Tattoo Temple (Part 1)

Occasionally there are times where just one ModBlog post isn’t enough to share something remarkable.  This is the first of two posts today that will be showing off the works from Joey Pang, and the rest of the artists at Tattoo Temple in Hong Kong.

Recently Joey uploaded a number of works to various galleries on, and pretty much all of them are beautiful in their own way.  Since 2006 Joey has owned and operated Tattoo Temple in Hong Kong, and has been putting out some fantastic work.  This first post will be focusing on her color and black/grey work.


In a blog from two years ago, Joey had this to say about her philosophy when it comes to tattooing.

To me, tattoos are ‘new clothing’ for a naked body.  Tattoos are not there to just cover your dull skin tone or trim your body’s contours with visual tricks. They can also express your personality, your thoughts and the world inside you. It is a presentation of the practical realm as well as the abstract mind.  As the designer and tailor of this new ‘piece of clothing’ I have to thoroughly understand my models – so they are able to express themselves with the creation of perfectly fitting ‘new clothes’.  Only the model and I truly understand these ‘new clothes’ as they are highly personal creations. However, if this ‘outfit’ can evoke emotion and admiration in other viewers – this in itself serves a higher purpose. Then these ‘new clothes’ may be categorized as a work of art. My happiest moment is being able to share this with the world.

Art facilitates the movement of abstract concepts in to reality. In most cases, the medium for art is simply inorganic matter. Only tattoos are exhibited on a living body – a permanent display to the world.  Every medium allows for art to be portrayed in a unique way. Yet, the human body is perhaps the single most distinctive medium of all. This art can only be carried when someone is ready to go through pain and have their blood shed.  The physical body underneath the tattooed skin continues with its daily functions – its mandatory life cycle. The person then carries this art-skin out and into the wider world. This person is a living, moving exhibition. The art-skin makes its way across the world, from country to country.  This breathtaking interaction between ink and the dynamic human body gives life to this art. The art piece changes, grows, ages, dies and is eventually buried with the body.  For someone who genuinely appreciates the power of this art, in death, the tattoo should not remain a subject of the mortal body.  To separate this tattooed skin from the body allows the tattoo to then be seen in its original form – as a Work of Art – a collectible that could be held for auction.

Keep on reading if you’d like to see more works by Joey, which include some color and freehand work, as well as a large greyscale backpiece.




In the case of the last image, it was done entirely freehand, and extends across the woman’s back.

Normally I would direct you to a specific gallery, but with Tattoo Temple uploading so many images over the past few days, your best bet would just be to take a look at the newest additions to all of the tattoo galleries, as their work isn’t limited to just one category.

Back to the Temple

If you’ve never heard of Joey Pang and her studio Tattoo Temple (in Hong Kong), you’ll want to check out the two articles that featured her work a month ago.

Joey’s techniques when it comes to script work are unparalleled, and its always a treat to see something new from her submitted to the galleries.  This piece in particular is from the lettering tattoo gallery, and show off just how well Joey can take a script tattoo and turn it into something more than just standard characters.

tattoo temple

Now I don’t know exactly what is written, but the red symbol at the bottom is the logo for Tattoo Temple, which some of Joey’s clients ask to have added to their pieces.

One of the key features of her work is that when doing lettering tattoos, Joey is able to make the characters appear to be created by brush stroke.  The little details that emerge, such as the broken line in the top character, are what makes her work stand out as living art.

No Need For Temples

Hoo boy, so, I was honestly just kidding yesterday when I mused about the possibility of Nelson Mandela being dragged through the mud by some commenters, but sure enough, it literally took only a single post before a political flame war broke out. Hey, fine. I guess Mr. Mandela is a more polarizing figure than I’d anticipated. But you know, I do so enjoy a challenge, and this gorgeous portrait of the Dalai Lama was too good not to share, but I’m curious now—what sorts of terrible, unseemly revelations will be unearthed following its posting? Did he buy an HD TV, but hasn’t yet sprung for an HD tuner? Has it been weeks since he’s emptied the dehumidifier? Is he hiding a Kenyan birth certificate? Don’t let me down, folks.

(Beautiful tattoo by Dave Allen at Preying Mantis Tattoo in Lakewood, Colorado.)

Tattoo Hollywood, BME’s first tattoo convention, is coming to Los Angeles from August 21-23, featuring contests, prizes and some of the best artists from around the world! Click here for more information.

See more in Portrait Tattoos (Tattoos)

Johnny Thief Tattoo Interview in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]


Johnny “Thief” Di Donna (IAM/BME, MySpace, InkedNation) is one of the most skilled and true artists inking people in America right now, and has achieved huge success in a broad range of very mainstream fields without compromising himself to that mainstream. Whether it’s designing artwork for Guitar Hero 3 or tattooing customers at his shop SEPPUKU TATTOO in Savannah, Georgia, fronted by Downing Greek Gallery, his raw talent shines through, and he recently sat down and talked to us at length about his experiences as a tattoo artist.

* * *

BME: How did you get into art? Were you an artist as a child, or did it come later?

I have a belief that all artists are born artists. Oh, I know people can be trained and educated and then work in the arts, but there is more to art than wiggling a mouse or working a Spiralgraph™. That vision to see into other places, that insane burning desire to work through the night, that notion that if you don’t work, you could lose your sanity… these aren’t things that can be taught. They separate Artists with a capital “A” from the rich kids going to art school and thinking they’ll be gallery sensations by the age of twenty.

Art was always there, a God-given talent, and sometimes it’s strange talking about it in such analytical terms. It’s not unlike talking about, ‘How long have you been breathing, and who influenced you breathing from early on?’, y’know?

BME: How did you first get introduced to tattoos, and how did you decide it was something you wanted to do for a living?

I worked for fifteen years in various fields of art before ever tattooing. I spent years designing sets, screen printing, designing, art directing, offset printing, prepessing, and building art departments for gigantic corporations. My client list had been huge, working on everything from the 1996 Olympics programs for Reebok to sets for Saturday Night Live and everything imaginable in between.

I always loved tattoos, but I had moved from New York to Florida in the late eighties just before the tattoo renaissance would really reshape the fabric of the scene. Florida tattoos were horrible and I was poor, so no tattoos for me anyway. I had many opportunities to scratch, and I blew them off. People would stop me in the middle of the night, out in Ybor City in Tampa, wheat pasting flyers for concerts, and they would be like, “Man! You’re that guy! You do that fanzine! You’re the THIEF! Man, you need to do my tattoos!” And people would start taking off their clothes and explaining in detail what they wanted… which is alluring when it’s some killer babe. But, I’m checking out area shops, and this was back when Florida was in lock down, arresting 2 Live Crew for obscenity lyrics, arresting Michael Diana for drawing and things like that. I’m thinking, man, it must be really hard to own a tattoo shop, with all these religious freaks trying to close you down, and all the ostracization heaped on them, so without knowing how much that I was doing the right thing by them, I always turned down those kinds of offers.

