By Gunnar Gaylord
There’s a line that goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got 'til it's gone.” I think at some point whether it's due to a broken relationship, a lost loved-one or something as small as losing a pair of sunglasses it's a relevant statement. But I recently realized that sometimes you don’t don’t know what you had 'til you open your eyes and mind and discover it...
Over the last few years I had really dialed my travels back. I have been tattooing for nearly 15 years so there was a point where I just got burnt out. The conventions and the industry started to become a dog-and-pony show. It seemed the industry was more fashion and ego, and less about the value of camaraderie and discovery.
To me it seemed that it was more important to be seen then to see what was happening around us. Anyone who has been a part of this industry for more than 10 years and maybe as early as five years, can tell you how much tattooing and its community has changed.
TV shows and a new-found popularity lead to a wave of new artist with very little insight into the history of tattooing or some of the ethics and honor long affiliated with this industry. For a while I got really cynical about the whole thing, I’d be lying if I said I no longer felt like I wanted to be a part of it.
Recently, I began to witness a positive change. I first noticed it when artists began to rally against the TLC Tattoo School program. This was one of the first times I personally witnessed “us” coming together as a community.
Sure there were artists that opposed it or were just apathetic, however a lot of people worked hard to protect our industry/community from the outside world.
For me that event did two things. The first one being, I realized the tattoo community could work together and be a community again and maybe diverge from the selfish, rockstar mentality some people were buying into.
Secondly, I realized that all my venom and anger I was spitting wasn’t changing shit. Sure I was passionate and I had a message to share, but my means of conveyance got my point no further past my teeth. What I concluded from this is that I wanted to do something to keep our industry positive and I needed a better way to do it.
It was at this point that I knew in order for me to become a part of this community again and keep it moving forward in a positive manner... I HAD TO CHANGE MYSELF.
I decided one of the best things I could do was to ingrain myself in my community. I decided to not separate myself and realized it was time to become more open-minded. I needed to stop, and begin listening to and socializing with individuals that I may have not interacted with in the past.
Hell City, Pheonix seemed the perfect forum for me to apply my new-found changes. And what an amazing turn of events it created. When I arrived I had already been in the motion of making changes within myself. I began rebuilding bridges by sucking up some foolish pride and laying to rest some old bitterness that just wasn’t working for me any longer.
But I also began to start dialogue with artists that I had previously never given more than a head nod to. Not only was I fully engaged in what people around were me were saying, but the demeanor with which I was treated was completely different. The experiences and new-found friendships I formed were amazing and enlightening.
One of my favorite moments of the trip happened on a day after the show had shut down. Some of the artists had stayed a little longer at the resort to decompress. I had plans to meet up with Sean Herman at the pool, to hang out and get some feedback on the work I have been creating and we were joined by Nick Baxter and Jeremiah Barba.
Here were four guys from different parts of the country, different life experiences and different artistic styles, really at the time I thought our only commonality was tattooing. But that day we discussed more than tattooing, we shared stories, ideas, beliefs and it was amazing to find out just how much we had in common and it was our passion for tattooing that helped us really relate.
This is a relationship I have a hard time having where I live. Far too often, inter-town drama, egos, style and jealousy keep local tattoo shops from engaging in conversation or creating art together. Too often we look to our difference to separate us.
Maybe that’s part of the individualistic nature of this counter-culture. But what a shame it can be to miss out on new friendships, learning experiences and maybe getting to meet someone who has as much passion about tattooing as yourself.
It's difficult for the outside world to comprehend the passion an artist feels, trust me I have tried to share this for years. So it only makes sense that we start to drop some of our barriers and begin to embrace those people that do.
Sure it may sound like free-love-hippie talk. But this paradigm shift in my own personal thinking has not only helped me feel more content about the direction the tattoo community could head, it has also helped me feel less alone in an industry I once felt so distant from.