The Writing on the Wall - Minka Sicklinger

Published: 07 December, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 219, December, 2012

For me the most interesting kind of interview is not so much a Q&A, but more of a conversation. And there was no easier person to converse with than Minka Sicklinger. The following is a transcript of our discussion; mere days after New York found itself near the heart of Hurricane Sandy. Minka was talking to me from her home in the East Village.

There are a lot of university students in the East Village, and I’ve been stuck out in Brooklyn the last few years, but I’ve finally found a place to move into here. I think New York has kind of had its day now; everyone is sort of waiting for someone else to do something interesting. I feel like a lot of the people are back in the ’80s when New York was in its heyday. There are little bits and pieces coming out but there isn’t really a consolidated movement happening and I think a lot of it is to do with the lack of filters that exist now, because everyone is so busy looking online. People have forgotten to stop and look around them at what is happening first-hand. I love it in the East Village because there are still a lot of strange old characters that have been around for a while, and that’s the really inspiring part.

“There’s a positive and a negative to the internet. Positively, it is incredible to have access to other cultures, to other stimulus that previously you literally had to travel to which was beyond a lot of people’s means. But negatively, everyone is so busy looking at what is going on online, that they forget to stop and have a face-to-face conversation. I sit on a subway, and it used to be that you’d be looking around, you’d strike up a conversation with a stranger, but now everyone is just glued to their screen in front of them. It’s impacted on a lot of social graces; no-one really says what they think or mean all the time. As an artist there is the whole issue of wanting to put your stuff out there because people can access you internationally, but then you have the whole issue of plagiarism; being copied, being ripped off. Once it is out there, it’s a free for all. And I’m still struggling to find a balance with that. It’s scary because on the one hand it forces you to stay on your toes and to keep pushing yourself, but on the other hand you just want people to respect you as an artist; you’re putting your soul out there. There is a lot of taking and not giving back. There’s a whole plethora of people out there who don’t really know their own voice so they are stealing bits and pieces from other people.

“It’s great that you can see people working in different mediums who are really drawing inspiration from things that didn’t necessarily have anything to do with art in the first place, and that’s bringing out this whole new and interesting aesthetic. I think that’s great. The good thing about there being so many people out there is that you really do start to notice the ones that are doing something different. The problem is that it feels like a chase; you have to constantly be staying on top of things because everything is moving so fast. Things are constantly being reinvented. You feel it snapping at your heels. Before you could sit and muse over things, but now once you’ve put something out there you really have to do something better the next time. There’s very much two sides of a coin there, and I feel like I’m constantly oscillating between the two of them. But me personally, I’m the biggest grandma; I find it hard to even email people. I like pen and paper and face-to-face conversations. That’s why I love to tattoo; it’s purely physical.

“A lot of the mystique and the taboos have gone from tattooing because it’s become more widely acceptable; before recent times it was a completely closed circuit. When I was growing up in Australia I was always interested in it, but the industry there was not as prevalent as it is here because it’s so isolated. There is much more of an inclination to the Japanese tattoo culture and the islander tattoo culture, whereas here there was the Sailor Jerry, kind of traditional stuff. No one really had Sailor Jerry tattoos or things like that when I left Australia, they all had tribal or Celtic, but when I went back last year I noticed this dramatic change. A lot of heavily tattooed people, with old school American-style tattoos.

“I was born in Holland. My parents are actually European. Then I moved to Papua New Guinea where I was for the first year of my life. I was looking through some photos of artefacts that my grandma has and I really saw how much of the iconography that I do comes from that. And it’s completely subconscious. 31 years later I’ve suddenly realised that what I saw as a one-year-old child never left my mind. It’s crazy. There were a few Papua New Guinea statues around the house, but that’s it. My parents are quite cultural in the sense that we had some nice art prints, and some old carved European furniture, and we went to a lot of museums when I was younger. But apart from that it wasn’t an artistic upbringing whatsoever. But it was never something that I was really able to share with my parents. My mother was living in Holland when she met my father, and then they moved to Papua New Guinea because my grandfather had started a construction company there, and then when my mother got pregnant she went to Holland to have me. Then we went back to Papua New Guinea, but within a year my father had got work out in Australia so we all went there. My mother’s whole side of the family were still back in Holland, so that was what we did as a family. We were lucky enough as a family to go on holiday to Europe every year.

“I finally got my EU passport, so I’m excited to be able to hopefully do a bit more work/ travel through Europe; maybe even move there at some point. My inclination is to work in Europe in two years because what I see coming out of Europe in tattooing and art in general I love. There are some incredible artists working here, but for me Europe seems much more expansive. Culturally I am really drawn to it.

“Obviously, geographically, you’ve got this real melting pot in Europe. New York is great because you have all these amazing people coming through, but they’re only staying for a short time. It’s very transient here. I’ve been here five-and-a-half years now. Career-wise I was doing very different things back then, and it was fun to party and live the New York lifestyle. Now I just want to make art. I want to have my career. I have an incredible client-base who are mind-blowingly supportive. But what I like about Europe is that you can get on a train and then be in a completely different country that is just as valid as the one you left, whereas here you have New York, LA, San Francisco, but then you have all these little cities which are great, but they don’t have that same kind of impetus or density that each major city in each country in Europe seems to have. I feel there is more opportunity there, and I think when the economy fell a few years ago the US really suffered. Artistically it made a lot of people shrink back and wait for somebody else to do something, because nobody really had the means to take a risk.

“I’m at the point where I’ve had to make that sacrifice of leaving financial stability and instead focus on my art. If I really want to get there I need to be in ‘artist brain’ continuously. If you are someone that is driven consistently, and your art is your life, then you have to make that happen. I realised I couldn’t do those blue-collar jobs anymore. I got to that point where I figured I wouldn’t be able to express myself artistically in the way that I needed to, if I was going to have to work some other job just to pay the rent. I do think it’s important that people should have some kind of experience of ‘blue-collar’ jobs, or whatever you want to call them, and I see so many people who haven’t had to do them and I feel they’re at some kind of disadvantage. But for me I finally reached that point where I wasn’t able to split my energy anymore. You can’t half-ass things.


Eastside Ink

97 Ave B (between E6th & E7th St)
New York

+1 (212) 477-2060

+1 (646) 510-4378


Text: Tom Abbott; Photography: Minka