Matt Gone Interview – Through the Modified Looking Glass

Matt Gone Interview

I was born with birth defects and the tattoos both hide them and keep me from hating my body because of them. This project took fourteen years of my life and cost about $42,000 — $20,000 of which I earned as a dishwasher. If anyone says they cannot afford tattoos, they just are not serious.

- Matt Gone

I first found out about Matt Gone when he emailed me a friendly hello some time ago. Since then, he has made appearances on Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Rikki Lake show. And quite deservingly so — his tattoo work is extensive and inspired (including self done genital and anal tattooing), incorporating a central theme of checkerboards which he has taken beyond the surface of his body and onto the objects around him; including his home. You can see his work and learn more about him at

While I have not had the pleasure of meeting Matt in person, we have a regular email correspondence and via this he was gracious enough to allow me to conduct an interview with him for BME.


Give us the quick biographical run down on yourself.

My name is Matt Gone. I’m thirty-three, was born in Manhattan, and have lived in five states since then. I grew up in a single parent home and have had no living relatives since I was sixteen.

You have embarked upon what might be called a “lifestyle aesthetic”, in that you have taken a design motif (the checkerboard) and integrated it into your life as part of not only items like your house but also onto your body — was this planned from the start or something that evolved?

This was planned. I got the idea from playing with graph paper that I was designing my tattoos on. This was in 1988 — I had been getting tattooed since 1984. 1988 was the year I decided I wanted to be fully covered.

What came first — the tattoos or ‘checkerboarding’ things around you?

The checkers came first. Things just grew after that.

On your website you refer to the checkerboard as the central concept of your tattoo work. This patterning is also sometimes referred to as chessboard by some. I would guess it is all a matter of perspective and which game is more relevant to the person speaking. Is either game or the symbolism of the boards significant to you?

I’m one of those old cranks that prefer checkers. I like the op-art look of checkers more. They give things a clean look.

You have undergone and incredible amount of time to achieve your bodysuit over the last fourteen years. Describe any particularly memorable sessions or milestones for you.

Sailor Moses tattooed me nine times for an average of eight hours each session just before he died in 1997. I would travel to Biloxi, Mississippi by Greyhound bus and get tattooed and make the last bus home. There would be no sleep for forty hours for me due to the travel and my work schedule. Moses was my favorite artist. I was never stronger.

My favorite tattoo memory was getting tattooed by Roy Boy Cooper in the Badlands of Gary, Indiana when I was sixteen. He did the skeleton rip on my right side. Roy
Boy is the most badass tattoo artist I ever met. He tattooed most of my early pieces (sixteen to eighteen years old). He is responsible for a lot of my enthusiasm for my bodysuit. Visit!

Your website includes a link to a site about Polands Syndrome and you also mention there that you were born with birth defects which the tattoos not only help to cover but also allow you ‘not to hate’ your body. Tell us about Polands Syndrome as it relates to you and the motivation for your body modification.

I am missing my left major pectoral and my left lower biceps. The combination gives me a weak left arm and side. I have curvature of the spine from the lack of muscle. The left shoulder area is always in pain and I am off balance a bit and walk kinda funny. Many people with my condition are embarrassed to take off their shirts in public or in private. The pain is both physical and mental. My left arm is a little shorter. Other complications from Polands syndrome are gastrointestinal distress of unknown types. Things may be missing or malformed internally and never properly diagnosed…

My guts HURT. Doctors only guess.

Polands was named after Sir Alfred Poland in the 1880’s and it usually involves the missing of a chest muscle and further defects of the arm on the same side. I was lucky — my fingers were fine. I’m just weak on one side. I cannot sleep on the same side of my defect because of the lack of padding. There are only six thousand people on the planet with Polands and no two are the same. We are all at risk for many other serious health problems. Life has a totally different perspective if you are born with defects. Polands is caused by an interruption of the blood supply to the fetus on the forty-sixth day of incubation. My mother was a hemophiliac and I think that’s what caused it for me.

To quote from your website, “This website is not intended to inspire people. It should make people realize how difficult it is to tattoo a whole body.”

Despite you not intending to do so, many people may very well be inspired by the extent of your dedication to tattooing and your use of tattooing to appreciate your body rather than hate it. What is your feeling or response towards people who say you are an inspiration?

Pay me. Ha. I have had a lot of handicapped people nearly in tears after seeing me on Ripley’s and it is beautiful. My “art” ain’t that great. It’s good, but it just ain’t all that. Whatever works to inspire people. My photos inspire a lot of people to masturbate also. A compliment is a compliment.

You have recently made appearances on Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Rikki Lake Show. How would you describe these experiences, have you enjoyed working with pop culture media? Do you feel that you were treated fairly and accurately portrayed?

I was underpaid by Ripley’s. That pissed me off. They manipulated some of the perspective of the segment by editing it down to a simpler viewpoint. Same with the Rikki Lake Show — she mainly asked me about my genital-anus tattoos and they cut that part out of the show.

I have been in over forty tattoo magazines, five newspapers, the 700 Club, Cheri magazine, some music videos, three commercials — one a major Southern Comfort ad campaign worldwide — and there is a small internet market in pictures of me. I like the publicity. It makes me money and gets me laid. My life would have sucked more without the attention it got me.

You are not a performer or a working professional in the body modification industry (piercer or tattoo artist) — the career paths many would assume are the only options for the heavily modified. How has your experience with the job market and society in general been affected by your tattooing?

I got lucky in my current job. I have been a chef in the French Quarter in New Orleans for ten years. I am in a dead end job and my future looks rather bleak economically. I want to tattoo my face — and would have, but I would lose my current job. The prospect of ever making any real money or having a less crappy job seems to be limited because of my tattooing. I am too old to be homeless and dependent on others. I have no real hope for the future anymore. The thing is, it probably has nothing to do with my tattoos. There are tens of millions of people with no tattoos who are stuck economically.

I noticed on your site that you have experimented with using markers for a temporary effect of facial tattooing. Given the potential repercussions, what is the allure of tattooing your face? Simply completing the design or is there more to it?

That the art of the design is so technically challenging to me is the reason behind my drive to
tattoo my face. Also, the artistic dilemma of doing something versus not doing something. The fact that I cannot do it makes me want to. I designed it to include my face eventually. I cannot do it because of employment and I have a technical issue of how the checkers will age. The corners will blow apart too. They have all over my body. That is a negative side effect of checker tattoos.

Would you recommend or encourage others to get tattooed to a similar degree?

Depends on the person, but I would never encourage anyone to get any tattoo, no matter what size, unless it was a special circumstance. I stay out of the encouragement game as much as possible. The thing is, you still have to face yourself after you do it and either you wear the bodysuit or you lie to yourself and it wears you. You have to live with this shit. The process is too much to get over mentally.

When you are done — even you are “in progress,” Erik — it takes time to get away and let your life heal and separate the experience and the art from the process. Ten to fifteen years of pain and poverty is too much for most people. It was simpler for me because I have birth defects and will spend 99% of my fucking life in pain. I mean, both mental and physical pain. I’m already dead. There was nothing to lose for me.

How do you feel about the word ‘freak’?

I’m Jewish, bald, and short too. It’s just a word to me.

Sound off on anything you would like.

Where are the women with bodysuits? Why won’t they return my phone calls? All people with completed or near completed bodysuits contact me! We will form a secret society!

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2003 LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published Drcember 3rd, 2003 by LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.

One thought on “Matt Gone Interview – Through the Modified Looking Glass

  1. Pingback: BME: Tattoo, Piercing and Body Modification News » ModBlog » The Three Mod Amigos

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