An interview with Quentin and Ami...
How did you two originally meet?
Ami: "We originally met at met Silbury Hill around a fire. I was with friends from Manchester and Quentin had travelled up from Brighton. Two years later we again met up in Brighton, this time at a travellers site. Quentin took me out for a meal, which turned out to be a pint of lager and a packet of crisps; we sat up all night talking and holding hands…and that was it. True love!"
As a couple you look stunning. In what ways has your relationship contributed to your unique look. For example when choosing to have any particular modification, do you firstly consider how it will enhance your image as an individual or in terms of its impact on you as a couple?
Ami: "Thanks- flattery will get you everywhere! Our professions have contributed to our look in that we both support and work on each other. But in reality neither of us are the sort of people to construct an image; we both just do what feels right. Our individual mods and tattoos have always been personal decisions. I think I would say we have evolved personally and as a couple without considering an overall image."
How has your daughter, Indi, reacted to your mods, and has your extreme look ever caused problems with her friends or their parents?
Ami: "Indi thinks that tattoos and piercings are normal and it’s nice to know that she has learnt from an early age to accept people as they are. Her friends and their parents have no problems with our appearance. We seem to be lucky and just get accepted for who we are, which after all, is how it should be."
You also occasionally perform together as well as collaborating with other performers such as Samppa and Jussi. Tell us something about these performances and your reasons for becoming involved.
Ami: "The shows are quite extreme I suppose but we do mix them with comedy. Life is more fun if you can laugh at yourself. They involve play piercing, hook-pulling, fire; my favourite is the back pull that Quentin and Jussi do with a hammock attached to their backs which they then swing from side to side with me in it. We do the shows primarily because we enjoy them, its always good fun."
Tell us something about your childhood and early life.
Quentin: "I grew up pretty much in the countryside since the age of 11 but I have always been interested in travelling to other parts of the world. I have been particularly drawn to Asia, my fascination with that continent was possibly influenced by the fact that my parents used to go and work there occasionally. From the age of 16 I started travelling as much as I could, I lived in London between the ages of 18-21, where I went to college and worked as a cook in a vegetarian restaurant. Between the ages of 21-28 I spent much of that time in Asia, primarily in India. On my first trip I went to India, Nepal, Pakistan, China and Tibet. I then returned to the UK for a few months to work before heading off again to India for another six months after which I briefly returned to England, then went back to India where I stayed for a year and a half . In between travelling I lived in vehicles in the UK. I had a 1956 British Leyland truck, a 1965 F.G. and my last vehicle was a 1960 coach that had previously been used for the London-Moscow run."
At what stage of your life did you become interested in tattoos, piercing or other forms of body modification?
Quentin: "As a child I was interested in the ritualistic aspects of tattoos and piercing. I remember seeing, ‘Return Of A Man Called Horse’, I suppose I was 6 or 7 at the time, but that film had a profound effect on me. I remember during religious education class the teacher talking about the early Christians who put themselves through severe physical pain on certain occasions, all the other pupils thought that was disgusting but I always wanted to know why they did it, and what did they get out of it.
I have loved tattoos for as long as I can remember though no one in my family had one. I can remember spending hours looking at the photographs outside a tattooist’s studio in Brighton, there was only one studio there at the time! I remember being particularly fascinated by the fine line portraits. I had my ears and nose pierced when I was quite young but didn’t get any additional piercings until much later on, it was reading books by Fakir that stimulated my interest in understanding the concept of ritual and its relation to piercing practices. My piercings symbolise my story and my journey but I am also interested in the interaction between myself and the person who did the work. It’s the same with my tattoos, that interaction is as important as the work itself, I am not just into the aesthetics."
Did the fact that you have travelled contribute to your awareness and to your interest in these practices?
Quentin: "Travelling allowed me the opportunity to explore the ritualistic aspects of piercing in more depth. India has such a long history of piercing and piercing related rituals. Indian holy men do periodically pierce and suspend themselves, some keep jewellery permanently in place, such as the large conch ear piercings, traditionally done with a hot knife. They also do temporary tongue piecings and I became really interested in the idea of being able to focus the mind beyond the pain. India taught me so much with regard to achieving a mix between aesthetics and ritual."
When did you first decide to get tattooed/pierced and what was the first work you had done?
