A Rae of Sunshine - Rae Pinx

Published: 22 June, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 200, June, 2011

There is no doubt that the number of tattooed and machine-toting women is on the increase. Potent female figures in the media have forged the way for a wave of young female apprentices and women sporting full sleeves are getting younger and younger...

One such artist epitomising this trend is Rae Pinx; a little pink haired goth from Brighton who practises her craft at a studio called Inka. Her tattooing work shows that the world of the feminine tattoo isn't all about vivacious pin-ups and pink new school roses, but that it can be cruel and spiteful albeit with a delicate feminine twist. "My work is quite instinctive," says Rae, perched on the edge of her seat. "I think I just make shapes that are really natural to me. I don't really like to sit and analyse it, I just do what comes naturally. When I was a teenager I always liked the idea that something had become so full-on that it was overbearing. I was obsessed with Courtney Love [hyper-sexual singer of grunge rockers, Hole] – she was so feminine that it was horrible. She had really over the top girly dresses but with two black eyes. An over the top frilly dress and two black eyes is probably a good way of describing my work," she giggles. 

Rae's work is strikingly feminine and cutesy, so much so that it is verging on vulgar. Large eyed women with prominent cheekbones and pointed lips are seemingly symbolic of feminine prowess. Even arbitrary objects like padlocks are gently rounded, and animal's eyes get a flick of what could only be eyeliner. 

Rae grew up in Accrington in Lancashire, just outside Manchester and she studied in Liverpool before moving to this seaside city four years ago to train as a tattooist. "I've only been working professionally for a short time and I apprenticed for three years. I did all the crap jobs like sweeping the floors, but it's good to do because it makes you into a good business person, you see how everything works and you pay your dues." 

But Rae wasn't always destined for a career with a needle in hand, like many other tattooists she came at her trade from a different angle; this time, through the realm of institutional education. "I have two degrees," she admits with a little apprehension, "because I am a complete moron! I studied art first, I must be one of the very few that actually got forced through a fine art degree. I've always been able to draw and I think my family thought 'well, she's good at it so we should encourage her', but really I wanted to broaden on things rather than just sit in a studio for three years and paint. The degree was just fine art, I didn't learn anything like [Adobe] Illustrator, it was really old-school." But it would appear that Rae's three years sitting in a studio painting did her no harm. 

Her artwork and refined visual style have scored her many art gigs such as creating the album and poster artwork for The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. "So then I took a couple of years out and went back and did photography. I wanted a more usable skill, it's hard to make money as a painter. When I was at university I pestered the hell out of music venues in Manchester and got in for free and started taking photos and really quickly I started working for NME Magazine. I think I was just really lucky that I met the right people and they really championed me. I worked for NME for about three years before realising that I hated it. It was stressful and eventually, wasn't fun anymore. I did a lot of photo work with Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian and My Chemical Romance. I've been kicked in the face a few times, I've had people leap on me and kick my camera out of my hands. I've been stabbed by a mic stand a couple of times and smacked in the face with a flash gun. You've got to be like a charming Pit Bull." An analogy that suits Rae quite well. 

Photography was always alongside drawing and design for her as she continued to do album sleeve artwork for various bands during her training as a tattoo artist. Music is another big part of Rae's life. She currently plays bass guitar in her band the Guillotines, and is on the cusp of starting a new musical venture. It seems that creativity flows through any medium for Rae. She may have only been tattooing for four years, but the distinct style she's forged for herself during that time is evident. "When I'm painting I can do pretty much whatever the hell I want, but tattooing is more like having to learn watercolour. There are rules and certain ways in which you do things and you've got to use certain tools for the job. It's not quite so organic, it's a bit more premeditated. So because of this, I wouldn't say my transition to tattooing was easy. It wasn't like, I can draw therefore I can tattoo. It took time to get to the point where it was second nature." 

Although Rae still snaps the odd frame and paints the odd painting, her current focus is her flourishing tattoo work, and not unlike any other visual-creative, Rae has learned to hone her own style through her own tastes and influences. "I really like Amanda Toy", she says, which doesn't come as a surprise when comparing their work. Although uniquely different, Toy's work also draws on the sickly sweetness of femininity with a slightly off-centre edge. "I also had a massive phase of obsessing over Uncle Allan but all this was when I was doing my apprenticeship." Rae says that she tries not to look at other artists work so as not to be influenced – which is unusual, an artist's muse is often the cornerstone of their skill, but for Rae, the process is more personal. "I do have a thing for Matisse at the moment because of the colour. I also really like Jeff Koons." (an American artist famed for bringing a touch of magic to banal objects, and enormous steal balloon animals).

"He's very much about making cute things oversized and he's every bit the showman; he believes that every day should be extraordinary and I like that – wear your best dress to work," she chuckles. "I also love Bruce Springsteen. I've seen him play about ten times!"

"My advice for anyone who is thinking about maybe starting out in tattooing is to ignore the small town morons. Get your head down, do your research, draw constantly and always look for the beautiful within the everyday. I'd like to thank Jack Bolger and Barb Allen for getting me started in the industry and giving me the opportunity to practise
under supervision." 

Jeff Koons

Jeffrey "Jeff" Koons is an American artist known for his reproductions of banal objects, such as balloon animals produced in stainless steel with mirror finish surfaces. Koons' work has sold for substantial sums of money including at least one world record auction price for a work by a living artist. The largest sum known to be paid for a work by Koons is Balloon Flower (Magenta), which was sold at Christie's in 2008 for £12,921,250.

Critics are sharply divided in their views of Koons. Some view his work as pioneering and of major art-historical importance. Others dismiss his work as kitsch: crass and based on cynical self-merchandising.

He gained recognition in the 1980s and subsequently set up a factory-like studio in a SoHo loft on the corner of Houston and Broadway in New York. It was staffed with over 30 assistants, each assigned to a different aspect of producing his work – in a similar mode as Andy Warhol's Factory – notable because all of his work is produced using a method known as Art Fabrication.

Inka Tattoo Studio

80C St. James's Street
East Sussex

01273 708 844


Text: Sarah Angell; Photography: Rae Pinx


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