Fast forward to 1999, when I’m putting my ex through school, and working fourteen hours a day to do it, while all my other friends are creating posters for bands and blowing up in the underground. Knowing that I was dying inside, my ex bought me a starter kit for my thirtieth birthday. One of my good friends was also an employee, Mike Martin, now of Engine House 13, a screen print shop in Columbus. Formerly a trained tattooist from Ohio, he was tattooing outlaw style in Myrtle Beach during the tattoo prohibition. He threw a party featuring nine bands, a custom hot rod show, and me tattooing illegally on anyone stupid enough to sacrifice some skin. (Incidentally, I still tattoo these people for free to this day as a thank you). We called it the Lo Down Ho Down, and there’s a poster we designed for the show published in the Art of Modern Rock (by Paul Grushkin and Dennis King, Chronicle Books), my tattoo baptism enshrined for posterity.

After playing around with it enough to get the fever, under Mike’s watchful eyes, of course, I realized that tattooing is no hobby. It’s a 24/7 lifestyle commitment. I started doing crazy amounts of research, and testing the waters. Did I want, at age thirty and with fifteen years of experience, to leave a $60K a year job with full bennies in NYC to go scrub someone’s toilets to maybe become a tattoo guy?

I interviewed Paul Booth, Shotsie Gorman, and Brian Everett for our online fanzine, the Black Market Manifesto. They’re great interviews, but I was really picking their brains about their career choices. I attended lectures at the Museum of Natural History on Body Arts through history, given by Hanky Panky, Don Ed Hardy, Chuck Eldrich, Lyle Tuttle, and a number of masters. I went to as many conventions as I could and started taking seminars. I collected more and more tattoos, and started trading work with some of the artists at their invite, one of which was IAM member Johann Florendo of Queens, which was really flattering.

I finally applied for a job with one of the top studios in the tri-state area and was hired. It was a devastating amount of work. But the cool part was, once I started getting my chops, the old corporate job was bought out and sold, and the new owners liquidated 90% of the spots. Tattooing provided me with job security, ha!

BME: What did your family think of you becoming a tattoo artist?

My family has no idea I’m a tattoo artist, I have not spoken to them since 1992.

My formative years were terribly abusive, growing up in NYC in the 70’s at the height of its crime wave, to underage parents who had no concern for me at all. Art and NYC go hand in hand; unlike other parts of the country, NYC loves an artist, the schools loved me because I wasn’t some thug or gang kid, and the only ones around me who hated me being an artist was my family. As a teen, I’d be kicked out of the house for painting, and forget it, when I started painting sets at a theatre, everyone was sure I was some sort of mezzafanuch… in fact, there was a point I had to sneak in to the city, as my drug addict step father forbade me from going, based on his illiterate fear that I would catch AIDS just by walking around the city streets and then infect and kill the entire family.

My parents would beat me for wanting to be an artist. I had to fight tooth and nail for it. It’s one of the reasons why I get so passionate about art and so nauseated at bad artists, or people who think being an artist is an easy ride for rock stars, doodling all day, banging painting models, and going to art parties all night long. Bullshit, my stint as an artist hasn’t just been a few resumes worth of work, there’s times it’s been an out and out war. I’ve also tattooed in places where it was illegal, add that to the mix, fighting the government for your right to create art, and you get an idea of why I have no problem tearing someone up for sucking.

BME: How did you learn and refine the craft of tattooing?

Oh, that is still actively going on, my friend. Tattooing is seriously difficult, more so than any other medium, it’s a consistent challenge every day. Obviously, you’re working on a living medium that differs from person to person. As an artist, sometimes you really need to turn off the creative and concentrate on the application. It’s a ton of technique, some real hard and fast science. The art part of it is almost an afterthought.

I made sure that once I was committed to the tattoo lifestyle, that I served a complete apprenticeship under a reputable master, (Mario Barth, back when he had only one Starlight Tattoo, in my case). Practice of course helps. Getting tattooed by masters and sitting at their feet and learning from them, of course, one of best ways to open your eyes and take things to the next level. I’ve been slack in that area: I was too busy making a lot of money for people who didn’t care about art or me. But now I work for myself, and this year I’ll be out of debt, and am starting to look to Europe and Japan to get work from my heroes.

BME: Who are your influences as an artist and as a tattoo artist?

My influences, jeez, there’s a book. I’ve had so many, it’s rough to condense it all, I’ve got interests as diverse as classical renaissance art to graffiti, and everything in between. Although I love inkwork, so I’m a huge fanboy of the Romitas, Miller, the Hernandez Brothers, Shawn Kerri, Rick Griffin, and anyone who can work only in black, and create a universe out of it. I love comics (Marvel, DC, horror, Japanese manga, punk, underground, independents) movies (sci fi, horror, foreign, film noir, animae, kung fu, samurai, monster, and really weird cult shit) art (nuovo, impressionism, surrealism, cubism, chiascurro, abstract, dada, low brow, pinstriping) posters (Mucha, Griffin, Kelley, Mouse, Kozik, Coop, Kuhn, Pushaed, Mad Marc Rude, and all my friends and peers) tattoos (Americana, Japanese, new school, grey, color bomb, whatever, it’s all killer)… and the tons of subcultures I’ve been involved with, like motorcycles, punk, ska, hardcore, zine publishers, literature, writing, sex and erotica… it all contributes.

And damn, there are more and more talented bastards coming out of nowhere every day. Who doesn’t love Filip Leu? He’s a genius and easily the best tattooist alive today. I love Jack Rudy’s ethics. Same with Norman Keith Collins (Sailor Jerry) and Paul Rogers… ethics are constantly being eroded in this field and we could still use some of those old school values to preserve the craft for future generations. Bugs was a huge influence on me for a lot of reasons, I also feel he’s really underappreciated in the scene. Mike Rubendall’s commitment. Niko’s realism. Grime’s next level shit. Adrian Lee’s vision. Chris O’Donnell’s structures. It’d be easy to go on all night…

BME: What are some tips that you would offer to new tattoo artists to become the best they can be?

For starters, never think this is going to be easy. No one ever became great because things were easy. You think Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man because it was easy? This is not a profession for the faint of heart, for slacker laziness, or for piss poor gimme gimme “I DESERVE IT” attitudes. My marriage ended and I will never work in any other field because of my decisions; I made sacrifices that this business demands. Turn off the My Chemical Romance and start acting like a fucking man. (Girls, you know what I mean!)

Second, forget about shortcuts. Scratching out of your house will teach you nothing. It will simply put money into the pockets of sleazy companies that will ship ‘tattoo supplies’ to your home. These companies are not run by tattoo artists, and their equipment is a joke; lousy ink, meat slicing machines, needles jigged by blind monkeys. The best companies will only ship to health department regulated legal places of business and will require you to prove it.

In NYC from 1961 to 1997, it was illegal in all five boroughs to tattoo. This was from one single trumped up case of hepatitis that came out of a prison. When you scratch, you are breaking zoning laws, health department laws, and biohazard waste disposal laws. In Chatham county, (Georgia) these fines can rack up to six digits and jail time. If you get caught scratching, you could reverse the laws and have an entire county or state go back to being outlawed. You could unemploy every tattoo artist in the state.

In the old days, which were not so long ago, apprenticeships were fucking hard. They were meant to be, they were supposed to weed out the fanboys and act like boot camp, college, and shock treatment all at once. In days not too long past, if you went to a shop asking to buy equipment, you’d leave with broken hands.