Quentin: "I got my first piercing at the age of 13, I had my ear done in Brighton, my parents went mad, you have to remember that this was a long time ago, at that time boys with earrings were suspended from school. During the next few years I pierced my own ears a few more times and then, when I was 18, I had my nose pierced and got my first tattoo, which was a small black rose on my shoulder. As I had always hated British Bulldog’s and Union Jacks, a rose seemed to be the least offensive tattoo I could choose."
What were the inspirations for the designs that you have chosen, and who were artists who did the work?
Quentin: "In general an idea will come to me and then slowly develop over a period of time, sometimes weeks, sometimes years. In allowing the idea to develop naturally, I find that the symbolism all somehow intertwines, the designs all reflect specific incidences and periods encountered during my life. My tatts have all been done by friends, I value that interaction as much as the work itself.
My hands and the runic piece on the top of my right leg were done by my beautiful and talented partner, Ami. My lower right leg was done by Vicky from Wildcat, she also did my right arm and shoulder. I have also been tattooed by Michele Edge, Sophie and my close friend, Neil.
When choosing designs for your early work, did you envisage just how far you were willing to go in transforming your body and your image?
Quentin: "No. I’ve always thought of it as a natural progression and a way of telling life’s stories. When I got my first piercing I definitely didn’t consider that I would ever be doing what I am doing now."
With regard to your own tattoos, are there any particular pieces that you favour over others? If so, why?
Quentin: "I don’t know about prefer, but I really do adore my hands but that’s also because of who did the work."
In terms of your own tattoos, piercings and other mods, what ideas do you have for the future?
Quentin: "I’m not really sure. I have been through a period where I sort of lost the love of getting tattooed…it just bloody hurt!! But getting my leg finished and especially my hands has inspired me to get more. I’m planning to get a tatt which will represent Ami and Indi, our daughter.
I really want to start using tattooing and branding in combination. For example, I’ve been working on Jon from Engligh Rose tattoos. he had blacked part of his legs out and I have burnt stars into the black areas, so he now has white stars there.
I want more implants, want to put some silicone implants in my chest, planning on doing a trans-scrotum on myself in the near future and am thinking of getting elf’s ears this summer."
When did you open Kalima, was that your first studio and what kind of atmosphere or environment did you hope to achieve there?
Quentin: "I opened ‘Kalima’ in its present form about 3 years ago, but started it in 1998. I used to co-own it with a partner until, three or four years ago, he decided to sell out and it was then that I gutted the shop and did a total refit.
We hoped to create a welcoming, relaxing atmosphere, open to all ages. I wanted a shop that people could come in and look around without feeling pressured into having a piercing. We believe in offering a service that is professional and hygienic whilst at the same time being friendly and informal whether a client comes in for an ear piercing or genital work."
What experience or training did you have prior to opening the studio?
Quentin: "I’m a self taught piercer and basically trained myself before opening the shop. I had been piercing for about two and a half years before I got a job in a studio, and had done all the piercings. Originally I learnt from medical books, intuition and by practising on myself and friends."
Aside from general piercing you now offer a full range of innovative modificatory practices. How did you come to be involved in the more extreme procedures? Can you tell us something about these and about any particular problems clients should be aware of before deciding on which procedure is most suited to their lifestyle or requirements.
Quentin: "I had always wanted to do implants and other body mod work but waited until it felt right, the same as I had with general piercing. I was then fortunate enough to meet, Samppa, and through our friendship I was inspired enough to start doing that kind of work. Initially I assisted Samppa with a few procedures, and after about a year, I started doing transdermal and subdermal implants.
At Kalima we also offer scarification, electro-cautery branding, dermal punching, lobe scalpelling, staples, surface piercing, madmax bars and naval pocketing. There are different risks for each procedure and there are certain skin types, body shapes and areas that are suited to some of the above modifications and some that are not. I would always advise people to thoroughly research the modification that they intend to have and to be aware of the success rate, healing time, risk factors and other variables involved. Once they have done that, it’s probably the trip to the studio that’s the most dangerous part."
What advice would you give to people in terms of choosing the right body mod studio or practitioner.
Quentin: "Again it’s important to research the practitioner, look at their experience and examples of their work.
