A Perfect Circle - Mike Toth

Published: 17 October, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 204, October, 2011

There’s a fine line between purposefulness and obsession. Mike Toth, from Toth Art Collective, is straddling that line. As a kid he had to bandage his hands after receiving scabs from constantly washing his hand. As a tattooist he’s never satisfied and sometimes lies sleepless after having seen someone else master a technique better than him…

"My least favourite thing to do is sleep. I sleep around four hours a night and get up early. I’m lucky I’ve got a manager now who takes care of a lot of shit so I can accomplish my goals.”

For most people, working and living conditions like these would be unbearable, but Mike Toth doesn’t seem to function like most people. He’s sitting on a couch next to me at the Lady Luck convention in Reno. In the chair next to us sits Collin Eder, his manager, whose body is covered in Mike’s artwork: “I’m like his walking portfolio,” he says. “I started off as a client so I’ve seen his progress and I’ve got to say, I have never met a more motivated person. He’s never satisfied and always pushes himself. There’s no one at the same level around here.”

“It drives me nuts if someone is doing something better than me,” Mike continues. “I dwell on it and lie in bed, thinking about it. It comes from having OCD as a kid. In elementary school they wouldn’t let me wash my hands. I got scabs from washing them so much so I had to bandage them. It’s kind of funny I have this job where hygiene is so important…”

However, tattooing was far from his first career choice. Basically he hadn’t drawn a picture until he was 19 years old. His first passion, while growing up in the cheese capital of Oregon, Tillamook, where the school sports teams are called The Cheesemakers and the students dress up as cows for the games, was ironically a very dirty one.

“I started racing motocross when I was about six. I was very serious about it, trying to make it my career and my parents were very supportive.” Tragically the dream ended when he was 17 years old. “I was in a bad wreck. I broke my back and my pelvis, and after that I was too scared to go for it so I quit. That freed up a lot of time for other things I didn’t know I was interested in. Racing was the only thing I did up to that point.”

He later graduated high school, moved to Phoenix and started getting tattoos. “I started to get interested in art and I had no money so I just sat in my apartment and drew pictures all day.” In 2005. Mike Toth turned 20 years old and got an apprenticeship at Elite Tattoo in Scottsdale.

“That didn’t last long though. My roommates were interested in other things than tattooing, so I went back to Oregon, where you need a license to tattoo. I made a friend who’d been tattooing for 18 years and he helped me out.”

Thus, at the end of 2006 he moved to his current hometown, Bend, Oregon, and started working in a street shop where he tattooed flash for a couple of years before he got his own studio – which he sold not long after.

“I got a job offer in San Luis Obispo, California. My wife wanted to move somewhere warmer and it sounded like a good offer, so we spent all our money closing up the shop for what turned out to be a really bad deal. It was horrible. The owner totally lied to me so we moved back after a month. I now realise the value of a loyal clientele. I can’t believe I even considered moving!”

But time moves on and since the beginning of this year, Mike Toth now has the facilities of his dreams. His studio is located in downtown Bend with a gallery in front and studio in the back.

“It’s awesome, but it was hard to get. The city is strict about the storefront. You have to call in these Bend historians to approve it so they charge 250 dollars just to stand there and look at a sign. It’s retarded, but it’s going really good now. There are a lot of high end, fine art galleries with bronze sculptures of horses and cowboys and so on in Bend. When I asked around, none of the gallery managers would allow my art, but now we’ve got a place where more modern artists can showcase their art. We also want to ship in art from artists all over the country to bring in more culture.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the city, though,” Collin adds, “and we’ve had a good response.”

“Yeah, the president of the downtown association was ‘glad to see that we had that real punk rock feel.’ Punk rock? Really?”

Mike’s own art style is very similar to his tattooing: “I started tattooing right after I started drawing and I had been tattooing for three years before I began painting. I couldn’t draw to save myself in the beginning and the first six months my painting was horrible.”

Today Mike Toth’s life isn’t really what he pictured, growing up a young motocross enthusiast in Tillamook, Oregon. “I really miss doing something physical, where you go out every day, get some exercise and get dirty. But I’m focusing all my energy on my family and my own progress now. I have no free time to do anything else. Not even to sleep.”


Toth Art Collective

1024 NW
Bond Street

+1 541 207 7477


Text & Photography: Simon Lundh