Old England - Jesse Rayner at Electric Vintage, Bath

Published: 07 November, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 218, November, 2012

The Hobgoblin, Bath. My pub of choice. A line of skulls hangs along the top of the bar; a line written above the urinals reads ‘Fuck, I just pissed on the floor reading the walls’. I feel comfortable in this place; I can go in there in whatever mood.

So it seemed fitting that the first interview I do for Skin Deep to be based in my hometown of Bath is in The Hobgoblin. And it’s with Jesse Rayner of Electric Vintage, the tattoo shop just opposite the entrance to the pub.

“I grew up in Kingston, South London. It’s a good place, a little bit rough. I had some great friends. I listened to a lot of hip hop, hung with the guys from Rarekind, and got pretty heavily into graffiti. Between Portsmouth and Brighton I’d do a lot of trackside painting between these districts. Mainly illegal stuff. I had a lot of friends who were getting to 18/ 19 and spending all their money on paint and markers, and looking for ways to get paid for their art. A few of them took the tattoo route, but it didn’t occur to me at first to take a similar path until I started getting tattooed myself.

“When it came to that, I didn’t go down the route of buying a machine and tattooing myself at home. I was really into graphic art and line drawings, so I’d already built up a portfolio. A lot of people I knew were doing Mexican-style artwork, all that side of things. Mexican themed skulls, girls, and street art was massive at the time, so I kind of followed the crowd with that for a while. For about two years I didn’t really know what style I was doing; I was doing just everything and painting as much as I could, drawing whenever I had the time. It’s only in the last six months or so that I’ve really found what I want to do in tattooing.

“It used to be that people would stick with their own style, but it seems now that people are more likely to go with trends. For example, dot work and bold traditional at the moment is very in. So you learn to move with the times. A couple of years ago people were doing Japanese, now they’re doing neo-traditional.”

I was curious to find out if Jesse felt there were a few artists around the world that were dictating these trends. “There are a few artists out there that people rush to their style quite quickly. Valerie Vargas and Simon Erl blew up big last year, and for good reason; their stuff is solid, clean and really well done. Americans doing new school, animation based work, has really caught on recently and there’s some awesome work coming out of Poland as always; Adrian Edek and that crew. The ink shows in America haven’t had any effect on the style, what they’ve done is just mainstream tattooing even more, and I think that hype is finally over. Everyone’s over it and getting down to business now.

“When I was first getting tattooed, I was just going in and picking out a piece of flash from the wall. I remember going in once and the guy told me I had five minutes to pick out a design or get the fuck out! So I ended up getting some nasty horrible thing because I was young and scared of the big bad tattoo man and just really wanted a tattoo, which I’m now getting lasered off. I spent about a year getting heavily tattooed before I really knew anything about it. So I regret a lot of that, and I’m getting a lot of lasering done at the moment, which includes a full back tattoo… it’s a painful time in my life, but you learn from it.”

I asked him to explain his apprenticeship to me.

“I picked up a machine within a couple of weeks. I was very much thrown in at the deep end. A lot of it didn’t go so well at the beginning. Various kinds of bribery… if you give me this I’ll teach you that or whatever, and then they wouldn’t actually teach you. It was pretty rough for a while. But yeah, it was very much ‘here’s the machine, this is how you do it, tattoo on some mates’. I was definitely thrown in at the deep end. But I thank them for that.

“You bite the bullet. It’s get good or get out. So I bit the bullet. It was very old school. It wasn’t all bad by any means. I mean, I’ve learnt to tattoo. I was doing that for a few years. I had some moments of doubt throughout it. Where I was, the people that wanted to help you, wanted to poach you for other shops. So people were moving around constantly, there was no sense of consistency. I gave up my whole life for it though, so I kept going back, I wanted it so badly. It wasn’t an option to me that I wasn’t going to make it. So I threw my whole life on the line.

“I do wish my apprenticeship had been different, but I wouldn’t be where I am now without it, so all I got is thanks for those who put the time in. They know who they are. Some people get good stories out of them and some people get bad. I guess I got it somewhere in the middle. I suppose that taking the rough with the smooth sculpts you as a person and I believe that makes a good work ethic. Where I am now, we all get along. And we all get along with our tattooing. There’s no bullshit, no politics. And we have some fun. I try not to get involved in the politics anymore.”

Jesse, based in Swindon, now makes the daily trip to Bath where he presently works with Chantale Coady at Electric Vintage. “Bath is expensive. It’s a lot cheaper for me to live in Swindon and make that commute, plus there’s a fairly big graffiti scene and we ain’t too far from Bristol, so I’m loving it. I love it in Bath though. Like I said, all the tattooers around here just get down to work. I feel like I’ve found my home here. We get a lot of customers. There’s Broad Street which is filled with great artists. And I have my focus on new school and Japanese work, and I just keep getting more and more work. It’s a great atmosphere.

“From a promotional point of view, I’m not comfortable with promoting myself. I put all my tattoos on people, and the word has spread around. So now I’ve got people coming from all over the place, but I don’t know how – I’m not putting it up on the internet, I guess other people may be. So that’s great. I’m happy with that. But generally I shy away from getting everything I’ve done up on the internet, and it’s worked out fine for me.

“I work my ass off now. I just have this endless hunger to advance my style. So I’ll often come in on my days off if there’s a particular tattoo I feel really passionate about doing. I will put all my free time into it. I don’t think there’s anything else I’ll ever do… well, besides painting, but old habits never die.

“I’d love to pack a bag and do some on-the-road tattooing – definitely the States. I’d love to work New York; Daredevil Tattoo, for example. It would be nice to meet new people, do a bit of networking. I like to travel. I’m never in more than one place so it gets stressful. That might change now I’m at Electric Vintage. It’s just the right set-up. And my lifestyle living out in the sticks near Swindon really suits me too.”

I asked Jesse if he was still involved with graffiti. “I’ve kind of eased off it. Pretty much for legal reasons! It was crazy some of the stuff we got up to and probably shouldn’t try to go down that route again. They caught up with us eventually. It’s not something I want to go too much into. A set of friends of mine from London are still doing it, they’re still not getting caught, but it’s pretty crazy. But I’ve found a legal way of carrying on doing my art… I found some friends in Swindon/ Bristol that do legal-based painting. I’d like to do more public spaces where you don’t have to worry about the law. I’m really enjoying that. I think the term ‘street art’ has killed it big time. The division of graffiti and street art, in my opinion, is quite big, as you can control and prep for a piece choosing colours and just basically showing the skills you’ve worked hard to acquire with graffiti. This is a little different from cutting out a stencil of a police officer pissing up a wall and telling everyone it’s art because its edgy. You just can’t compare.”

Jesse was on a break from a large traditional sleeve he was working on across the road, and it was getting to the point where he had to get back to his client, so I asked him if he had any final words. “I want to say a big thanks to Chantale and Sara, who run our shop, and all my writer friends who are still about. Big thanks to Danielle; I wouldn’t be here without her. Massive props to the Raw crew and all they’re doing in Wiltshire for the kids. And a big one to NT gang for the past times. All the others know who they are.”

Electric Vintage

14a Westgate Buildings
01225 789911


Text: Tom Abbott; Photography: Jesse


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