We were picked up by his family and eventually made it to Bagdad, Kentucky, from where I flew to Florida. Throughout this time a tattoo artist by the name of Dave Bastard helped me dramatically. I thank him for this. Dave also tattooed a train on my calf, thanks Dave and Lea and all the staff at Kig Kahuna Tattoo, Boca Raton, Florida, (www.bktattoo.com). He started a hurricane relief fund on IAM/BME and that got me through for a time until the government funds came through. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the IAM/BME people for all of their help. I stayed with Dave and his wife, Lea, for a week and then with two of his employees, Shane and Jaysinn for a few days until I found a place to live.

Next I flew to London where Xed LeHead tattooed my face in five sessions over a period of ten days, the last session took place at the London Convention. Thanks Xed.  

 

So, what’s happened since you returned to the USA.

Now that I am back in Florida, I’m not sure what to do next. I am also not too sure when, or if, I will go back to New Orleans. Frankly, I have no idea as to what will be the next step in my life, other than that I will continue to work as a chef.

 

Such an event is almost inconceivable to someone who has not experienced it. So, in your own words tell us something about what it was like to experience such devastation.

The devastation was insane. The water was cut off on the third day and when the levies broke and 80% of the city was flooded, all hell broke loose. It was the most frightening thing I have ever seen in my life. Roving gangs of looters were everywhere and there was an incredible amount of suffering before everyone got out of the city. I heard of people being shot to death. The heat was terrible as was the lack of help offered by the government. The water made me ill, the mold made me ill. I had to throw away everything I owned except for my laptop computer. My cat ran away. I lost my job, my appartment where I had lived for eleven years, I lost my life in a city where I had lived for twelve years. My clothes smelled of diesel fuel and I lost them too. It was a nightmare. 

 

So, explain to us something about the motivation behind getting your face tattooed and why you chose that particular design?

My face tattoo was designed by me eleven years ago. I designed the concept for my head and face together. After Sailor Moses died in ‘97, I had Richard Stell tattoo the phoenix around my neck as a memorial to him. It took many years to design the head/face tattoo and I gave Randy Muller a styrofoam head with the entire design drawn onto it. I even had maths formulas to work with. Randy tattooed my head three times in eight days to start with and the head tattoo took ten sessions over a period of nine months to complete. My boss almost fired me for that, which could have been a problem as I needed money to finish off all the other tattoo projects on my body. Anyway, I ended up getting tattooed between about twenty-five or thirty times a year over the next eight years.

 

Hurricane Katrina is the reason why I chose to have my face tattooed at this moment in time. There was basically nothing left to do on my body anyway and I no longer had a job. Randy was unavailable to do the work because of the disaster and that’s the reason I went to Xed in London. Xed did not tattoo my head. Randy did and he will also finish the face tattoo touch ups and will tattoo my ears. The work done by Xed is fine but I prefer to have the entire tattoo to match and that is why I am letting Randy finish the work.  

 

Can you envisage any problems that may occur due to the way you now look?

I do experience some problems due to the way I look both socially and in terms of my work, but my head and hands have been tattooed for the past nine years, so I am used to it. At the age of 35, I am ready. I will say, with full, fucking ego, that my head and face tattoo is the most shocking on the entire planet. I shock the hell out of people in public. I nearly cause car accidents. The women like it…and overall, I have very little trouble.

 

A full-face tattoo such as you now have, is extreme by most people’s standards, how have reactions to you changed since getting the work done?

As I said before my full-face tattoo is probably the most extreme tattoo on the planet. People go nuts just looking at it. Many people are jealous because it is so well thought out and they wear crap. Many people do not have the balls to do this or to live with this or even the patience or sheer imagination necessary to see it through successfully. I am the only chequered person on the planet. No one has done this before so all others who may attempt it will only be copies. Being original with regard to tattoo design is almost impossible. 

 

When we were chatting you told me that you are not interested in sideshows and that you do not wish to be associated with them. I can understand where you are coming from but unfortunately we can never control how others see or feel towards us and many of the uninformed general public may still perceive you, or anyone else with a full-face tattoo, as a ‘freak’. What would you like to say to those people and how would you like to be perceived by others?

I live and work in the real world. I do not work in the tattoo business. The only way that people are going to accept extreme tattooing is by seeing it in everyday life. As to what I would like to say to people who may perceive me as a freak, my comments would not be appreciated here so I will not answer that question.

 

But how do you generally respond to those who may criticise the extent to which you have gone to customise your body?

Usually if criticised, I will confront them back, and they don’t often win the discussion.

 

How do you feel about other forms of body modification such as implants, scarification, piercing etc?

I do wear a laser brand by Steve HTC of a heart on my chest and have eight other brands. I am pierced too. I have no real opinion about other forms of body mods except to say that they are not tattoos and tattoos are my main interest.

 

You told me that the muscles on one side of your chest and arm are different from the other side. How has being tattooed enhanced you sense of self-esteem concerning your body? 

The dense tattoo work hides my birth defects very well. I feel pretty!

 

How did the London convention compare to others, which you have attended?

The London Expo was the best, but I do believe that was partly due to the fact that I was running around nearly naked for the entire time, and I was encouraging people to take of their clothes and show their tattoos. Many people seemed shy and my nearly tearing their clothes off and asking them to pose for pictures with me often made them come out of their shell. People were nearly crying with appreciation after I got through with them. It was such a conservative show and it was a shame to see all that great tattoo work hidden. Usually the heavily tattooed people all group together and support each other in our near nakedness. I was photographed about 1,000 times and almost every time I made someone pose with me, my rule being to not let myself be photographed alone. I was on a mission to involve the crowd, and I did. My rule was, ‘no spectators’! People absolutely loved me for that!

 

In terms of the future, what hopes and dreams do you have?

My future plans are simply, ‘to get away with it’. However, I do have some serious medical problems, so I am scared too. Getting away with it all is all I can hope for! 

 

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

I would like to marry a heavily tattooed woman who works a real job. There were many interesting women whom I met at the London convention who fit that mould. I just want to be happy. 

Credits

Photographs Ashley Photographer’s Assistant Michele Martinoli

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Skin Deep 131 1 March 2006 131
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