In Japan — (*cue the ‘Kung Fu’ TV show music*) — the old rules were as severe as everything else in their culture. You didn’t get a bunch of small tattoos that had nothing to do with each other, you would have one single master design you an entire horimono body suit. This suit may take years to complete, and the relationship and respect between artist and client was critical.

When seeking an apprenticeship, it was like that scene from ‘Fight Club’, which Chuck stole from the practices of Shaolin monks. A prospect would stand outside the temple, with no food, shelter from elements, or encouragement for days, being berated, screamed at, maybe attacked. If the prospect endured, he was allowed in to begin his training. Japanese apprentices shave their heads, like a monk… what they are doing is sacred to them. They move in and live with their sensei, their apprenticeship is 24/7. They will not tattoo for two, maybe three years at all. They will do everything from cook, clean, to anything asked of them. If they screw up, they are beaten.

They study the history, culture, and sacrifices of all who came before them. They will draw until their hands fall off, become master calligraphers, and water color painters. They will study ukeio-e woodblock techniques, and understand the full range of mythology and religion descending from Shinto, Buddhism, and Bushido. When they tattoo, they will be using instruments made and handed down for generations. When they graduate, they lose their old name. They are adopted into the family, and given a two part name: Hori, which means literally to engrave, and also a new family name… like Horiyoshi 3… Now a family member, they will work with that master for at least five years, as a tribute back to his generosity. He may work with that master for the rest of his life, or he may find his own path.

The artist doing the apprenticing is a world class master with decades of experience, who commands the respect of both an international clientele as well as artists worldwide. He has contributed to the industry in many ways, elevating the art form, improving technique and materials, and upholding the ethics, self policing the industry. This level of respect allows him to easily tattoo everyone from working class laborers to the highest level of Yakuza officers. When a hitman bows to you in respect, you are doing something right.

An apprenticeship will teach you far more than how to tattoo. It will teach you VALUE for what you have, and have been given, value for your clients sacrifice of blood and skin, and value for how hard it was to get to this place in history and to not squander it lightly.

BME: What are your favorite sorts of tattoos to do?

I just love to tattoo. I love the look on people’s faces when they are just blown away. Challenging pieces, photorealistic pieces, things that are just a bit over my head are great, they teach me to stretch and grow. I love tattooing complex designs that my old boss would say were impossible, like wood cut effects, or a color portrait, mostly just to spite him. But sometimes, tattooing is as much about the ritual and bloodshed as it is about the subject matter. You know, like when people need a tattoo as opposed to just want a tattoo.

I still love the basics of tattooing… I haven’t lost that first love of the gig. I get excited ordering supplies. I love unpacking a new machine or pouring out a bag of new ink caps. I love doing a first tattoo, a swallow, a sacred heart, a rose and a spider web… there’s still a rush from meeting someone you may never have met anywhere else, and having the chance, with a small clean tattoo, of changing them forever.

I’ll tell you something funny: I don’t think I’ve tattooed any of my other art on people, like my posters. Yet, I see it tattooed by other tattoo artists all the time. Someone a state over did a beautiful rendition of the winged girl holding a baby skeleton from my Godsmack/Deftones poster… I was jealous!

BME: What are your favorite sorts of clients to work on?

The kindred spirits, naturally… people who know who they are and why they are here. Strong individuals who come in, sit, get a fucking tattoo, a tattoo that is 100% who they are inside, now tattooed on the outside, and go out to kick ass. It makes you feel like an armorer, or an arms dealer.

BME: Least favorite?

Ugh. It’s getting worse. The dumbing down of America certainly has wrought some damage, huh? I hate tattoos of inclusion. When someone doesn’t know who he is and is getting something to belong. Not belong to something he created or revolutionized. Belong to some vapid institution or brainwashing that the arts have railed against for centuries. Someone who doesn’t know what it is he’s getting or why. Like all these nautical stars on emo kids, never knowing why the word nautical is there, on a kid who’s never even seen the ocean. A tattoo that brands you as a group and a follower, and not as the unique individual you are. I call them an anti-tattoo.

Or crosses. Ugh… I hate a cross tattoo. Nothing can be safer than a cross tattoo. Who’s going to get pissed at that? Praying hands. Doves. That Icthus fish. All Christian bumper stickers ripped off a pastor’s bumper. Do not get me wrong, I am not anti-Christian, quite the opposite. Remember that Jesus was crucified with thieves, it was a thief on a cross who was first promised the kingdom of heaven. But, you get someone who has to have the praying hands with the rosary beads and a dangling cross, with another big cross behind it, and a dove, and a banner with the word “FAITH” in it, you know, just in case we didn’t catch all that with the five other symbols in one tattoo… so, you’re tattooing this Bible bookstore nightmare, and he’s on his cell phone, talking to his wife. Then he hangs up and calls his girlfriend. WTF? Or brags about how he’s dodging child support. Or calls his dealer for a bump after the tattoo. These are all fakers who have no idea what they’re getting or why. But, they can go to Thanksgiving dinner, and instead of getting hell from grandma about their tattoo, she will most likely kiss it. I call bullshit.

The Bible is 3500 years old, 66 books long. It inspired people like Mozart and Michaelangelo, inspiring some of the greatest works of art in mankind’s history… In fact, there are portions of the Bible that indicate that the arts are gifts from God, supernaturally given to us by Him to glorify Him, like the artisans who constructed the temple of Solomon or the Ark of the Covenant, or King David who invented a number of musical instruments… the BEST you can come up with, endowed with all your faith and supreme being power, is bringing in your friend, rolling up his sleeve to show me his John 3:16 tattoo, and say, “I like this. Gimme one of these?” UGH! I’ve had guys ask for a cross tattoo, and when I ask where they’d like it, they roll up their sleeve and all they have is cross tattoos. They look like fucking Arlington National Cemetery!

An example, a kid came in, and he’s asking me about a tattoo. He’s like, “You know that verse, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’? That’s what I want, My Brother’s Keeper.” I’m like, “Sure I know that verse. Who doesn’t, it’s in the first three chapters of the Bible. It has nothing to do with being your brother’s keeper, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Cain said it to God after he killed his brother Abel, asking ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’. Now, if you plan on killing your brother, then by all means… ”

See what I mean? Here’s a kid who not only missed the point utterly, he has the whole lesson completely ass backwards. A country that is SO obsessed with God this and God that, but has no fucking clue what their own book really says at all.

So, no. I didn’t spent twenty-five years of my life creating art to help perpetrate ignorance. Sorry!

BME: If you could choose any three tattoo artist to be tattooed by yourself, who would you choose and why?

Horiyoshi 3, Filip Leu, and Robert Hernandez. Because they are the best in the world, and I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge I’d gain just by sitting in supplication at their feet. Then Paul Booth, Grime, Marcus Pacheco. Tin Tin. Boris from Hungary. I’d always get more Bugs work. These are cats operating on planes that grunts like me can only aspire to.

BME: What do you think about shows like “Miami Ink” and the mainstreaming and extreme popularity of tattoos? What’s good about it and what’s bad about it? If you were offered the opportunity, would you appear on such a show?

