The Width of a Circle - Math

Published: 25 June, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 213, June, 2012

As ever, stumbling across things you love by accident is far more pleasing than when somebody puts it beneath your nose and tells you how great they thought it was. Such is the case with Math. Evil genius or brilliant scientist? That’s for you to decide… make the discovery.

Normally, with a look into an artist’s life, it’s good to begin with a grounding in that person – possibly to get you more acquainted with them and endear them to you. It struck me that in some instances – this one particularly – that’s not totally necessary. If ever there was a man who preferred to let his work do the talking, it’s Math. So we dispensed with the pleasantries and got down to the very important business of style and substance.

With an apprenticeship in Toulouse, I’m curious as to whether there was any big difference to what you would have expected to doing one here in the UK.

“Yes, I did apprentice in Toulouse and I can only tell from what I’ve learnt since that it was what you’d expect from an apprenticeship. The way I see it, all traditional apprenticeships are the same – you learn the basics; setting up, breaking down, cleaning the shop, etc. So fundamentally the basics are universal regardless of location. Apprenticeships are supposed to keep you focused, teach you to respect the industry and ensure that you are there for the right reasons. There are obviously exceptions though.

“I was taught that, as a tattooist you have to be able to do all basic styles, so you should be able to do everything and anything within reason. For example, if somebody came to me and asked for something which is not my forte, then I would rather hand them over to somebody else. Luckily at The Circle, we have an eclectic range of tattooists who specialise in all styles. As for ‘my style’; if people come to me for a tattoo, then they have usually seen my work, and I am fortunate in that people trust my style and judgement so they let me have free reign.”

Do you find that you get bundled in with the ‘Art Brut’ tag? Personally, I think that tag is a misnomer, but when it’s used, you always know what ‘sort’ of thing people are talking about. Would you agree with that? Are you happier for your style to remain undefined and for it simply to be ‘one of your pieces’?

“I don’t like to be labeled or to be categorised in that way, but I appreciate that people need some kind of reference and to put labels on something to describe what I do. They add me to the Art Brut tag because that’s maybe what I show the most. I don’t care if it’s ‘undefined’ or ‘one of my pieces’; I’m just doing my job. ”

Would I be way off course by saying that Yann Black’s legacy plays something of a part in your own genesis?

“Of course he plays a part. He started the whole heavy graphic blackwork style 15 years ago, and that was an eye opener for how that style can be effective and work as a tattoo. So he opened a path to a different style of tattooing. What I do is definitely different, but he was obviously an influence.”

Does your style owe something to graffiti? That’s something I read somewhere, but that seems rather simplistic – and probably comes from some of the ‘running ink’ people can see. Is there actually and influence or is it – as I think – a simple development of style.

“I always liked graffiti, particularly stencil work, so when I started tattooing I looked into it further, but it wasn’t really a development or progression, as I was using the ‘running ink’ elements from the start. I felt that it would make the tattoo flow better while contrasting the heavy blackwork with the negative spaces.”

Here’s a good question for you – it can probably be aimed at many, but I’ll ask you – whenever I begin to write, the more absorbed I get in the piece I’m working on, the more my brain relaxes and develops other ideas on totally different projects; is that something you find also? What I’m trying to get at here, is to nail down inspiration. Does it come from a solid source or is it, as I like to think, a matter of swimming in the pool so often that things just arrive… a connective flicking of switches in your head? The more you use it, the more worn those paths become to these places…

“It’s not a case of flicking switches, but I have base influences which I always return to. I’m always open to, and looking for, new influences. It’s important to be receptive to other things, and try to incorporate new things. Sometimes I don’t realise when influences or inspiration have crept in until I look back at a piece and recognise an element in it.”

As a tattoo artist, do you think you’re even halfway to being as good as you think you might be, or do you not work like that? Are you quite happy to find yourself wherever you may be with no looking backwards or forwards?

“If you ever get to a point where you think you’re the best you can be, then you need to stop altogether. You always have to look back at your work and see where you could have done better. Being open to criticism is very important, and you should be your harshest critic. Every day you have to do the best you can, but always knowing you can get better.”

Do you get much time to work on your own art these days, or is it as much a case of carving out the time otherwise you’d never do anything?

“I don’t consider myself an artist. I’m a tattooist first and foremost. When I have time, I do give it a go, because it can help my work evolve, but I’m far from being able to produce works of ‘art’. You have to make time to do other things, otherwise you just close yourself up to other forms of expression.”

Finally, what’s the deal with your clothing line? Those are some nice, subtle designs you’ve got going on there. Popular? The ‘little detail tags’ that you’ve added recently, really step up the perception. Nice work! Care to expand on the clothing line for us?

“My clothing line, Blackmail Clothing, is something I started with my friend, Paul Jackson (Tank.axe.love). The plan was to design clothes that we, ourselves, would want to wear, and we’ve tried to stick with that basic frame of mind. All the imagery is influenced by things that we grew up with, such as old metal band artwork. The Blackmail detail tag is something we’ve started to add to new collections, to create more of a brand and an image to go with it.”

…I lied. Really finally… how are you fixed at the moment with appointments? What sort of waiting lists are we looking at, or do you tend to keep yourself free enough to work off-the-cuff as much as possible?

“I do have a waiting list but I try to leave space for other projects and walk-ins. However, I don’t have a lot of free time at the moment because I’ve just opened The Circle in Soho and that’s taking up the majority of my time. The main concept behind the shop was to incorporate all the creative elements, interests and influences that revolve in the industry and the lifestyle of our clients. We’ve got an amazing collection of artists, and together with my business partner and friend, Ashley Jagdeo, we are creating something more than just a tattoo studio. We are sourcing clothing lines and artists all the time to expand the retail aspect of the business.

“Currently we stock original art pieces, screen prints, ceramics, mens clothing and accessories. Moving forward it would be great to hold tattoo-inspired skate decks and maybe even some custom cycles! The other main part of the business is laser removal, so we have a licensed practitioner to remove tattoos or tone them down for cover-ups on site full-time – something not many studios have now-a-days, even though it makes absolute sense.”

The Circle

21 Noel Street
Soho
London
W1F 8GP
02077 343499

Credits

Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Math

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