Darren Brass Talks Tattoos, it’s History and More

ATM: Tattoos started during the period before Christ.

DB: It’s funny. Tattoos are one of the oldest art forms. Graffiti was another art form that I grew up in. Then you go back to the cave paintings. I had a likeness to the deep roots of this culture. This culture evolved all the way through no matter where you came from.

ATM: The cave paintings was considered hieroglyphs, which were a part of the logographic writing system. The artwork that was put on scribes was classified as an art form. Tattoos were not called tattoos but were seen as the only way for communication. Now, we can compare the similarities and call them tattoos. 

DB: It was an adornment. It placed you in your tribe. There is the show “Where you are from?” You were ranking it. It made them look more beautiful.

ATM: They were at its high during the times of Hammurabi who was the sixth king of the First Babylonian Dynasty. The code of Hammurabi was written in what can be considered tattoos. They did not think to put it on each other’s skin yet, but it took the place on stones. This was essence and origin of tattoos before coining its name. Then it moved to be the portrayal of a tribe. It was taken seriously. You have to have this type of ink to show you are with us. I would assume it became popular in American during the mid to late 20th century.

DB: Yes. The military was what brought it into here. The sailors were sailing and saw the tribes. They were intrigued by it and it just grew with them. They got it. This was a mark distinguishing. If you were from the Navy or the U.S Army, then you had something to represent you. Something that represented your ranking, where you had traveled, or where you had been. Army, Navy, it was similar to any other tribe. You have to be distinguished to this and that. It is all playing a part and going around no matter the culture. When you bring in Japanese culture, they have been doing this for centuries. They are inherited to their culture. Things are done a certain way and it does not change. It is a purpose and a reason for everything, which is amazing and remarkable.

ATM: A person’s body replaces a canvas, which can get seen as a metaphor or simile.

DB: Absolutely, your body becomes your technique.

ATM: Why did you move your artwork to a person’s body rather than stay on paper or Adobe Illustrator?

DB: It was where I was at during the time. I have been doing graffiti since I was 14 years old. Graffiti did not have the same presence as it does now. You were not making money doing graffiti. You have to survive. I was in school at the time pursuing an Illustration degree. I had friends that were getting tattoos and I knew people that were getting tattooed. I was in the punk rock hardcore scene. The bands watched our tattoo. My friends were coming to me asking why you are not tattooing. I was drawing designs for everyone. I was like no, I have to finish school. I got bored with school because I was bombing every night and going out doing graffiti. I was bored with school. I was not getting that much out of it. I said I wanted to do it. I went to the shop and started to tattoo.

ATM: It is like you said, “I do.”

DB: Yes, I said “I do.” I did a hardcore and out school apprenticeship. I started as a piss boy and worked my way up. I worked at the end of the shop, made needles for everyone.

ATM: You crawled before you walked.

DB: You have to.

ATM: You have to start from the bottom and work your way to the top. It is the hardest, but the best way.

DB: You have to work your way up. You have to know every aspect and every angle. Kids nowadays do not know how to make a needle. This to me is astonishing. Ok you know there is a needle, but do you know why you are using this needle? Do you know why this needle as supposed to that needle? Just technical things. There are certain things tattoo artists coming into the game should know every degree about the business like anything. A mechanic knows a car grader in and out.

They might not be working on the car grader every day, but they know how it works, how to build it, why it works the way it does, and the parts of it. This aspect of tattooing has been lost a little bit. You can buy a tattoo set up on Amazon like everything else. There were only two tattoo suppliers. You had to be verified to work in or for a shop. I was not allowed in my shop to order my first machines. I was given them when they felt I was ready. I had worked with what I was given. How can I make it better? This was a part of the apprenticeship. I am thankful for it as difficult as it was. I can go anywhere and tattoo with what I have.

ATM: Some people what to get into it not understanding the reality of it. You cannot just draw on a piece of paper or on Adobe Illustrator and then say, “I want to work in the tattoo industry.”

DB: There are more shitty tattoos then there are quality tattoos. It is a shame. It is exactly what you said. “I can draw on a piece of paper and now I can draw on skin. What is the big deal?” It is a very few that can make this transition in such a flawless way because there is so much in it.

ATM: Okay, describe the moment when you made a mistake with a tattoo?

DB: (Laughs).

ATM: Come on. I know you have.

DB: Look everything is like building blocks. A part of knowing how to do a tattoo is if you do make a mistake you know how to cover it or hide it. I spelled two things only in all of my 25 years. I was able to fix every single one of them. I was ten years into my career. Only thing I should have done was put West on a compass. I was tattooing a sailor who works on a ship. He knows a compass. He knew the “E” should have been on the right and not the left.

Why did he not tell me? It is a team effort here. I was looking at the ocean and it was at the left of me. I was thinking this was east. I mean being on the east coast and all. It was just a stupid mistake. The first thing I did was spell Friends wrong. This was after 10 years of tattooing. After I was done, I looked at it, and went “Oh Shit.” Then in a meter-second. I was like “Wait, five people just looked at it and liked it.” Everyone cannot be wrong. I showed it to them before I did it. I noticed it and called the person. “Hey look. I just looked in the design stencil. I flipped the “I and the “E.” It was an easy fix. We are human. We are not with flaw or error. Now, I always show it to them and let them spell it by letter.

ATM: We need the flaws. DB: It makes us human. In every mistake no matter the part of life, you learn from it. This is it. I was mortified the first time I spelled something wrong. Like was someone of an intellectual. “Did I just do this?” I lost sleep over this. Do I want to make this mistake again? Hell no.

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