I hate these shows. I do not watch TV and I do not currently get any channels, but the premise of the shows is flawed at the base. It’s corporate assholes who own and dictate the show, then package it and sell it like it was cologne or motor oil. They have no idea of the legacy of our history, or how hard it was to bring tattooing to where it is today, and certainly weren’t there when we fought for legalization. When money is the focus, art dies. From what I hear about the shows, they are long on drama, short on education. And I can’t stand the idea of tattoo faux pas being broadcast nationally; like when they’re doing set ups without any gloves on, wiping fresh tattoos bare handed, or Kat Von D is brushing back her hair with bloody gloves and just keeps on tattooing.

And I know how cool it is to have Steve-O tattoo you, trust me, I’ve done stupider things with tattooing myself. We all have and still do. But why on earth present that to the public? That’s a right that tattoo artists have earned, to do retarded things like go to a convention and then tattoo each other in a dark room under the influence of various substances. Instead, here you have an unlicensed, untrained person tattooing on national television, showing how the tattoo community likes to break health department laws for ratings. STELLAR.

Here’s a killer idea on how to make tattoo TV work: Pick an artist every week, someone up and coming, but not like some megastar. Let’s say like an Aaron Bell, a respected cat in the community who throws down like a motherfucker, but isn’t the owner of several clothing lines or a chain of McTattooshops. Send this person somewhere they’ve never been to explore both the territory and then to seek out the indigenous tattooing. Like some tebori hand tattooing in Japan, get some work in Paris from Tin Tin, or on a beach in the Fiji islands. You would be exposed to a different culture every week, plus see tattooing permeating cultures globally, and have the benefit of a sharp tattooist to illustrate things to the layman. It’s win-win-win, and would be really interesting TV, without all the fake drama or star fucking.

Tattooing is thousands of years older than TV, movies and marketing. Please, corporate whores, stop dragging it down to the lowest common denominator.

BME: What direction do you think tattooing is going in and what does the future of tattooing look like to you?

Haha! I have an issue of ITA that is from 1998, with an interview of Aaron Cain by Dave Waugh, done while they’re on a golf course. It’s amazing. In the article, Dave asks Aaron the same question, and it’s comic how off he is on his answer. He had figured tattooing had hit it’s saturation point, and couldn’t possibly be more exposed. This was before any of the bike build off shows, tattoo TV, the glossy Madison Avenue magazines like Inked, or online banner ads for home mortgages being drawn by animated tattoo machines.

So you want me to go on record like poor Aaron? 😉

I say, I think it’s a scary time: two illegal wars, prison camps, sanctioned torture, trillions in debt, fixed elections, suspension of Constitutional rights, illegal wiretapping, unemployment, falling markets, devalued dollars, the class gaps widening… this country is more apathetic than its been in ages. How many laws do these polesmokers have to break before they’re dragged off to the Hague? Seriously, Dick Cheney could rape someone’s mother on TV, and there will be some fascist pundit justifying it and saying what a whore the mother was and she was asking for it. I have no idea what is going to snap these spoiled, fattened, apathetic losers out of their funk, but I fear it. It’s going to be a second great depression, war with China, or a nationwide Katrina. It’s going to get really bad before it gets better. Tattooing will of course survive. It’s watched things like the pyramids being built and fall into ruin, it will definitely have a shelf life rivaling radioactive waste. And tattoo artists will continue to thrive; during the last depression, the entertainment industries thrived, even with money so short. I just can’t wait until the mall mentality shatters so we can get back to caring more about people than we do about stuff.

BME: How do you feel about tattooing hands, faces, and other “public” skin? Do you do any screening of clients?

Sure. The first and only time I called the cops was on a nineteen year old who started trashing the shop when I refused to tattoo a skull and crossbones on his face. He was just out of prison on a drug charge, was a father already, was beating the mother, (also a client, who covered up his name on her neck after having it for all of two months) and had only one other tattoo. Instead of seeing where I was coming from, that it wasn’t worth the $50 I’d charge him for the tattoo to unemploy him from 98% of the jobs in this country… he felt I was ‘disrespecting’ his manhood and started throwing our portfolios around, screaming he’d burn the place to the ground, and that I didn’t know “who I was messing with”. I was pretty sure I was ‘messing’ with a 140 pound teenage ex-con, so I called the cops rather than snap his femur with my steel toes.

If the kid had some serious work gong on, some sleeves or a big back piece, and had a secure form of income, a trust fund, or a recording contract, then it may have been a different story. I take each client on an individual basis, regardless of the tattoo. I tattoo hands, fingers, feet, necks, and ears all the time. But the same ethics that makes us a quality shop doing clean work also makes us stop and exercise some small amount of social responsibility.

BME: How often do you turn people away, and why?

More and more as time goes on. We get a lot of people in and out who treat our shop like the food court. They want it fast and cheap and they want it now. When informed that the wait might be as long as thirty whole minutes, they stomp their feet and ask where the next nearest shop is. So, after showing them an entire portfolio of before and after shots, I send them on their way, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. We also get a rash of people who come in with a grocery list of things they need in a tattoo, several different subjects, a cover up, must go from hip to hip… no problem, until they tell us that they’re working with a $40 budget for several hours of work. Haha! Right now it’s just me and my amazing partner, Matt Lukesh, so walk-ins can only be done during the slow times. A LOT of people leave, thinking all tattoo shops are the same.

The only real subject matter I turn away are blatant racism or white power tattoos. I have zero tolerance for that shit. But luckily, our clients for the most part keep us interested. We get to do some tasty things and they’re usually somewhat open to exploring outside their boundaries.

I’m also sort of against all white tattoos, because I know how our own melanin will obscure even my best efforts and do not think I can deliver a quality product. And not a fan of black light tattoos. I don’t trust the company producing the ‘FDA approved’ inks, when you examine the release forms and find out the ink was developed for use on fish. Besides, how often are you in black light? Even the owner of a chain of strip clubs isn’t in black light enough to go through the pain and expense… more often than not, it’s a gimmick used by people who don’t know how to put in regular tattoo ink.

Although, to my chagrin, I use three colors from the Skin Candy line of pigment that are also completely black light reactionary, as well as looking great under daylight, and not one single case of dermatitis or reactions. D’oh!

BME: With galleries starting to exhibit tattoo and tattoo related art, do you think this is a good thing, and do you feel that tattoos are “fine art”, or are they “folk art” or “craft” or something else? How do they fit into the larger art world, if at all?

This is funny, because our entire front lobby is the Drowning Creek Rock Art Gallery, with a full display of screen printed concert posters done by Jeff Wood and his impressive roster of artists, from Coop, Frank Kozik, Alan Forbes, Jermaine Rogers, Mark Arminski, Stainboy, Jeral Tidwell, Jason Goad, and myself. We’ve had a number of signings out of the shop, a few art shows, and display some of our original art as well.

As a professional artist, you realize that the gallery scene is kind of a bogus creation. Gallery owners are quite often viewed as scum: many sell art for a 50% commission. 50%! Who else gets 50%? Loan sharks in Brooklyn are jealous of 50%! A lot of what makes a successful artist in terms of pay scales and exposure is a lot of whoring, ass kissing, and nothing to do with Art, capital “A”.

The lines are getting blurred in as much as you have so many more fine artists taking up the tattoo profession, but are not stopping their former careers either. So you have tattoo art that is without any debate fine art. And it’s the kind of thing that will never provide a proper answer. Throughout the ages, the greatest artists in history were rarely the most lauded in their times. Some were shunned by critics but had commercial success, some so far ahead of their time that they failed to hit in any way at all until far after their prime.

