Published: 01 July, 2008 - Featured in Skin Deep 162, July, 2008

There are certain artists whose work just stands out, be it for their exquisite technique, contentious subject matter, or even their ability to engage your fullest attention and capture your imagination.

Katriona Godward’s art ticks the boxes of all of the above, encapsulating as she does a very distinct and inimitable snapshot of whatever she chooses to portray. At a time when tattoo-related art is becoming increasingly popular but not particularly diverse, Katriona takes thematic ideas and puts her own very unique twist on each piece, incorporating an array of mediums as she does so. This Canadian ex-pat explores tattooing from outside the sphere and it has caught the eye of quite a few tattooists, leading in turn to The Tattoo Artist Project…

What inspired you to start painting and drawing initially?
It’s been with me since I was a kid, like second nature. I don’t think I can remember ever not doing something creative. I was a fairly insular child; studious but always wanting to take time out and have my own space and I always had to make things and draw things. The first time I can remember getting into serious trouble was being caught drawing on the inside leaf of one of my dad’s books. My parents have kept them all, as I personalised more than one!

And what did you used to draw? Anything that came to mind?
Yeah anything that came to mind. Faces, shoes, botanicals. The first piece I ever had exhibited though was when I was nine and it was a spaceship, loads of blues, cool tones, with the weirdest fucking alien in the world! I can still picture this ship, and it was put into a gallery in Toronto when I was nine.

Were you one of the youngest people to have work exhibited there?
There were varying ages of people having work shown there, but as far as the age thing goes, I was one of the youngest in a long time to get into the art school that I ultimately attended.

How long were you at art school for?
I studied formally for two years, and then I had to come out due to family circumstances. The money just wasn’t there anymore for my education. In hindsight, I’m really pleased that I did it that way because it’s a fine line between education and technique, and instinct and creativity, and the problem with art school is that it can give you tunnel vision; it can lead you to become a little too influenced by your tutors and you feel like you need to compromise on thinking outside the box, which is something that I’m vehemently against. I think you need to widen your horizons, try different things and try different mediums.

Why is that so important in your eyes?
People in art circles tell you that it’s important to be known for one specific genre, and I’m very much against that narrow way of thinking; you can and should try absolutely everything. That came from a combination of self-teaching and the basic elements I learnt during my time in college.

So you got techniques down and got out before you were stifled?
That is how I view it in hindsight, yes. I think people can get caught up in the trap of thinking there’s one way and that’s the only way. People say that pieces should be instantly recognisable as your work; I say that there’s no reason why you cannot work in various mediums and still be recognised within a plethora of styles that you’ve done.

You can see that in your work, there’s something instantly familiar about it that says it’s yours.
I was told I would never glean any success, based on the fact that I prefer to work in a variation of mediums and styles. That’s how the tattoo artists project came about as well…

Tattoo Artists Project

Ah, the tattoo artists project. What inspired you to start that?
That started out as a very personal project and the basis of it was as I said, saying to myself, “Why can I NOT work in different styles?” I thought it was an ideal opportunity, with many tattooists having come from an art background themselves and offering such a range of tattooing styles to choose from, to try to ‘emulate’ and take elements of their own style and integrate it with mine. The concept then allows the diversity of my art to work for me, rather than against me, and show that it can be done.

So you like to represent each artist in the genre that they’re known for?
I do, and it’s actually taken off a little since the initial idea and now I’m spending more time with the artists on this project, I’m finding myself integrating bits of their personality into it, little bits of character. It’s escalated from the initial onus, which was to do a handful of portraits and just take the basic elements from the styles of the artists, and it's gone bonkers since then!

How many artists have you got on board now?
I wanted five or six; I’m probably pushing twenty at the moment and I’ve had to turn people away on this occasion, which I hate. I just don’t have the time with the constraints of time and money, as it’s a self-financed project.

So what’s your game plan for Tattoo Jam?
I intend to have a range of portraits of tattoo artists, predominantly featuring their better-known styles incorporated within. For each individual portrait, we’re discussing concepts and ideas, and getting an amalgamation of my perceptions of the artist and their perception of their work. In some cases I’m taking elements of tattooing that people feel are neglected and that they want to see represented. The difficulty comes from working with so many artists and trying not to pigeonhole them into a specific style, because again with my own work I’m saying, ‘Open your mind a little bit - you don’t want to stereotype any of these artists’, which is again why I’m trying to glean input and information from them and see what their ideas are.

With the work that you’ve done so far, you’ve obviously experimented with different styles. What actually brought you to the world of tattooing?
It was completely by accident! It stemmed from photography and modelling, and knowing someone through that scene who was organising a convention. I’ve always had a healthy interest in tattoos and had a fair bit of coverage before getting into this project.

You like to throw a twist on things don’t you?
I do. There’s a lot of tattoo-related art available at the minute and it’s recognised specifically as tattoo art. I like to put a twist on it, taking more traditional art methods and throwing some tattoo-influenced ideas in there. I couldn’t just paint a straight-up hanya mask; I’ve got to make a boss-eyed hanya mask, I’ve got to put some character into it and meet it halfway, integrating the tattoo themes into my own particular style that I prefer to work in.

