Buddy System - Max Shoberg at Red Rocket Tattoo, New York

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

Last issue, we hooked up with Adam Hays at Red Rocket – being just and fair people, when Max Shoberg poked his head around the corner, we bagged him too. In for a penny…

Max Shoberg at Red Rocket Tattoo has been tattooing for three-and-a-half years now and he’s still trying to find his own voice – a voice that took an unexpected turn towards black & grey when he moved to New York.

Coming out of high school, the now 25 year old Max Shoberg was already tattooed. The interest was there and he wanted to start his career pretty much right away. Which turned out to be a mistake; “we moved out of my hometown to this small place and I went to Rockland Community College to improve my grades. At the time, this guy was handing out apprenticeships where you could pay to learn and I thought that was totally sick, but I ended up working for some junkie. I didn’t learn anything and pretty much lost seven months out of my life. But it was a wake-up call for me, that if I want to do something I should do it the right way. That’s when I decided I was going to focus on art, get good tattoos and the cosmos would work it out”

His significantly more serious tattooing career started after he got into art school in New York City, still residing in and commuting daily from his small upstate town. “They had a custom shop there called Explicit Tattoo. They were known to be the shit in that town, so I immediately went there to get tattooed and it became my hang out spot since nobody wanted to drive all the way up there to hang out. I was commuting back and forth from the city and when I got back it was always pretty late. I’d go to the shop as they were finishing up and they’d show me what they’d done. After a while it got very real that I would eventually tattoo.”

When the question one day came, there was also very little hesitation. “There was this guy, Orrin Hurley, working there. He told me he had some plans in the works and was wondering if I was serious about tattooing. I told him I’d think about and get back to him the day after, but I think I called back two hours later and told him I was going to drop out of school and everything,” he says with a laugh. And so his serious apprenticeship started – with a six months road trip. “It was kind of a weird scenario. Since he was leaving the shop we spent the first half-year on the road, at conventions, at a guest spot or in his house or a weird office he found from where he could tattoo. He knew I knew the deal, though. He wasn’t like a ‘scratcher’. He was serious about it and I saw value in that, so wherever he told me to be, I went. “After the road trip Max and his master ended up in a studio in Rockland County called Monster Ink, where he made an acquaintance of great importance for his future career. “There were a couple of apprentices there, among others, Kyle Sajban, who works here at Red Rocket as well. He’s always been like seven months ahead of me, so it’s been kind of a buddy system. He’d check in on me and it’s especially funny to be able to link up three years later, in the same shop.”

An overflow of tattoo artists in Rockland County made the health department say no to having more, so once it was time for Max Shoberg to “get on skin”, he started tattooing in a shop in a neighbouring county, owned by the singer of his band. Three years later he found himself in New York and the buddy system took effect again. “I came down without any idea of how I was going to work. I just saved some money and thought it’d work itself out. I wasn’t really looking for a job since I’d heard all the places were full. I just wanted a shop with friends where I could go, hang out and do some drawings. Then I helped the guys at Red Rocket move in to their new place and I always joke about that being my secret interview. “Hey, remember when I helped you move?” After that Kyle helped me by setting up interviews and so on, and after I went to all of them, he asked me if I wanted a job with them,” he says, again with a big laugh.

When it comes to styles, Max claims he’s still figuring himself out. As any trained eye can see, there are a lot of cartoon influences in his art, something that apparently had evaded the artist himself. “I was wondering about style for a really long time before I tried to put it out of my mind, thinking my style would find me. Then the other night I told my girlfriend I wanted to start doing some cartoon stuff and she said: “All you do is cartoony. What did you think was going on?” I said I thought I was a super realist. Although I did go to school to become a comic book artist, so I don’t know…”

Another laugh escapes him before he continues explaining his artistically focused soul-searching. “I had this guy I’ve been getting tattooed by in Los Angeles critique my portfolio about a year ago and he told me it was hard to give me critique since I was still figuring out my voice, if I even have a voice. Since then I’ve been on a sort of search within and search without to find out what I’m into, and it’s actually pretty exciting just being on a path.” A path that’s surprisingly led him onto black and grey.

“I never thought that would ever happen. I always thought I’d be doing full colour, completely saturated, traditional new school and cartoony, really intense stuff. But going over to LA to get tattooed and seeing all this beautiful black & grey west coast style and then work in a shop where all these people want huge tattoos done in a short amount of time, black and grey started happening more and more.”

Red Rocket Tattoo

78 West 36th Street
3rd floor New York
10018 USA
+1 212 736 3001


Text: Simon Lundh; Photography: Simon Lundh & Red Rocket Tattoo