BME: Have you ever apprenticed someone? How did you choose them and what was the experience like (and if you haven’t — would you apprentice someone, and how would you choose them)?

I have not, I’ve only been tattooing eight years. I figure I have another decade before I’d be ready to take an apprentice. Most likely my apprentice will be the hottest barely legal Japanese girl ever born, a demon possessed nymphomaniac sado-masochist and exhibitionist, with a hardcore fetish for larger, older, ugly Italian men. Luckily, I do not show a bias in my selection process.

BME: If you weren’t a tattoo artist, what do you think you’d be?

I was born an artist, I was doing art for fifteen years before I was ever tattooed. This last year alone I also did a number of concert posters, DVD covers, one real painting, and our work was featured throughout Guitar Hero 3, on top of running a tattoo shop 90 hours a week for 52 weeks. I would love to have the luxury of painting more often, and be one of those guys who can bitch about the gallery owners taking 50% of a $25,000 painting.

BME: Do you plan on tattooing your whole life? Are you planning for retirement?

Yes, I will retire. When they nail me inside a pine box. Or how about we get all Charlton Heston on it? “I’ll stop tattooing when they take my tattoo irons from my cold dead hands!

That was pretty tough guy; right?

I have the words UGLY FUCK tattooed on my knuckles. I’m so in this for life. Sleep when you’re dead!

BME: Have you experienced physical problems from tattooing (back, hands, etc.)?

My partner does. The funny part is he is the skinny good looking one. He smokes like a fiend, eats only cheeseburgers, and gets winded opening a sterile pack of needles… he has all kinds of back pain, and is at his doctor weekly. Me, I’m almost three hundred pounds, the largest I’ve ever been… but my doctor declared that I’m “very healthy”, I have great blood pressure, clean lungs, and 20/20 vision. Thick rubber grips on my tubes and the occasional massage help keep carpal tunnel at bay. If I can get back in shape and drop this small child’s worth of extra weight I’m lugging around, I’ll be doing pretty well.

BME: Do you find being a tattooist helps or hinders finding “that special person”? Does it interfere or help at all with your social/personal life?

Being an artist is weird. I’m bitterly divorced… I’ll skip the play by play. When my clients tell me what a great catch I’d be, I tell them that artists aren’t stable people, artists cut off their ears.

I’ll be forty in December, I have a hell of a lot of notches on my belt, and yet I don’t know one goddamned thing more about women than I did when I hit puberty. I have a suspicion that they all work for Satan.

Although I haven’t really dated anyone in the scene who was a professional. I’ve hooked up with plenty of artists, but oddly enough they never wanted to hear about any of the things I’ve been working on, they just wanted a booty call. I guess as far as inspiration is concerned, my tongue has better uses than all this talking.

BME: What are your feelings about the rising popularity of scarification and other forms of body modification as opposed to tattooing, which has a much larger modern history?

I’m glad to see it. Apply everything I’ve said about commercialization and the superficiality of our plastic disposable mall culture to this question. Anything that gets us away from being drones and back to being actual humans again is just fine by me.

BME: How do you feel about scratchers and lower-end tattoo shops, and their role in tattoo culture?

I despise scratch shops. We just had two shops close here in Savannah, neither made it more than a year. One, the owner was a wannabe 1%er, a biker with no patch, who never tattooed, never drew or painted. Two of his artists left within days, the remaining artist had been fired from three separate apprenticeships from the worst shops in town. I’ll give you an example of the kind of shop this was. A cat walks in, knowing the owner deals heroin. He hates tattoos, has no tattoos, doesn’t want to see any tattoos, will never get tattoos. He scores, and asks if he can crash in the back and fix up, which he does. While out on the nod, the owner grabs a machine, and with no training whatsoever, just starts tattooing this guy, the same way you may draw with marker on a friend passed out drunk at a party. The guy comes to covered in scratch that looks like Helen Keller attacked him with a weed whacker… he can’t really go to the cops, how do you explain being tattooed against your will out on a nod? The shop is now closed, because the owner is in prison for drug dealing, weapons running, and murder one.

This is a story I have to tell in 2008?

Now, when I walk into the zoning department or city hall, and introduce myself proudly as a tattoo artist, is this what they think of me? Fuck that! Not to mention, that I’m sure there were days that we were sitting on our hands while they were rocking and rolling. They had plenty of clients all too happy to show up and get stoned… they would pimp that shop as the greatest tattoo shop that ever was. Except now it’s closed and the tattoos look like an experiment in flesh eating bacteria colonies. We live in a time when the Guy Aitchinson’s and Anil Gupta’s have raised the bar to staggering heights, yet these inbred assholes have helped keep people in the dark ages. It’s disrespectful… to all who came before them, to the craft itself, and to all the people they’ve scarred up. This, of course, is just one of the real reasons why we named our shop SEPPUKU. Death before dishonor, gaigin!

When the health department comes in for inspections, I yell at them for being too easy. All that yellow paper tells anyone is that I know how to mop and wear gloves. What I propose, is the TATTOO LICENSE ROAD TEST! Get some prisoners, or kids who want a $5 tattoo, like you get a $5 hair cut at a barber school. The instructor comes out in a bad polyester shirt and a clipboard. He is going to test you on cross contamination practices, skin prep, stencil application, client comfort, lining, shading, coloring, bandaging, aftercare, sterilization and biowaste disposal… you get three hours to put on a nice clean tattoo, some well done lettering, bright colors, smooth blends, maybe extra credit for real toothpaste whites or special effects. If you fail, you go back to apprenticing and try again in six months. A photo is taken of your first tattoo and is laminated on your license as a testament to your skill. Testing is done once every three to five years. Your license is copied on the client’s release form with a check box to prove they have seen it before you begin work on them.

Why not? The shit is medically invasive. It’s the 21st century. Tattoos are expensive. Imagine a body shop that painted cars like some shops tattoo. Not everyone needs to be Corey Kruger or Mike Rubendall… but if you can’t at least put in a clean rose and a dagger, find another career, please? If you want to suck at your job, go work for the DMV, people expect you to suck there.

BME: Are there any times you’ve regretted your career path?

That’s a tough one. I wrestle with it every day, as I’ve spread myself pretty thin. As I mentioned earlier I’ve been a set designer, a mural painter, an airbrush artist, an illustrator, a fanzine publisher, an art director, a screen printer, an offset printer, a digital artist, a concert poster guy, a wheat paster, a pinstriper, and a tattoo artist. All my peers my age are masters in their singular professions. For example, I have a passing friendship in Coop. He’s the same exact age as me, but whereas I’m only known in select circles and bust ass to make bills each week, Coop is world renowned and lives large in a Hollywood villa with his dominatrix wife and a garage full of hot rods. So it goes with most full time poster artists I know, and especially people who were tattooing for as long as I’ve been working. I started working in ’86, I still rent, I have only the slimmest of savings… if I had been tattooing for that long, geez, I’d love to think how far I’d have come.

Sometimes I wonder exactly how much tattooing played in my wife’s decision to bail. It’s been seven years, and I’m still just a mess. A MESS!

