Story and photos by Marco Annunziata
Jonathan Shaw couldn't have use better words to introduce Pogo: "Michael was born in a circus tent on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico. The bastard offspring of an itinerant Chicharon farmer and a mentally challenged Tattooed Lady, young Pogo became intrigued with the art of tattooing from an early age. After seeing two pigs copulating behind an abandoned brassiere factory, his first tattoo, inspired by that memorable event, was a surprisingly realistic rendition of a pair of naughty porkers, encircled by a banner reading, MAKIN' BACON...
Marco Annunziata: First of all, why Pogo?
Michael "Pogo" Kortez: It's an ode to Nick Blinko, British lead singer of punk band Rudimentary Peni (Crass Records) and outsider artist. If you don't know his art or his music, you have to look him up. He was detained at a psychiatric hospital and put under psychological analysis. Story has it that he was stuck on the idea that he was Pope Adrian the 37th. A reference to Pope Adrian IV. The first song to the 1995 album "Pope Adrian The 37th Psychristiatric" is POGO POPE.
How did you start tattooing?
I began tattooing my punk rock friends with a really shitty jail house style machine, guitar string and all, but soon dropped that technique after a handful of Tattoos as it wasn't very efficient for me or very sanitary. I really wanted to be good, so I began reading as much history as I could about tattooing and all the old school tattooers such as Sailor Jerry, Ed Hardy, Shanghai Kate, Bob Roberts, Mark Mahoney, Stoney St.Clair, Owen Jensen, Bert Grimm, Cap Coleman, Jack Dracula, Greg Irons, Lyle Tuttle, Paul Rogers, Bob Shaw, Jonathan Shaw, Charlie Wagner and Percy Waters. These are just a few, so many more...
Through reading I found that most tattooers corresponded to each other via mail back in the day. In 1997 I decided to write to Shanghai Kate, an amazing tattooer whose influence on tattooing is undeniable. Through the mail we built a great relationship. She helped guide me in the beginning with what tools to use, what types of ink, what kind of watercolor to use for flash work so on and so forth. She was really the anchor for me. Don't know if I would have kept on this path if it wasn't for her guidance and patience.
So I began painting flash, lots of it! Then I started tattooing myself, then my girlfriend at the time wanted one, then my friends wanted one. I built a decent portfolio and took it to the nearest shop and... I got hired! It wasn't the best shop in the world but it was as good as any to start. From there, I worked at the Tattoo Asylum (Venice Beach) and Santa Clarita Tattoo (I learned so much in the time I spent there), Madison Tattoo (North Hollywood), El Clasico Tattoo (Echo Park) where I still work doing walk-ins, splitting my time between there and Eleven Eleven Tattoo Studio (Los Angeles) where I work by appointment.
At every shop I've worked in, I was lucky to be able to learn a little more, and I continue learning every day. ONCE YOU STOP LEARNING AND THINK YOU'RE TOP DOG, YOU'RE OUT OF THE GAME! I try to always keep that in mind.
What is your favorite style of work?
The thing that brought me to tattooing was the old school tattoos, tattoos that look like tattoos, you know like the ones that grandpa got in the service!
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes from all places, from conversations I have with friends to the way the city looks and feels every day, to even the way the concrete looks! Art has always affected the way I think, talk and feel. The process of creating new works comes from simply living. For example I'll be reading a book and all of a sudden I get a vision and then I have no choice but to paint it! It comes in my dream, while showering, while eating, while walking! It happens all the time, you just have to be aware of it and know that it’s there.
The visions come from some other place, like I'm channeling something from somewhere else. It's something that I have no choice of, but to keep working. It is very important to me to keep working. Everyday needs to be a day well fulfilled, leaving something great behind, something that will inspire others. He who is not busy creating is busy dying!
What is the best advice you could give to aspiring tattoo artists?
Charles Bukowski said it best: "Don't try!"
I believe you're born into this. Any idiot can put pigment into skin, but it takes a lot of hard work, endurance, heart and especially love of the art to do a good solid tattoo that will last a lifetime. It’s not a get rich and famous fast sort of thing. If that's what you're looking for, please stay out!
Do you go to tattoo conventions?
I've been to a few conventions in my time. I intend on maybe doing some more overseas, UK, Spain, Italy and can't forget Japan!
Where can we find you?
Currently, I'm based in Los Angeles, California. If you're looking to get tattooed by me and want to set an appointment, the best way to find me is online. E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook.