I've been tattooing for around 12 years now and I've loved it more than I've hated it. There have been times along the way where I felt trapped by it, or bullied around by it, or out of the loop –like I didn't belong or just wasn't good enough or at least as good as I wanted to be. Though there were other times when I felt like I was on top of the world, or better than I really was. There was only one time when I gave it up to do something else; it must have been early 2000 something.
I had just sold a painting with my jizz in it, the jizz wasn't one of the selling points, it just happened that while making the thing I got horny and decided to cum in some cigarette ashes and mix those in with the paint. I have a sneaking suspicion that quite a few artists have done this over the years, that there are many proud owners of Picassos and Basquiats who have the artists unborn kids hanging on their walls, insured for millions upon millions of dollars.
I sold that painting for three-grand and moved from Southern California to San Francisco and did nothing but drink, smoke weed, play video games and paint. I gave up on tattooing. I was crushed by it and I felt trapped –like there was nowhere else for me to go, nothing else I could possibly do to survive.
Tattooing became like a straight jacket, it had been different in Southern California than it was where I started in Pennsylvania and different yet in San Francisco, somewhere along the way I forgot that it was fun, and something I actually enjoyed. I began to despise it, I wasn't privy to the history of it all –that I was standing on the shoulders of giants… I became resentful. In reality I was just really depressed.
I was living with my girlfriend at the time who would eventually become my wife who would eventually become my ex-wife who would eventually never want to speak to me again. The money from my big art career began to run out and I was getting even more depressed just sitting around the house all day fucking-off.
Time hung on my hands with days upon days passing one into the next. I halfheartedly tried a couple of times to find a job tattooing but my heart wasn't in it. I had been tattooing long enough that I had no other tangible skills, which is how I ended up being a holiday helper at Urban Outfitters, this was right around Christmas.
The skies were grey and the San Francisco weather was beating down with torrential downpours and wind that threatened to blast through windows. I'd get those paychecks twice a month, figure out how I was going to pay rent and still manage to live.
Then I'd remember that I made a decent living tattooing, then I'd get drunk or do something else to numb the pain. Urban Outfitters had strict rules that we weren't supposed to drink during business hours, but every lunch break I would make my way down to the Irish pub around the corner, order a snack and a pint of Guinness, doing my part to support that great Irish family, while passively flipping off the job. They never busted me for that but they did bust me for coming in so hungover, that while working at the register and helping an old rich woman who was bitching about something only old rich cunts could possibly bitch about, I started to throw up.
My cheeks filled up and expanded as I did my best to hold it in, like rotten milk in a bottle, the pressure was building and my cheeks were ballooning. With my hand on my mouth, I had to make a dash for the front door, pushing customers aside and letting up all of last nights party on San Francisco's famed trolley tracks.
I got written up with a pink slip and decided it was time to crawl back to tattooing on my hands and knees like the prodigal son. For one; I missed making a living and two, I loved the work. I just had to get away from it for a minute so I could see how great it really was.
Since then I appreciate tattooing and all of the opportunities it provides me with, the crazy shit it allows me to see and the people I meet along the way. Not to say I don't get burned out or frustrated. Though there aren't that many people that can do something for 12 years and still be kept up at night thinking about tomorrow’s project, an idea for a different technique, or what the next day may bring. And for that I am thankful.
But here I am again, away from the craft that gives me a bed to sleep in and food to eat, but I'm older now and hopefully a bit wiser. The throwing up on streets hasn't happened in a long time and I'm thankful for that and I'm okay with it. Tattooing is what's brought me to Vietnam. It's what brought me to 13 countries in the past 14 months. I haven't tattooed since January and I'm beginning to go crazy without it. It provides me with a purpose, a direction, something to focus on and disappear in.
Traveling in these countries with tattoos on your hands and your neck is a different deal, on occasion, people look at me like I have four dicks hanging out of my nostrils. They reach out and they grab me and rub my colored arms and poke my skin. I can never escape the life that I've given to tattooing or the life it's given back to me.
Traveling for the sake of traveling has lost its luster, for some reason though; I still have a determination to keep on keeping on. Europe, Africa, South Africa, Russia, Eastern Europe, Iceland... you name it. If anyone out there has openings, suggestions, conventions or the like, I'd be much obliged to hear about them.
I head out to work in about two weeks at Dynamic Tattoo in Melbourne, Australia and it makes my boy parts get bigger just thinking about it.
Thanks for reading
From, Hue - Central Vietnam 04/2011
(Jason Tyler Grace is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. He can currently be found traveling the world and sometimes at Idle Hand Tattoo in San Fransisco, CA.)
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