But on the flipside, I’ve had multiple careers, each one by itself is someone’s unattained dream. My resume is as long as your arm. I’ve gotten my hands dirty in such a wide variety of mediums and done some of them really well, a bit of a post punk Renaissance guy. Which is great, too. I’m a tattoo artist who can design everything I need from camera ready magazine articles to signs to business carsd to web sites, and is also in magazines, books, galleries and Hard Rock Cafes globally. This is no bad thing either. I never would be that one hit wonder guy, you know, like that shitty guy you hate so much but gets up so much for his specializing in fetish art, or some such shit. I’m glad not to be the ‘old school guy’, the ‘scary monster guy’, or the ‘hot rod guy’, or even conversely the ‘neo-classical guy’. I have some jazz in all kinds of fields of interest and can move in and out of them as a true professional.

I imagine at the end of the day, I’d like to be well off enough to have no limits as to what I want to do with my life; for example, except for Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, I haven’t been off the continent at all. I have a lot of traveling to do, both geographically and spiritually. I don’t like stuff, you can’t take it with you, it’s just dust, after all, but man, if I had the freedom to create art with a capital A, that would be amazing.

Give me some of that time I wasted on suicide, drugs and marriage, let me drop fifty pounds, and come back in five years and see what I can do. 😉


Shannon Larratt

Does God Hate Your Tattoos? [The Publisher’s Ring]

Does God Hate Your Tattoos?

“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”

– Ephesians 5:29


BME recently had the opportunity to have a virtual talk with Jay (iam:TautooJay), who is heavily tattooed and is in training to become a youth pastor. We were also joined by Faith (iam:serpensfeminin), a former Mormon raised in the Church of Latter-day Saints, Tiffany (iam:MissTiffany1), a Christian piercer from California, Karen (iam:Mighty_Mouse), a young Christian from Virginia currently sailing in Bermuda, and “Puck”, who asked us to keep him anonymous. Monty Vogel of the QOD staff (iam:MONTE) and owner of Body Mods in Nebraska also joined us, along with Mark, an old friend from San Francisco.

BME: How do you feel God sees your body modifications?

Jay: Honestly, I think God has more pressing matters than me getting tattooed. The Catholic Church took a stance on tattoos hundreds of years ago at the Council of Northcumberland that they were fine as long as they were not defamatory of the faith in any way. I’m not a Catholic, but Christian tattooing has been going on since right after Christ died — there are Roman reports of people with crosses or “Yeshua” (Jesus’s name in Hebrew) dating as far back as the first century, and seventeenth century wooden tablets of tattoo designs have been found in Israel.

Faith: The church’s teachings are clear that bodies are our “temples”. They are the portals through which our spirits pass, and they must be cared for. The way I’ve interpreted this is that we are here to learn, to grow, and to gain experience, and to do that we have to love ourselves. Before modification I didn’t even recognize the face and body I saw in the mirror — so how could I love it? Modification has helped me grow and understand myself, and I believe it’s helped my spirit grow. It’s been an essential part of being alive.

Tiffany: I don’t think God minds unless it’s a Satanic tattoo. People get tattoos of the things that are important to them — Christians have been getting tattoos since Christ ascended to heaven.

BME: How do you express your spirituality through your body?

Faith: I don’t feel the need to be spiritually demonstrative — I have a huge respect for people that use their body to worship, but it’s not what I do.

Jay: I have Jesus on my back with “Saved by Grace” written underneath. I have Psalm 23 on an anchor, praying hands, an eagle, Yeshua, a cross of three nails and a crown of thorns, an angel and a devil, a sacred heart, and “Jesus Saves” across my collarbone. I’m a walking billboard!

Tiffany: In Exodus 21:5-6 it says, “If the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children: I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or the door post, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever.” — I am a servant of the Lord and I will serve him forever! So in a way, my piercings are done for him, to show that I am his servant.

Karen: I have a dove with an olive branch in its mouth on my left calf. God regularly uses doves has His messenger or helper — when the dove returned to the ark after the flood, he carried an olive branch in his beak to tell Noah there was dry land where he could build a new world for the glory of the Lord. I want to get a cross tattoo soon.

BME: What makes you think it’s “OK” as a Christian to get these mods?

Jay: Who says “it’s OK”? Society? Society is messed up. As Christians, we are called to separate ourselves from society. Although body modification is on the rise, it’s not the cultural norm — it’s not looked on as being completely acceptable. Christians don’t have to be acceptable to society — they are called on to be acceptable to Christ alone. I answer only to Christ.

Tiffany: Follow that voice in your heart.

Jay: I prayed for months before getting my first tattoo and signs just pointed me closer to getting one. If someone wants to know if it’s right for them, the answer is in prayer. What God may want for me may not be what He wants for someone else who He’s planned to go into business and win souls for Him — whereas I’m hoping to work with inner city youth and the less fortunate as well as kids… and they like the tattoos!

Karen: As long as I pray and I know my heart is right with God, and I feel his spirit with me, then I know I’m on the right track. Before I started into mods I didn’t really know who I was, what my body was. The Bible says my body is a temple, but without knowing it, how could I honor it? Now I do that by making it more beautiful.

Monty: I had a minister come in today and get his ear pierced. He had been asking the head pastor of his church if he could get it done for over four years — it was just recently that the pastor was gone on a trip and called to say that God had told him three times that day to allow the minister to get his ear pierced. The reason the minister wanted the piercing was that six years ago, while in Florida, he opened his Bible and his attention was called to Proverbs 25:12 — “As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear” — He knew then that he wanted to get his ear pierced, and today he finally got it done.

BME: What do you think of people who tell you God disapproves of your mods, or that the Bible forbids them?

Jay: We all make mistakes and we all fall short of the glory of God. They may judge me, but I know I have also judged others falsely. We’re in the same boat. Those who accuse me of going against the Bible, I talk to them as I would a friend. I point out the fallacy in the kindest way I can. You have to realize most of these people were born into this faith and their culture was intertwined with it and they don’t know any better. They never really looked up the context of the verses they are using against modified people.

Faith: Scripture isn’t law — they’re guidelines that make our lives more meaningful. God doesn’t want us to be an animal — he wants us to live with free will. I think it’s tragic that so many Mormons hang onto the Prophet’s every word, letting him make all their choices for them. He gives good advice for most things, but I just don’t see how an earring or two is going to make you betray your faith.

Tiffany: I work at a piercing and tattoo studio so I don’t usually meet people who say things like that, but it does give me a chance to talk about Jesus with those that may never get to hear about Him. Since I look the way I do and work where I do, I fit into “their type” — and they’re more willing to talk to me about it. If I didn’t have these piercings and tattoos, I might not be able to reach these people.

BME: Do you have any verses that you use to change their minds?

Jay: Usually I don’t resort to using Scripture on people who think tattoos are a sin. After I point out the error in the use of the Scriptures they quote, there’s really no need. Bible trivia wars are kind of stupid… and I’d win in the end!

Tiffany: The obvious one of course is Matthew 7:1-6 — “Judge not, that you not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Karen: I like Galatians 6:17, “Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus”, and Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

BME: What sorts of responses do you generally get from other Christians?

