Some Kind of Wonderful - Jeff Gogue

Published: 09 December, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 206, December, 2011

It is Artist Friday at Tattoo Jam 2011 and five of the world’s most recognisable and talented artists are having a head-to-head paint-off, an on the spot demonstration of their painting skills. The audience is stunned into silence watching these five tattooists slinging paint, starting with a blank canvas and ending up with some amazing art work…

One of those artists was Jeff Gogue, world renowned tattooist and painter. Watching Jeff work, whether it is on skin or on canvas, is a very rare treat and Jeff did not disappoint.

Born in Quincy, California, this self-taught tattoo artist quickly climbed the ranks in the tattoo world, working tirelessly and passionately to get to the top. But as always, there is a bigger picture behind the artist, and following Tattoo Jam, we caught up with him to hear his side of the story.

“I started tattooing at the age of 26, which was in August 1999. I taught myself at home and only did it part-time until August 2000 when I rented a small shop and began tattooing full-time. I lived in a small town in northern California called Quincy, where I was born and raised. I was married with two young daughters and a son, who was born in June of 2000.

“I would go get small tattoos in Reno Nevada and Chico, California – both an hour-and-a-half drive from Quincy. I would ask questions while I was getting work done. It was very difficult to get any information or help. I was continuously told I needed to clean toilets and scrub tubes for three years in order to learn how to tattoo. It didn’t make sense to me. I wasn’t an 18-year-old kid wanting to be a cool tattoo guy. I wasn’t dating strippers and partying every night. I was close to 30, in major debt from having back surgery and losing my job over it. I had three kids and was trying to survive and provide for my family.

“I was in a small town of about 5,000 people and knew that I’d have to get good enough to draw out-of-town clients in order to keep things going. I struggled for the first couple years with lots of downtime. I would fill it with sign painting, lettering and painting on local race cars, sprint cars, helmets and motorcycles. I would draw logos or design T-shirts for local businesses. I would basically do anything possible to pay the bills. I even raised chickens and rabbits and would go fishing for food for my family. We were broke and lived in a double wide run down trailer. I’ve always worked hard… it just took a while to work out.”

Jeff’s shop is newly open, his work ethic and desire to succeed firmly established, he hits the road to follow the conventions across America. Quickly, the awards start piling up and Jeff starts to build a reputation as one of the best artists in his field… as well as meet some cool people along the way.

“I attended my first tattoo convention in 2000 and met Don Ed Hardy and watched people like Deano Cook, Paul Booth and Jack Rudy work. I wanted to be one of those guys. I wanted to travel and see the world and do art full-time. I worked my first show in Reno Nevada in 2002. I was so nervous I lined up my friends to tattoo them for free so I wouldn’t be sitting there doing nothing. I took a couple seminars and was really disappointed in how little information was being shared; it made me really want to get good enough to be able to conduct my own seminar.

“I worked my ass off for the next few years attending at least a convention each month and entering lots of contests. By 2003, I was winning awards and climbing up the mountain. By 2007 things were going great. I had won awards all over the US and some international shows like Milan and London. I got featured in many magazines and started doing my own seminars at conventions.

“During this time, in 2004, I moved north to a small town in Southern Oregon called Grants Pass. It’s a beautiful place in the Rogue Valley with rivers, mountains, friendly people and beautiful weather. I have a gallery and studio in the town centre and amazing support of the local community. People here treat me like something of a local celebrity. They see me traveling and working, they see the magazines and online attention. It’s still just tattoos to them and they only really see a fraction of what’s going on in my world, but they all seem excited and inspired just the same.”

You would think after all this hard work that Jeff would sit back, relax and enjoy seeing his studio grow. Not Jeff. Maybe it was the hard slog getting there or maybe it is just the love he has for what he does. Either way, in Jeff’s mind it was time to move onto another passion of his – painting.

“My mom, also an artist, always told me I could do anything I wanted and encouraged me to do art since as long as I can remember. I have always strived to be able to draw and always wanted to paint. I started painting in 2005 after realising I was often duplicating paintings like Gil Elvgren and Frank Frazetta in the tattoos I was doing.

“I began painting just like I approached tattoos. After doing about 20 paintings I started attending a local art academy – The Southern Oregon Art Academy – in 2006. I would do figure drawing every Thursday morning and paint in the afternoon. I did that once a week for 14 months. It was invaluable to my career.
“I have now been a guest instructor there at the academy and they have produced an oil painting instructional DVD called the Business of Painting. I teach tattoo seminars all over the world and have also taught at the summer art program at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass.