At the end of the day it is always the client who has to live with the result be it good or bad! Expect to travel, modification of this type is new and there are not that many competent practitioners around. Check out the sterility of the environment, and don’t forget to consider the reactions of friends, family, employers and society in general. If you have a mod that is highly unusual, expect people to stare, they probably will, its natural to notice something different. Can you handle the constant questions which will happen whether you want them or not, its just one of the ramifications of looking different."
How do you feel about the increase in popularity of the more extreme forms of modification and what problems can you see resulting from this popularity?
Quentin: "If that’s what people want, it’s fine. I don’t have a problem with people getting mods, I just hope that they think about what they are doing beforehand. However, I do sometimes think there is an attitude of, “I’m going to miss the boat”, which leads people to rush into getting very full on mods that they may have to live with for the rest of their lives. There will undoubtedly be people who will, in the future, regret what they have done, as there are now with tattoos. At Kalima we always discuss the pros and cons with people before they make a final decision."
You once told me you hope to open another studio. Has there been any progression in ideas with regard to that ambition?
Quentin: "Ideally, Ami and I would like a studio together but at present we have no definite plans regarding this venture. We definitely don’t want to have a conveyor belt type studio, we care about our customers, enjoy spending time with them and aim to make their experience with us as pleasurable as possible."
In terms of modification, what does the future hold, do you have any ideas for other procedures?
Quentin: "The possibilities seem endless especially with regard to the concept of fusing machine with human, producing human/mechanical hybrids. I’m also really excited about the fusion of branding, scarification and tattoo work. That will mean that people with large areas of blackwork could have Japanese style pieces branded in. Dragon’s or anything else that works as a line drawing could be incorporated and I’m also planning on experimenting with shading over black tattoo work. Working with silicone now means that it’s possible to implant a lot more weird and wonderful shapes."
Is there anything else you would like to say about your life or work?
Quentin: "I would like to start doing a few more guest spots in studios around the UK and Europe. I know it can be hard for people to travel to us so being available in a variety of locations would seem to make sense. I also intend to develop the performance side of things, I really enjoy working with Ami and friends like Samppa, Jussi, Jackie and Simon."
Tell us something about your childhood, family background and early life experiences or influences.
Ami: "I am the oldest of six children. I had a strict Mormon upbringing, which gave me a lasting cynicism for organised religion. As a family we moved around the UK a lot, never staying anywhere for more than five years. I was very close to my grandmother with whom I spent most of the school holidays, reading, drawing and talking; she was the biggest influence in my early life, we were best friends.
Apart from that I was very much a loner with an imaginary horse that I would leave at the school gates!! I left home at the age of eighteen and then completed a Fine Art, (Sculpture) degree in Manchester, where I subsequently stayed for eight years. I have the fondest memories of that city and met some of my closest friends there. I was lucky enough to live in the Hulme area, which had a diverse community and was incredibly inspiring. I went back and forth to Ireland; whilst there I was taken to Newgrange, a 500 year old burial mound which sparked my interest and deep-felt connection with Celtic mythology, paganism and prehistoric art. Hulme was the perfect place to buy a vehicle and kit it out, which I did and then spent time travelling around the North, Wales, and Ireland, before venturing ‘down South’. There was an incredible sense of freedom having my own vehicle and although ‘living on site’ had its problems, it wasn’t until I got pregnant that I actually considered moving into a flat."
At what stage did you become interested in altering your appearance and how did that initially start?
Ami: "I remember getting my ears pierced on a school trip at the age of 14. Mum wasn’t pleased! After that if I felt down or angry I would sit in my room and pierce my ears-I was never allowed to keep them in…but the process was very therapeutic in itself.
By the time I was 23 I had various piercings but wanted to get something that was important to me tattooed onto my body. That was the goddess/tree figure on my stomach. The experience was so amazing that I went back for the triple spiral the following week. I remember Irene, the tattooist had a picture by her couch of an African woman with a lot of scarification. For me it was that image that sewed the first seed of interest in that form of body modification, but I didn’t actually get any myself for many years."
Whilst being heavily modified, you still have an extremely feminine appearance. How have you managed to achieve this look successfully? What is the appeal of body modification for you?