Jay: Some get wide-eyes and quote Leviticus 19:28 because that’s what they’re told growing up. I tell them it was written to Levitican priests and dealt with the issue of pagans mutilating their bodies to act as spirit mediums. Others like the artwork and are fine with it, but would never do it themselves. Still others — many others — love my work. Some want to get tattoos, others would never get touched by a needle, but they love my tattoos.

To all these people, I show the utmost respect and expect the same in return. It all boils down to the fact that we share the same faith and we’ve all experienced grace. The hard part is showing that grace to others, which is where a lot of modified and average Christians fail.

Tiffany: My Pastor likes my nostril piercing… My studio has tattooed and pierced members of the congregation. I’ve had negative run-ins, but it’s the positive ones that I focus on.

Mark: The Lutheran Church I attend is two thirds queer, but everyone seems to find my piercings entertaining. An older gay man asked me if I had any hidden piercings. When I told him that I also had my tongue and nipple pierced, he replied, “Oh, I’ve had the nipple for years. Got it done in 1968 — by a friend, with much ceremony, believe me!”

As far as the theological implications, I really don’t feel there are any. Surely God is more concerned with one’s relationship to Her and to one’s neighbor than with how one decorates oneself. I also dye my hair various colors, sometimes corresponding to the liturgical season — last winter it was blue for Advent, then I re-dyed it red just before the Christmas Eve service!

Karen: I don’t hide my tattoos and piercings either when I go to church. People into mods aren’t going to want to go to church if all they see is dressed up, uninked people. God loves people with mods, and so does the Church.

Puck: That’s not always true, Karen. I was asked to leave my youth group when I was thirteen years old for having a pierced navel and purple hair. They thought it wasn’t appropriate for me to be around the younger children while having such “outrageous style”. Many parents wouldn’t allow their children to come to youth group meetings because I would be there. I had to stop going to that church.

I also went to a Methodist church summer camp and wasn’t allowed in the church with the rest of the kids because of my hair and piercing. Eventually I turned away from God. I just felt like if the people praying with me in church wouldn’t accept me, then God wouldn’t either.

Faith: My stereotypically Mormon grandmother has a hard time accepting the fact that I have my tongue pierced because she can only imagine sins behind it. I guess she doesn’t understand that I’ve never given or received oral sex and I’m still a virgin — and no piece of metal in my tongue is going to make me change my values. All of my friends, most of whom are Mormons, see my ink and “plugs” as just a part of me — things that make me the quirky and amusing person that I am. I was even told by one of my closest friends that they never would have gotten to know me if they hadn’t wondered what was wrong with my ears!

I respect other people’s choices, and I’d hope they’d offer the same in return. We’re all put here for the same reason, but we’re not supposed to lead the same lives.

Way back in 1995, about a year after starting BME, I received the following semi-literate email:

“I think you are doing is self mutilation and I for one am very disgusted. But there is hope for you! Read the BIBLE!”

It may come as a surprise that I actually have read the Bible, and it no more says “don’t get tattoos” than it says any number of other cultural concepts — not theological concepts — such as “spare the rod, spoil the child.” In fact, the Judeo-Christian family of faiths is full of tattooed and pierced characters, and parts of the Bible are very clear that extreme modifications — self-amputations even — are what God wants for some people. Under Christian theology, body modifications are like words — they’re tools. They can be used to bring glory to God and help live a good life, or they can do the opposite.

There are many parts of the Bible that mention piercing in passing since it was relatively normal in Biblical times, but the only passage that seems to even vaguely ban body modification — tattoos* in this case — is of course Leviticus 19:28, which reads,

“Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”


* I should note that the original Hebrew text reads “k’thoveth qa’aqa”, or “writing that is stuck in”, usually used to refer to a form of modification closest to ink rubbing — a pagan funerary rite at the time, very different from modern tattooing.

Leviticus is a book of laws telling the Jews of the time how to lead their lives. As such, the laws break down into three general types — first, laws regarding morality (bans on prostitution, bestiality, and so on); second, laws regarding health (advice on subjects such as food preparation — kosher laws); and third, laws to differentiate the Jews from the pagans (bans on certain rituals, haircuts, and so on). In the New Testament Jesus does away with these laws. That doesn’t mean that bestiality is suddenly OK, but it does give a modern Christian much more personal freedom in terms of things like the way they trim their beard and the way they choose to decorate their bodies, because they are now judged by their faith, rather than adherence to a set of hard and specific rules.

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

– Romans 3:28

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.”

– Colossians 2:16

This is explained perhaps more clearly in Galatians 3:23-24, which tells how Jesus replaced the old covenant with a new one:

“But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”

As well as the mention of tattooing or cutting in Leviticus, body piercing is also mentioned throughout the Bible. When the Israelites fought the Ishmaelites, Gideon told his warriors that they could take the golden earrings of the enemies they slew (Judges 8:24), and numerous passages mention the piercings of the Israelites as well (Exodus 32:3, Ezekiel 16:12, Isaiah 3:21, and so on). Other sections, in Deuteronomy 15 and Exodus 21 describe body piercing on servants (as a normal part of society), and nose piercing is described as beautifying and normal when Behuel and Nahor’s daughter is married in Genesis 24.

Sometimes Christians object to body modification on the basis of it defiling God’s creation — after all, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is fairly clear that the body is the temple,

“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Earlier, in 1 Corinthians 3:17, a dire warning is issued:

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”

The question is, what does “defile” mean?

I’ll spare telling you that the Catholic Church has already publicly proclaimed tattoos as acceptable, and that Crusaders were commonly covered in Christian tattoos in order to proclaim their faith and ensure a proper burial — A good way to understand what’s appropriate for a temple is to look at the range of Christian churches that history has produced. Until about the 10th century A.D., Christian architecture was largely reminiscent of earlier Roman buildings. In the Middle Ages huge Cathedrals dominated, covered in spires, sculptures, buttresses — anyone who’s been in these structures knows how overwhelmingly powerful they are psychologically.

The Gothic period produced churches with complex and intricate decoration and gorgeous glasswork. Centuries later in the Baroque era churches were less physically imposing, but were encrusted with wealth — golden opulence was used to manifest God. Other periods and areas have seen simple churches, small humble buildings relatively unadorned with the people themselves bringing the glory, and in modern times we’ve seen churches constructed in every conceivable style. We’ve even seen very successful temples built using nothing but television transmissions and a studio.

Marshall Mcluhan may be oft-quoted saying that the medium is the message, but in this sense, I think God might correct him and say, “No, Marshall, it doesn’t matter what the medium is — it’s the message that counts.”

I hope it’s clear that if we’re to speak in objective terms, that there’s no specific ban on body modification in the Bible, and that its value as something good in one’s a life versus its involvement in sin is very much determined by the way it’s being used — to put it another way, telling someone that their Christian tattoo is wrong would be no better than telling someone that praising God is wrong because someone else shouted blasphemies. Speech — and tattoos — are just a part of life. They can be right, or they can be wrong.

So a Christian certainly can’t go out and get a tattoo or other body modification if it leads to sin, or stands for sin, but modification — mutilation even — is acceptable if it helps the person lead a righteous life. Sex might be another good example. The Bible is full of things that could make a person believe that sex is a bad thing — prostitution, lusting after others’ wives, and forms of masturbation are all mortal sins. However, reading other parts of the Bible it’s clear that God intended sex to be something wonderful — but He wanted it to be used in the right context (a loving marriage under God).

