Jacki Randall is a self-taught artist and tattooist working at her shop Charm City Tattoo in Baltimore. She’s had shows at the Harrisburg Museum of Art, Pendragon & Fontanne Galleries, the Nat’l Cathedral College of Preachers, and other venues, and her publications have been widely seen including in International Tattoo Art, On Our Backs, and Independent Biker, and she’s been publishing lesbian-themed cartoons professionally for twenty-seven years now. You can see a porfolio of her tattoos on BME, as well as visiting her at Charm City Tattoo.com. In this age of slickly presented superstar artists like Kat Von D (with all due respect to Kat’s
BME: Have you always been an artist?
My mother had saved a drawing of our Amazon Parrot I made at eighteen months… I don’t recall doing it, but I don’t ever remember not drawing.
BME: What did your mother think of tattooing and how did you get into it?
My parents had a very biased, narrow view of tattoos and tattooing. They didn’t understand it at all.
Over the years I’ve become personally acquainted with their stereotypes, but I don’t identify with them.
As a kid I’d see tattoos sporadically. Like most parents, my folks tried to protect me from interesting things. In elementary school, I was the one handed the marker and begged to draw the skull and dagger on your arm. My attention wasn’t focused on tattooing till one day as a teenager I realized I had to have one.
BME: Tell me about your first tattoo?
I was working on a surrealistic painting, having been dazzled for the first time by Max Ernst & Man Ray, and needed a planet to balance the continuity. I loved the asteroid belts of Saturn, but not the planetary association with hardship, restriction, limitation, status quo. What I embraced were the qualities represented by Uranus; genius, revolution, invention, electricity. So I put Uranus in my painting, giving this planet asteroid belts. Two weeks later UPI radio news broadcasted that an asteroid belt had, in fact, been discovered around Uranus. So there’s tattoo #1…
BME: What made you decide to start tattooing people?
Initially the idea of being so intimate and personal with strangers put me off, but as I got older and became adequately spooky, saw past it and connected with the sacred underlining. Money is no reason to devote your life to anything. Greed ruins every and anything.
Before actively engaging in tattooing, I studied whatever I could get my hands on regarding disease control. I’d known AIDS casualties, and the ugly probabilities scared the hell out of me. I was living in Frisco at the time. I found tattoos by artists and now-obscure books particularly inspiring.
I nearly burned my place down building and sterilizing needles. Some company put out this cheap slab jig, and I used that and upholstery thread (with my teeth) to build needles. I destroyed three perfectly good soldering guns. My partner had to leave the apartment for hours at a time. That was OK…we were on the same block as the Bathhouse.
My cartoon ‘Urban Hell’ (above) is patterned very closely after my apartment building. Those people were real.
The spooky thing about cartoons is who and what they conjure up. SoMa’s where the speaking canvasses started approaching me. Painting and drawing can be lonely, so it was a refreshing change.
This provided a good place to be underground, the cover was so flamboyant.
BME: Who are your influences?
An incomplete list of influences include Maxfield Parrish, Ub Iwerks, Greg Irons, Spain, Rick Griffin, Romaine Brooks, Imogene Cunningham, Claude Monet, Lalique, Tiffany, Mucha, Warhol, Solanis, Holzer, Thompson, Cayce, Vivien, Barney, Cookie Mueller, Robin Morgan; of course, music & film, etc…. Especially music – must have good music for tattooing.
In tattooing the finest illumination happens when you’re in the zone where the work speaks to you, as in any art.
BME: What sorts of tattooing do you most enjoy?
I enjoy anything I can use as a vehicle. Bizarre and intelligent clients are the most fun.
Beautiful subject matter is always desireable. Most of my fun pieces were drafted on the spot; Winnie the Shit, DeathChef, Bongstoner, Notre Dyke, PMS Skull/RudeGirl for example.
Most bizarre? The Holy Royal Cheeseburger, Prune Juice Dominatrix, Goddess Kali disemboweling a hermarphrodite…won’t see that everyday, even now!
From time to time, I have just picked up the machine and worked ‘cold’, but that’s on the very few who know me well. There seems to be a consensus of tattooists who don’t understand the term ‘freehand’. My understanding from the old farts who worked thirty and forty years or more, was that anything drawn on the skin, then tattooed, is Freehand.
BME: Tell me about some of your experiences as a tattoo artist?
I can’t say which stories are more absurd; accounts of tattooists, patrons, hangers-on or spectators.
People setting themselves on fire, dancing in the work area with swords, bullets through the floor, junkies, nude drunks, perverts, obscene calls from slumber parties and shut-ins, street people en route to the drunk tank, bored troublemakers looking for places to be ejected from, winos, smelly lawyers, cops wanting to be gangsters, convicts, psuedointellectuals obsessed by ‘coolness’, clients automatically regressing to previous lifetimes, lewd geriatric exhibitionists, sufferers of psychopathia loquatia, ‘performance artists’, gamey tweakers, ghosts of dead artists, etc…ad nauseum…
I must’ve called this up with the ‘Telling Them What They Want to Hear’ ’toon…
It is because of these abysmal work conditions I am only now getting around to doing what I am capable of.
There was this nasty, arrogant gal who looked down her nose while informing me that I
I recall a hanger-on who told one tall tale after another. Couldn’t help himself. He finally embarrassed himself gone as soon as he realized no one was buying his shit about being contracted by the gov’t to design a special tattoo machine. Like his ’48 Knucklehead wasn’t embarrassing enough.
BME: What do you think of the tattoo “reality” shows?
I consider the tattoo shows to be unwatchable crap. Every time you hear ‘reality’, get ready for scripted soap operas. If I had a buck for every time in the 90’s I said; “..one of these days they’ll make a show out of this…” But a shoot where I worked could only safely be nestled between Taxicab Confessions and OZ.
I watched the occult, motorcycles, feminism, culture, lesbianism, and more get co-opted, assimilated, pasteurized, sterilized, homogenized, sanitized, neutralized, bastardized and misrepresented, made palatable, and packaged for mass-consumption; why would tattooing be any different?
All part of the New World Odor pushing us ever nearer to ‘Armageddon’ (courtesy; The ‘faith’ industry) and the peasant/aristocracy model endorsed by Caligula on the Potomac. Marketing/programming is sponsored by financiers who support the three guys who own the media and approved by the lords of the mcprisons, insurance, medical, and pharmaceutical behemoths.
If you can get it at the mall is it still desirable?
BME: Do you turn people away?
Of course I turn people away; No business is better than bad business. But who am I to judge? I’m the person who refuses the act of holding humanity back by propagating ignorance and hatred.
In regard to hands, faces, etc., it’s only responsible to let them know what their limitations will be.
BME: What is Art?
What is Art?
People proudly flaunt hideous tattoos as though they were Michaelangelos.
“What is Art” is subjective, and political.
Some of what I love are; creating, museums, guitars, birds, archeology, locomotives, stained glass, anthropology, forensics, astrology, thunderstorms, occult sciences, paranormal phenomenon, culture, history, and my partner of nearly twenty years, Robin.