Back in February respected tattoo artist Alex McWatt took over the SJ blog for a week. He came up with tons of great content, some of which we still have stored away for rainy days like this one. Here is his interview with fellow tattoo artist Adam Hayes about his penchant for comics and Star Wars tattoos:
Where are you from?
How long have you been tattooing?
Almost ten years.
And where did you start?
College Station Texas, it’s an hour and a half outside of Austin. Home of the ‘Aggies.'
How long did you work down there?
Worked down there for three and a half years before I moved to New York about seven years ago.
I know you started at Sacred, how long did that last?
I worked at Sacred for a few months and then that location lost its lease and we all went our separate ways. Then I ended up working at Red Rocket tattoo with Mike Bellamy.
So you guys just recently moved shops. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
The shop that we were at for 14 years was the only shop in Midtown for a long time. After they knocked the building down next to us and our building started sliding into the mud, we decided to upgrade. We found another location on the corner of 36 st. and 6th ave. and decided to dress it up a bunch to accommodate more people, put us all in one room, let us all hang out.
Have you guys taken on new artists?
We have a total of 8 artists now. Before we only had 6 at the old location.
I know you’ve taken on some new responsibilities there too...
I was manager there for a long time, but it seems like a totally different boat when you become a co-owner of a place, I know you know. It becomes the difference of officers and enlisted men.
I know that you have a ton of other outside influences but I want to talk about Star Wars a little bit. Have you always been a huge fan of the movies since you were a kid?
I was always really into movies. I saw Return of the Jedi in the theatre and that’s still one of my favorites. People hate on the Ewoks, but I love those little guys.
I know for me Star Wars is so much more than light sabers and laser beams. Do those movies hold the same depth for you?
Yeah it’s based off like every epic story there really is. You can connect with one character or the other—the scoundrel you’re into or the pretty boy that gets suckered into doing the right thing all the God damned time.
Do you have any favorite characters that you like, but haven’t been able to tattoo on people?
Most of the time when I tattoo stuff from Star Wars, I tend to like guys with helmets, and tend to like the guys that are creatures of some kind. Anybody can do a portrait, but I’m usually looking to do an original spin on the unique characters. I did this Chewbacca like a cowboy one time. Then I did a Darth Vader Indian chief and the guy decided he wanted something on the other side like Han Solo with a cowboy hat on. And said to him, “So you want Indiana Jones?” So to me, people are just people but the characters are always going to be known as characters.
Do you find that you get to steer people a little bit with the images?
Oh, I only steer people. Most of the time people want to jam in this idea or that idea. I just really only want them to tell me what character they like and then I try to come up with something good. I do incorporate like a lot of religious imagery into it just cause Star Wars is a holy thing. I do a lot with like Darth Vader being a religious icon just cause he was immaculately conceived and I always thought that was really weird.
Do you have a favorite piece right now?
I did a huge Jango holding a baby Boba, it’s like a full torso that I did while I was on the road, It’s totally one of my favorite Star Wars pieces I’ve ever done.
Have you found that there’s a really big audience for your Star Wars themed work?
When I travel, yes. It seems to be like my, I don’t want to call it, like, a gimmick, but kinda like what I’m known for when I travel.
What are some other influences outside of Star Wars?
I think a lot of people get influenced from their background where they grew up in. You hear so many tattooers say, I got into this because I was really into the hardcore scene, or punk rock, or skateboarding. I grew up in the desert in West Texas and to me hardcore meant porn, and you can’t use skateboards on dirt roads. I grew up a dork on comic books. We couldn’t rent movies, there was no movie theatre there, but I had a copy of Star Wars, and I watched the f#%king sh*t out of it. But I just grew up on dorky stuff, man, and that was my sh*t.
Are there any current tattooers that really inspire you?
Oh man I’m jealous of so many tattooers. I feel like I dip in so many different styles, and I don’t feel like I have a personal style that’s all to my own. I’m really like insanely jealous of people like Daniel Albrigo, and Thomas Hooper. You can instantly tell their tattoos. Uncle Allen and Eckle in Copenhagen. I really look up to those two guys and their tattoo style. They really don’t start a project unless they are absolutely happy with the art work.
Is it hard to find that balance between the integrity of our craft and being in the customer service industry?
I’ve tried to change my perspective on it as much as I can and not see everything that walks in the door as something I have to do or just a dollar sign. But the problem here is that living and working in New York City is expensive, so you really can’t afford to let everything slide, and do solely what you want. But I’m trying to be more choosey about large-scale pieces that walk in the door, and think to myself, “Do I want to really accept this commission?” Rather than, “I’ll take your money, cause I’m going to spend forty hours on your f#%king sleeve man, and if I’m not into it, its going to show on the design.” I want to put more stuff out there that genuinely represents me. I’m trying to find my own style and my own voice, and I dabble in this and I dabble in that, but, all in all, I hope it looks like my kind of stuff. I never want to be said that like oh that guy looks like this other tattooer. I never want that. I’m not doing my job if my tattoo looks like somebody else’s.
How important do you think tradition is to what we do? I mean it’s changing so much now a days to television, and you tube, and Google.
I think tattoo culture in general is kind of a pain in my ass. I get tired of getting asked about the television shows all the time. I make a point not to watch them, you know, like, I’m all for a sharing of information with your peers and the people that you’re into, but really not into giving information to people I don’t f#%king know, you know, and that’s the thing about television. That’s the thing about this craft, for the mystery that was behind it not really the elaborate lifestyle that it puts on television. I mean what happened to the mystery, or just the Awe and respect for the craft? The people who are pushing the boundaries of tattoos are not on TV shows. They are not going out and doing that sh*t, they are the guys that are going home and focusing on their craft or getting up early in the morning and working on their craft. Guys like Phil Holt, Grime, Philip Lieu, and Dan Sinnes. Never looking back. Always looking forward. Constantly creating.
Any final words of wisdom? Work Hard?
Yeah, it’s tattooed on me "work hard if you wanna be good".