Mark Cross - Come Bite the Apple

Published: 29 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 221, February, 2013

New York City continues to be a hotbed of artistic talent; in the last few months I would say that 90 percent of my interviewees have hailed from (or at least, made their home in recent years) the Big Apple. Next up is Mark Cross, who plies his trade at Greenpoint Tattoo Co in Brooklyn, even though he grew up on the opposite side of the States, in a suburb of the equally artisan, San Francisco.

I grew up near San Francisco in a place called Foster City. It was built on a landfill in the marshlands of San Francisco Bay near the airport in the late ’60s and is a quintessential middle-class suburban city. I remember my neighbour’s mum was obese and bedridden. There was never much of anything to do, so mostly we would just buy tons of different drugs and hang out in my neighbour’s living room all night while her obese mum was stuck upstairs in bed; it was perfect. I think she has since had her stomach stapled and can walk again… maybe she took advantage and left. Around the time I was 16 I dropped out of high school and moved into San Francisco.”

Keen to know how Mark discovered tattooing, I asked him when tattoos first entered his life and in what form. “Well, I have always been into bad-boy stuff. When I was really young, a family friend had a tattoo on the top of his forearm of an American flag. I thought it was the coolest thing! I could never remember his name so I just called him ‘tattoo’. Uncle Tattoo was a serious bad-boy. I think he is to blame.”

Everyone knows (or has heard) that an apprenticeship is the most respected initial foray into tattooing, but as I’ve uncovered in a lot of my recent interviews, not all tattoo artists have taken this route, so I decided to ask Mark how he entered into it. “I kind of did it both ways. I went to art school in SF for a bit – I used to steal art supplies and sell them to fellow students as well as tattoo shops. I befriended a few tattooers at one shop I frequented in Oakland and began hanging out with them, trading art supplies for tattoos and such. Eventually they needed a new shop guy and I jumped at the opportunity.

“I dropped out of art school and started busting my ass working for the shop. I never did a formal apprenticeship exactly; I just worked at the shop for a good, long while and gleaned whatever information I could. One thing led to another and eventually they began tipping me with tattoo supplies. I slowly gathered what I needed and did my first tattoo on myself on January 15, 2006.

“Currently I work at Greenpoint Tatto Co., in Brooklyn, New York. The shop opened last year and I started working there a few months ago. It’s a big space set up for the sole purpose of doing tattoos. That’s it. The walls are covered in flash and I have been working diligently at putting up my own designs. I’ve put up 20-plus new sheets in the last few weeks and plan on keeping up that pace for as long as I can. It’s such an important part of how I tattoo. I would love it if my customers could find something new that they like on the wall each time they come in. That is the goal anyway. I like that style of tattooing. I’ve always been tattooed that way.”

One of the main attractions of this writing job is that I get to spend hours and hours of my own time looking through tattoo artists on the internet. The more you look, the more you learn, and the more you can differentiate between what you are interested in or not. Mark Cross happened to be one of those artists that stood out immediately from the pack. His style is bold, brash, and colourful. His thick lines are as clean as blank paper (that might be the best phrase I have ever heard! Ed), and I was keen to know how it came about.

“There is a vocabulary of classic tattoo images that I try to honour and I’m trying really hard to find a voice within that vocabulary. I feel like something clicked in my brain, honestly, sometime in the last year and I began to feel a sense of direction in my work that I hadn’t before. My mind was cluttered with so many other things for so long, and about two years ago I made a conscious and concerted effort to eliminate those things. I quit doing graffiti and quit partying and fucking around in general and began to focus wholly on tattooing. Since then I feel like my progress has been significant, although I still have a long way to go. I want to be the best… and I’m definitely not… so I’ve got my work cut out for me.”

Whilst on this voyage of discovery about Mark Cross (short of flying over to NYC) I stumbled upon a website of his called Muddguts. “It’s basically just a place on the web where I dump photos that my friends and I have taken. In March 2010 I curated a Muddguts show at a museum in Rotterdam, Holland.

The site has remained relatively stagnant since that show, but it’s still there ( I’d like to work on it more but it’s something I’ve had to put on the shelf since making the decision to focus on tattoos. I occasionally show other kinds of work as well. I had some work in a graffiti show called ‘art in the streets’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles last year, under a pseudonym. Lately I’ve been working with a gallery in Los Angeles called New Image Art. I suppose if anybody was interested in my other works they could get in touch with them.

“Graffiti was a huge influence as a youth. It really helped to mould who I am. It taught me about respect and honour and all that crap. And it toughened me up a lot. But mostly it taught me to work hard. I’ve never met anybody more tenacious than a dedicated graffiti writer.”

I’m hoping that one day I’ll know about the next time Mark is in England so I can get tattooed, so I sneakily asked him if he has taken his tattooing on the road before. It turns out he has. “With the exception of not knowing where anything is in a new shop, tattooing has been pretty much the same for me no matter where I’ve travelled. Thanks to the internet, specifically Instagram, I’ve been able to get my work out there to people all over the place who are down to let me do my thing. I don’t do a lot of custom work, generally, and even less when I travel. I draw constantly on my downtime at home, and have amassed a hefty stack of pages full of tattoo-able designs which I’ve dubbed ‘the menu’. The menu comes with me wherever I go and it makes everything a lot easier… for everybody I think.

“I’ve always travelled a lot around the United States. I try and go back to the west coast and work at least a few times a year. I recently worked at Frith Street Tattoo Parlour in London. I had never worked outside of the country before. Frith St. is an exceptionally well-greased machine of a street shop.

Dante (the shop’s owner) is a true bad-boy and has made a respectable career out of being a cool ass dude. It was a great experience and I hope to go again. Everybody was very hospitable.”

Asking Mark about the machines he likes to use, he responded, “I just try to approach tattoos practically. I am not a stickler about supplies. I use a liner and a shader. One time I used a rotary, but I didn’t like it. Otherwise, so long as the needles are sharp, the colours are bright, and my power supply ‘goes to 11’, I am happy.”

Gestalten published the incredible book, Forever: the New Tattoo recently, and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to find Mark Cross in there. I asked him how that came about. “Pretty much in exactly the same way this interview came about. A lady wrote me an email a few months ago asking me for pictures to put in a book. I’m not exactly sure how she found me and I don’t really know much about it, but she was nice so I sent the photos. I think being a genuinely nice person counts for a lot. Sometimes at least. I haven’t seen the book yet, but I heard it is out now.”

Greenpoint Tattoo Co.

131 Meserole Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 349-2025


Text: Tom Abbott; Photography: Mark Cross