   “Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.
   Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.
   How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!
   Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
   A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
   A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.
   Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.
   Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.”

– The Song of Solomon

It’s all about context. That which might be a sin when used against God is a beautiful thing when used for Him — it’s why a Christian couple can have a fulfilling and guilt-free sex life that involves bondage, anal sex, oral sex, Cleveland steamers, or whatever else makes them happy — as long as it’s loving and sanctifies the marriage bed (so no Cleveland steamers with the neighbors when the wife’s out of town!).

To give a more extreme example, eunuchs (castrated or even penectomized men) were common throughout various cultures in Biblical times, and hence came to be included in the Bible and were even embraced by several sects. The Byzantine Church had numerous eunuchs in ruling positions, and the Christian Coptic Church embraced castration as a holy path. While relatively common between 300 A.D. and 1,100 A.D., it continued in eastern Europe until surprisingly recently. Matthew 18:8-9 warns,

“Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

Matthew 19 continues, warning against adultry and other sins of the flesh, and in verse 12 says,

“There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

Even extreme body modification is permissable — if it’s done to serve God or to protect the individual from falling prey to sin or to God’s enemies. Of course, modern Christians on the whole believe this passage is “metaphorical”… but there’s certainly nothing that says that clearly, and if it’s metaphorical, how can one decide what else is as well? Many early Christian scholars such as Origen, considered one of the fathers of the faith, castrated themselves. A small number of patristic writers such as Tertullian actually referred to Jesus as a eunuch.

So what we see in the Bible is that Christianity has at best one highly vague ban on a specialized form of cutting, and then goes on to describe body piercing at length as normal, and even goes so far as to encourage extreme body modification when done for the sake of God. The New Testament contains one clear and overwhelming message: Love. Under Christian theology the whole point of God’s appearance on Earth as Jesus was to get rid of blind arbitrary rules, and replace them with a more fluid code of goodness.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you.”

– John 15: 12-14

I won’t get into it in this article in any depth, but the Bible also draws similar conclusions about ritual. In 1 Kings 18 and Mark 5 we hear descriptions of pagan sorcerers and priests performing rituals involving cuttings and bloodletting, but at the same time, Christian penitents and monks have been performing self-flagellation and even crucifixion in the name of their faith (Matthew 16:24) since the beginning — not a single early Christian church didn’t embrace these rituals and they are still popular in many areas such as Brasil and the Philippines. Again, it’s all a matter of what you’re using the tool to achieve.

Some Christians will warn others against involving themselves in tattooing or piercing because they perceive it as being sordid, using scripture such as Romans 12:17 to justify it,

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.”

However, it should be clear from the “double standards” in the Bible that God doesn’t believe that one should censor oneself because someone else has used a tool for evil. You can wield a sword in God’s army, or you can wield in as knight in Satan’s service — your final resting place is not determined by the sword, but by the army you choose to serve in. When Paul says in Philippians 4:8,

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

he isn’t saying to think of things that appear to be true, or appear to be honest, or appear to be just, pure, or lovely — he’s giving clear message in clear terms: be a good person and put Jesus above all else.

If you want to be a good person with tattoos, God will still love you. The Christian who tells you otherwise isn’t hearing the message for some reason and may need your help far more than you need theirs.

Shannon Larratt

PS. I am not a Christian, but if you’d like to meet other Christians interested in body modification, you can click here to meet them in the new BME Personals (or place your own ad), and there are of course many more on IAM — a few are linked in the interview above.

Your Body as Temple?


“I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.”
– Muhammad Ali

One of the oldest and most commonly used justifications for body modification is the ‘temple’ metaphor — “Your body is a temple. Have you ever seen an unadorned temple?”

If the body truly is a temple, then why are so many people abusing it and letting it fall apart? I am not referring to the act of piercing or tattooing or to any other skin-deep modification. I am talking about how most of us abuse our bodies through inactivity, improper nutrition, lack of rest, and elevated levels of stress. If it’s true that we’ve become the fattest generation of people the world has ever seen, then it also holds true that we in fact have very little control over our bodies, something that each and every one of us claims to have gained through our body modification endeavours. If we care so much about our personal temples, exactly how do we let ourselves become twenty pounds overweight? Fifty? One hundred?

David Patchell-Evans, champion rower and the successful entrepreneur of The Good Life Fitness Clubs, brings physical fitness into the ‘temple’ equation:

"Imagine yourself as a house. Your fit body is your foundation. An unfit body is an unstable foundation. If your intellect and emotions are the walls, and your foundation is fit, those walls stay up straight and help you hold your treasures inside. If the walls are vulnerable because your foundation is shaky, the house could fall apart. Think of your soul as the roof. To be truly self-actualized, everything below the roof needs to be in good working order. Everything works together to make the dwelling place that is you."

Over the past three years working in the body modification industry, I have noticed two things. The first is that as a portion of the general population, we’re some of the kindest, most generous people out there. We’ve all had to deal with the insults and snickers behind our backs, and for many of us these acts of prejudice have made us mentally tougher. My second observation is that many of us are out of shape, and even obese. While I’m sure that this reflects the physical status of the general population, it strikes me as peculiar that the very people who choose to adorn themselves with jewelry and markings on their skin manage to neglect the fitness of their body as a whole.

I say this not to be mean or cruel, but because I’m right there with you. After four years of intense schooling and working simultaneously in this industry, my fitness level has decreased significantly, while my waistline has grown to reflect this. (I’ve even heard reference to something called a “tattooist’s gut.”) While I’ve never been thin, and perhaps never will be, I was in great shape as a teenager. I played baseball internationally, was the captain of my high school football team, and played competitive hockey, to name a few activities that were an integral part of my adolescence. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I decided to prioritize school and money over my physical fitness, and now I find myself desperately trying to get back into shape and lose the weight I’ve put on over the past four years.

The concept of this series of articles is to chronicle my physical transformation from David into Goliath. Well, maybe a five foot six inch Goliath, but you get the point. Over the next several months I will be documenting my physical (fitness) transformation via photos, statistics and stories. I have joined a reputable fitness club and hired their best personal trainer to push me harder than I can on my own — with your body, there are no quick fixes or short cuts. I am motivated and ready to see the changes I will be making to my body in the weeks and months to come. While I have not yet set out goals on paper, my plan is to change not only my overall fitness level, but the entire shape of my body. I do not wish to become the next Arnold or Incredible Hulk, but any gain in lean muscle at this point is a step forward in matching my imagined self with my real self. Maybe once I am happy with the shape and fitness of my body, I can once again concentrate on adorning it through traditional body modification methods.

I realize that this is just the beginning; that I have very much to learn and even more to look forward to. And while I haven’t hashed out exactly the subjects of each column, there are several areas which I will bring to you in hopes that you too will be inspired by my transformation to become more physically active. As you’ll see, it is a long road ahead, but I am intent on reclaiming control over my body, just as many of you claim to do when getting pierced or tattooed. Perhaps when I have control again, I can use the ‘temple’ metaphor to refer to something more than just skin deep.

Until next time,
Dustin Sharrow

Next week’s column will offer a perspective on why having a healthy body is important to each and every one of us. I will also offer up my before personal statistics and photos, as well as my thoughts about having completed my first week of training after three years of inactivity!