“I have a love for teaching and inspiring artists to reach their own personal potential. I have always believed in the concept of sharing information and furthering the subculture and industry of tattooing and painting – all artistry in general which translates to our role in society. If we aren’t contributing to society then we are consuming it and leaving only waste. I believe we have short lives and we should give everything we can while we are here. I think that it’s our responsibility. I could just hole up in my own world and do art for me, but I prefer to share it both in my own work and in teaching. Sharing information has a far reaching effect on the world around me and inspires more people to do the same. That influence can’t really be measured. I can just be fulfilled knowing that I have mattered to  the people  around me and I have left an impression enough that people want more out of their lives and their art.”

Jeff’s paintings are unique. He takes the usual subjects and transforms them into something completely different. And it is the small subtleties in his work that seem to make the biggest impact.

“My main goal in my art is to have a striking suggestion of things without overdoing or over-rendering all the details. I always want the viewer to play a large role in completing the image with their own imagination. I like to leave things either diffused or off the canvas. I love to bring the viewer in closer than they’d expect, or into a vulnerable place. I also like to display a level of skill that shows expertise without overstating my ability, which comes across as insecurity to me. It would be like a singer hitting their highest note possible in every line of every song. It becomes obnoxious! But every once in a while, hitting a note that sends chills through their listener always impresses and leaves them wanting more. If I could ever achieve that in my art I would die a satisfied man.

“As far as the future? I am teaming up with Gabe Ripley and Mary Bowen, Off The Map Tattoos, which is on the East Coast of the U.S. They will be my shop managers and will help schedule a world class line-up of resident and visiting artists to my studio in Oregon. We are looking forward to hosting small group retreats, art and tattoo workshops and top notch art shows at my gallery. I am gathering a group of friends and colleagues that produce good work and also are interested in playing an influential role in our industry and culture. People like Cory Norris, Nikko Hurtado, Carlos Rojas, Nick Baxter, Jason Butcher, Joshua Carlton, Shigenori Iwasaki, Tomokazu Ikarashi… there are just too many to list them all.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to know some of the world’s best tattooers and am looking to be a catalyst that ignites an industry-wide desire to keep climbing to higher ground. I have produced some DVDs, books, seminars and workshops in the past and love doing those things. I plan on more and am continually formulating new ideas and perspectives that we can look at our trade and move it forward and upward.”

And if anyone can do it, Jeff Gogue is the man. His work ethic and love of the industry make him a powerful and unstoppable force, and by the next time he visits our shores, he is sure to be riding that wave yet again.


From Mr Gogue's Blog (I)

From Mr Gogue’s blog at - what he has to say is so important, I felt it was worth repeating again in print:

October 25, 2011: It’s 4 am on October 25, 2011. I’m in the airport in Rome and my body is tired. I just spent three days with a small group of friends speaking at a conference about staging a rebellion against mediocrity in our field; art and tattoos. I find myself saying it in separate terms though I don’t see the separation. Tattooing is a form of art of course, but the trade of tattooing has meandered through the avenues of the average and the common for most of it’s modern existence. Rome. What an appropriate place in the world to do such a thing; surrounded by the epitome of high standards in art and dedication to one’s craft.

As I walked through the streets, the humorous attempts by vendors to sell trinkets made in china, bobble headed pope statues, disco-style hand-held laser pointers, and plastic miniatures of the colosseum reminded me that the majority of the population remains in the realm of the average and the addicted to mediocrity. Graffiti and trash were everywhere obnoxiously stating that so many people consume and discard, rather than contribute and nurture.


From Mr Gogue's Blog (II)

I’m sitting here with a headache from the two hours sleep I struggled through since I haven’t been here long enough to get over the jet lag, yet I’m heading back home already. I often find myself sort of reveling in being tired. In my case it’s more often the result of being somewhere in the world that most people would say is a trip of a lifetime. I find myself routinely resolving as the plane takes off; that if it goes down in flames, I am satisfied that I have had many many trips of a lifetime, and that my family and friends will know that I tried with all my heart, to live well, to experience more, and to inspire others to do the same.

From Mr Gogue's Blog (III)

My friend (Nick Baxter) was one of the other guest speakers this weekend. I have known him for years and worked alongside him often around the world. I had the privilege of attending his seminar and it is as the rumors have it; it is life changing. He is one of the few people I know that shares the stage of the exceptional, intriguing and inspiring individuals among the masses. Alex Depase, of Italy also ignited a new drive in me to reach for higher ground personally, artistically, and professionally. I was honored to share the stage with Nick, Alex, the world class tattooer, Boris of Hungary, and business leader, Gabe Ripley of Tattoo Now at The Paradise Tattoo Gathering. This was an unprecedented event in the tattoo community. Not open to the public, or to people tattooing; it was a true conference for artists to be challenged to step up to the next level in many facets. I am honored and grateful to be one of the people who got to share my thoughts, perspective and insight, and I feel especially grateful for the immediate return of insight, inspiration, and education I received myself. If you get a chance to attend any event like this in the future, I suggest you do what it takes to make that a reality.

214n W. 6th Street
Grants Pass
OR, 97526


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Jeff Gogue