Tattoo Artist Magazine

By Bj Johnson


The meaning behind the madness… I have been making things my entire life. I was never a conscious choice, it simply flowed naturally and automatically from my skills, my interests and my passion. For me, creating is innate.  I cannot not create. I finally made a career of my art in 1997 when I began tattooing. Tattooing is creative and experiential, but I found I still needed to build tangible things as well, so I soon gravitated to investigating the mechanics of building tattoo machines. Creating custom tattoo machines from scratch was wildly fulfilling, and naturally I wanted to set my work apart from others. To do this, I turned to other forms of metal art. I took a couple jewelry making classes at GVSU and was introduced to the metalsmithing craft.  I became addicted to this new medium immediately.  However the constraints of tattoo machine mechanics would not allow for exploration of all these wonderful tricks and techniques the metalsmithing world offered, so I began making little sculptures. These small scale sculptures were simply physical forms based on ideas and emotions I had, but I never went in any specific direction with them.  It was just playing.


I have also always loved symbolism.  Wanting my work to have deeper meaning and layers, I began researching.  All the paintings of the old masters are rife with symbolism.  Each element in their paintings was there for a reason.  I loved this and began to search for ways to include symbolism in my own work. All of this became a explosion of purpose when I thought of making my monster sketches into three-dimensional pieces.  Through my research I found that historically, “Monsters symbolize the guardian of a treasure.  In other words, they symbolize the sum of difficulties to be overcome and of obstacles to be surmounted if in the end this material, corporeal or spiritual treasure is to be won.” [1]


To an artist who romanticizes the alchemists and forms of transformation shrouded in secrecy, this realization was pure gold!  What I took from this was: If you want the treasure, you have to overcome what is in your way. This what we all face everyday, overcoming our own demons in order to reach that next step toward… well, whatever it is we are walking toward. For me, “Let the old man die, and the new man live,” summarizes the symbolism of the monster. Last December I set out on a one-year project of creating monsters to serve as both reminders and hopeful goals of personal growth and self mastery.  Each monster would depict either a behavioural trait or habit, an internal limiting belief system or any external barrier that must be destroyed so that I can possess my desired treasure.  Through the process of creating these pieces, I hoped to identify and or reflect on what is or is still holding me back - emotionally, intellectually, creatively.  Through the creation of each monster, I hoped to vanquish him, destroying each barrier and capturing my treasure.  Using an alchemist’s metaphor as the springboard, I am seeking to transform lead into gold.


While I did not meet my original one-year deadline, I did confront a number of my own monsters in this process, making art and expanding myself at the same time.  I still need to destroy that monster guarding focus and consistency! “Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure.” ~ Maria Rainer Rilke BJ "SOBA" Johnson is a tattooer, custom tattoo machine builder, and mixed-media artist in West Michigan.  He has been involved in the tattoo industry since 1997.  He enjoys cats, craft beer, hip-hop music, and cartoons.  That was probably too much information.

[1] (Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols 1996. Page 667)


Written by 25486278 — December 06, 2013

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