Ami: "Good grief! Have I? Well I’ve always been a tom-boy, with a love for old Victorian clothing; so maybe the mix of the two gives that impression. However I’ve always hated the Barbie and Ken ideal of beauty and hate conforming to female stereotypes. I think the Western ideal of female beauty is so flat and ageist; its all based on plastic flawlessness, rather than on character and strength. I hope that my mods, tattoos and appearance in general just express on the outside the way I feel and the things I love on the inside. It’s definitely not just aesthetically based, it’s about just saying, ‘this is me and this is my life’. Having said that I always hated my arse, until I got it tattooed-ho ho!!"
You now work as a tattooist. How did that come about and what problems have you encountered along the way?
Ami: "I started tattooing around the same time that I got pregnant, which was at the age of 31, by coincidence or fate, I’m not sure which. I borrowed a friends equipment to tattoo an old cave painting of two reindeers shagging on my foot…two weeks later I found out I was pregnant. So there you go…don’t mess with those old fertility symbols! I was hooked from the moment I started, though progress was non-existent whilst I was pregnant as I was unwilling to work on others until I had done more work on myself. Then obviously things were slow after the birth, its not easy with a young child to care for. When Quentin’s shop opened I had to work the desk and do the jewellery buying. So its only been during the last year that I have worked part time in two studios, Intro in Brighton and Tattoo FX in Burgess Hill, and now I feel that things are finally coming together."
Do you think that being a woman has been an advantage or a disadvantage in terms of your work?
Ami: "Phew. I don’t really know where to start with that one. I think I’ll just say that, client wise, I don’t notice any disadvantages; however the industry itself is still very male dominated and I sometimes find that hard work. But my friend, Sophie, who helped me a lot when I was starting out, inspired me to just go ahead, and do it my way."
How do you successfully juggle motherhood and work commitments?
Ami: "(laughs), I don’t!!! I could never juggle anyway, that’s for big girls…"
Had you not become a tattooist, what career path are you likely to have chosen?
Ami: "I sold sculpture after finishing college but never enough to make a living. I also did a year long blacksmithing course in Hereford, which led me on to making beaten silver jewellery, so I would probably be making things, large or small. Having said that, I can’t imagine not being where I am today and doing what I do."
Tell us something about your own tattoos and the ideas inspirations and artists who have done the work.
Ami: "My right arm was done in various stages and still isn’t quite finished. It is all based on stone carvings at Newgrange, Co, Meath, in Ireland. I first went there when I was 19 and have been going back ever since. That’s where my love of spirals comes from… The scarification was done by Quentin.
He did a beautiful job and having the representations of carvings from Newgrange actually being ‘carved’ into my arm just felt so right. Scarification feels like such an ancient ritualistic process to me-even more than does tattooing!
The triple spiral from inside the burial mound was tattooed by my friend, Vicky, and the grey spirals sleeving the rest of my arm were done by another friend, Neil-they are from the Kerbstone at the entrance to the mound.
My collar is made up of Kali’s Hibiscus; the flowers are based on our friend Mike’s design for the Kalima website, which I love, Sophie tattooed them and I love them to bits. My hairline tattoo was my first Indian based tattoo; for my father. That was done by the lovely Lester at ‘Temple’, and it was so relaxing it made me dribble!! The poppies on my back were designed and tattooed by Paula Converse; they represent the Irish goddess, Cailleach. My snakey cuffs I designed to represent the protective snakes the Celts wore around their wrists. I’d had some vivid dreams about snakes at the time and we were generally finding everything hard work. Neil tattooed them for me and did a lovely job.
My family are tattooed on my ribs-Kamala, (Indi, my daughter’s middle name). Tantra with Indie, Quents and my name tattooed in Irish Ogham script over the top. That was also done by Neil. Sophie tattooed my hips and more recently, my fanny and arse….
Aside from body mod, what else inspires or interests you?
Ami: "Celebrating the Pagan Fire festivals, prehistoric art and ancient civilisations, trees, art, and most of all, Quentin, Indi and my friends. How corny!!"
How do you think you are perceived by the Asian community in general and have you experienced any problems from within that community relating to your appearance?
Ami: "In general no; but as an adult I have very rarely experienced prejudice from anyone; maybe it just goes over my head!! I’m going to India in November to visit the area my family are from, so ask me again then!!"
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Ami: "I love the Japanese tradition of skinning tattooed bodies… I would like Indi to keep my skin and have me as some bizarre bedside rug, it would appeal to my sense of humour and I could keep an eye on her!! (laughs) Can you print that?"
For more info visit, www.kalima.co.uk