Picnic at Hanging Rock #4 - Craigy Lee

Published: 04 April, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 197, April, 2011

It’s exciting to be back in a city! After a few months of being away from home, there are a few things we miss and city life has definitely been one of them. Melbourne is a compact and vibrant place with a sprinkle of Brooklyn and a pinch of Shoreditch. Walking down the left bank of the Yarra River in the City centre you could be forgiven for thinking you have been dropped on London’s south bank. It is bustling with people, buskers and some very talented street artists working with pastels.

Melbourne is considered to be the arts capital of Australia, and once we walk around and explore, it is clear to see why. The trams are the quickest way to navigate the city and have their own unique character. There are loads of small art galleries and almost a tattoo shop on every street. Graffiti art is legal in some areas and alleyways and walkways are adorned with bright and colourful artistic street art. There are plenty of small galleries supporting art by tattoo artists as well. Probably the most well known is Outré gallery right in the heart of the City, which has a large collection of prints and original art for sale. 

The name may ring a bell as they also publish books and have released works by Angelique Houtcamp and they aim to have two or three individual shows a year showcasing the work by some of the artists they look after. They stock prints by lowbrow international artists such as Mark Ryden and Sylivia Ji and a whole range of tattoo artists like Thomas Hooper and Mike Giant. As I browse the work on display and speak to the staff they tell me; tattoo art, street art and pop art are all extremely popular with today’s art buyers in Melbourne. Tattoo depiction is becoming art, taking a step away from the mere designs of pokey tattoo shops and on to the walls of high-end bars, restaurants and contemporary city apartments.

We are staying in North Melbourne but to get a taste of true Australia I am working in the suburbs at Happy Dayze in Lilydale close to the beautiful Yarra Ranges which engulf the landscape. The name of the studio truly mirrors the atmosphere of the shop, it is a pleasure to work here and if you mention the word “ego” I’m sure the lads would have to get out a dictionary and look it up. Resident artists Peter, Glen and Benny are all from a graffiti background and their tattoo art reflects this, they pump out some awesome work including specialist custom script and lettering. Everyone helps each other out which keeps them improving and pushes their work forward. Customers here are easy going and pretty much let the artists run with an idea which personally as a custom tattooer, is all I can ask for. During my time in Melbourne I am getting tattooed by Steve Byrne who is doing a guest spot at Chapel Tattoo. I was supposed to get tattooed by Steve almost 2 years ago but he emigrated to the U.S and I missed my opportunity, now having finally caught up with him on the other side of the world, I get the chance! Chapel is situated in the very trendy Prahran – it’s a very busy little shop with frequent guest artists. Inside, it’s like a rabbit warren with lots of little rooms and booths that are home to its eight resident artists. Traditional work is very popular In Melbourne especially with the trendy kids and there are lots of studios in the city and suburbs trying to cash in on this. Many try to imitate but there are only a handful like Chapel creating work on an international level and making their own waves in the big tattoo ocean. Steve has been travelling in Australia with Chad Koeplinger on a three week work stint, it’s his first time in Australia and the work they put out at Chapel complements his style so he has been booked solid, “I’ve actually had more work then I can physically do” he tells me if you are familiar with his work its easy to see why.

Brunswick is another trendy area in the city, Sam Rulz was based here at Green Lotus tattoo but recently moved back to her native New Zealand, luckily for me she is back in town for a guest spot to finish some work and catch up with friends and show me the studio. The shop itself is deceiving from the outside it’s an Aladdins cave of work stations, artwork, precious reference material and a book collection that stretches the entire length of the shop.

Following the Melbourne studio trend, Green Lotus has an individual booth for each of its artists to work and draw in. What they get to create is their own personal and relaxed working environment a treasure chest filled with rich artwork decorated with their own personality. It’s a crying shame in England (and London especially) that there is simply not the room to have studios laid out like this as it really does add to the whole atmosphere of the shops out here.

Korpus tattoo is also in Brunswick, and home to the well-travelled Mick Squires who has rapidly been making a name for himself internationally over the past few months. I have met Mick a few times at conventions and its nice to finally see him in his own environment and the tattoo community in Melbourne is just that, a community. “We all get along well, we hang out, tattoo each other, share customers”

Mick has been here for two years after he moved from Geelong, which is about and hour west of the city, he found he needed to move to Melbourne to get a different kind of clientele that would allow him to develop his skills and push himself further. “The suburbs are cut-off from the art and tattoo scene of the city. I tried to push my art in Geelong, but while I could change my style I could not change what people wanted.”

This, it seems, happens a lot with artists as apprenticeships are hard to find in the city, “you start in the suburbs then after a decent grounding you move into the city” he explains. Mick only spent about 6 months at Korpus last year and the rest he travelled working conventions and visiting artists he admired, not so much to get his name out I learn, as he likes to stay quite low key “I already have too much work and I wont be travelling as much this year, just conventions and short guest spots”, just a few conventions for Mick means some serious world travelling from the U.S and Singapore to the UK and a few countries between its no wonder he is so busy when he gets back home!


Text: Craigy Lee