Obviously you retain the sincerity of tattooing in your work, but there’s no harm in having some fun with it is there?
It’s good to have a little bit of fun with it. I like adding elements that shouldn’t be there, but I’m in no means mocking it at all, rather putting a comedy twist into a piece and hoping to distinguish it from straight up so-called tattoo art.

And generally showing there’s a lot of scope?
There is, and it goes back to what I was saying about many tattooists having an art background who in their spare time are getting a lot better known for their recognisable flash work. A lot of artists also paint and there are a huge amount of visual artists in the tattooing industry, so there’s a huge scope - the possibilities for art that appeals to the tattoo community are limitless.

>It’s broadening all the time isn’t it? People are coming in from different backgrounds and pushing it.
Absolutely, and it's a good time for visual artists who are tattooists. I’m finding that with the tattooists that I’m working with, you are feeding off each other and bouncing ideas off each other, and there’s a huge amount of mutual support.

So you’re finding that there’s a great sense of community?
A very good sense of community. I find that people aren’t afraid to exchange ideas, support each other and help each other out. Swapping ideas, thoughts and concepts works because each artist that comes into it is taking something new away and it’s something that they can work with, keeping an open mind about their capabilities and not being constrained.


Is your work bringing curves back into the equation?
We’re going to make curves sexy and bring them back, definitely. Women in art are classic, beautiful, tactile, sombre, subdued…there are so many variables in fine art. I love the fact that it’s predominantly non-sexual, that traditional fine art is about glimpsing and capturing a moment of a woman, as she should be.

Do you think that some people struggle to define the line between fine art photography with nudes and porn?
Very much so. There are a lot of pre-conceived notions and it is a fine line, particularly nowadays where you get people who do push the boat out towards shock value a little more. Glamour today is not what glamour was thirty or forty years ago and it’s too overt; it’s very sexual. You can mock it and have fun with it (like putting paint on breasts) and take the piss out of what is considered glamour these days, but it’s my choice not to work within the genre, per se. Pouts and eye contact do not make glamour; girl-next-door who’s completely oblivious to her sexuality is glamour.

Totally agreed!
Within the tattooing industry it’s nice to see so much pin-up work and modern takes on a traditional theme and keeping things feminine rather than overt, in that respect. When I did modelling myself, I was actually slated for not agreeing to underwear shots when I’d happily go fully nude. Young models generally don’t grasp the concept and they feel that what they do is more modest, but I see it as being the other way around. To me, putting sexy underwear on a girl is sexual exploitation; you look at a body as it should be for its unique form, the shape, the curves, the shadows cast, and that’s nothing short of beautiful, rather than sexual.

The classics and the modern

Are there any classical artists that have influenced you at all?
My mainstay that always has and always will be a passion is traditional fine art nudes, and with that in mind when I also take it to my photography, I like very classic shapes and poses, again putting a modern twist on it, such as fine art nudes with body modifications. You know, greyscales, sepia tone drawings, and make it as classic as possible with every other element in it as traditional as I can keep it. With that in mind, I’d say that Botticelli is top of my list; it’s the detail, the hands, the dimples, and it’s so quintessentially feminine in everything that his work encompasses and embodies.

Er, did I mention that I’ve seen the Birth of Venus in the flesh?
You bastard! I want to see that piece so badly.

It’s just…incredible!
There were so many amazing artists that have dealt with curvy women, but with Botticelli it was all about the dimples and the fingers for me. When I was a child, my mother told me I had Botticelli hands, that slight chubbiness to the extremities that’s not quite childlike and not quite woman. It’s that beautiful turning point where you’re not aware of your impending womanhood and he seemed to capture that beautifully. On the flip side, I love Rembrandt’s darkness in much of his work; in a lot of his portraiture, you were wholly aware of the mood rather than just features. He seemed to integrate social commentary - there is far more going on there than a straight-up painting of a person. You can look at his work and feel the mood, the angst or the empathy.

Are there any modern artists out there that float your boat?
I avoid ‘names’ with modern artists; I tend to like individual pieces rather than an entire catalogue. The modern artists that I do admire tend to produce traditionally executed work (I’m a sucker for pencil and paints), and I’d still go back fifty or sixty years if I had to talk names and bring in influences such as Matisse, Dali or anyone who pushed the barriers of their time. Now, I prefer to go to small shows and view unknown artists’ work rather than seeking the work of big names. Ultimately, it’s a shadow or an effect, or a unique piece rather than a person that appeals to me.

Are there any thanks you’d like to dispense?
There are a lot of people who’ve shown tremendous faith and support. Alex, you and Skin Deep of course. It’s difficult to narrow it down to just a few names. Graham at Thou Art has been a pillar of support, and each artist on the project has been phenomenal along the way, be it feedback, taking the time to discuss the work, or poking me with sticks and calling me a cunt to make me feel special.


Interview: Alex - Photography: Katriona Godward & John Virtue


Skin Deep 162 1 July 2008 162