The notorious Paul Booth, father of “dark” tattoo’ and an idol to so many, gave his first and only interview up until today to a Greek medium, HeartbeatInk, at his base of operations, the atmospheric Last Rites Tattoo Theatre in New York. Among others he has artistically tended the bodies of Slayer, Slipknot, Pantera and Lamb of God.
Do you by any chance know any Greek tattoo artist(s)?
I know Savvas. He is a good friend of mine. I go visit him on occasion. I am due to come back soon and visit him.
So you’ve been to Greece?
Yes, I’ve been to Athens. I love it. It’s beautiful! And I have to go back one of these days soon. I am not sure when I will be able to get out of here. But I am definitely gonna be back. I have promised Savvas.
How and when did you get into tattooing?
I started tattooing in 1988… It's been a long time… I apprenticed under a guy in New Jersey for about two and a half years and then I went on the road and it's been nonstop ever since.
So what happened after the first years? How did your path evolve from the 90's to the 00's? And on top of it you became really famous…
In 1991 I did my first tattoo convention and I had tattooed a back piece on my girlfriend at that time. I went to the convention just hoping to find some work because I didn't have a shop to work at after I left my original one. She got a huge amount of attention for her back piece and ended up on the cover of a magazine. I first started getting invited around the county to do guest spots from tattooers that I knew and then it went global. I've just been trying to keep up with it ever since. It's been constant. I would say 23 years of travelling the world and just doing my thing. That's about it really. I never planned on getting a lot of attention. I mean, it’s nice of course. I am very fortunate, but at the time I had no idea that it was going to take off the way it did. It is pretty amazing.
And back then, those were different times. I guess that the publicity and the acceptance were not as great as they are today.
The era of social media that it is now was not in place at all. I think that we were just figuring out email at the time (laughs)… So all this was really happening before the new rage of the internet.
How has that rage affected the tattoo scene in your opinion?
Well you don't really need conventions anymore. It is just all about social media; getting out there, online and people come to you. The discovery of such amazing work out there is pretty exciting. I would say that the only complaint I have is that they see a lot of work that is fresh, not yet healed, and people don't really understand that it changes when it heals. It is not as amazing when it is a few months or half a year old. There are some tattoo rockstars out there that are getting a lot of attention and probably shouldn't. And then there are of course artists out there that you discover through social media that are amazing. The industry has grown immensely as a result of social media.
What can you tell us about your unique tattoo style?
I focus on black and grey. I do mainly monsters and demons and biomechanical. I work mostly freehand depending on the piece; but most of the time it’s freehand. I get a lot of artistic freedom to interpret an idea the way I want to do it. I feel very fortunate to be able to have that freedom to create. So I am pretty happy with the state of things.
Has metal music influenced your tattoo style?
Well it's always had an effect. When I was a teenager I used to listen to Slayer while drawing in my room. Music has always had an influence on my art. Ι think it all goes hand in hand. People are generally affected by music and music represents something inside us. It is all relative. If you tend to draw happy pictures you probably listen to happy music (laughs).
I would imagine that you have tattooed some of the people you admired and listened to when you were a teenager?
Oh yeah. I remember the day I started tattooing, dreaming someday of tattooing Slayer and now they are close friends of mine. So it is pretty cool how that worked out. I tattoo a lot of the metal bands and rockstars; mostly heavy metal guys.
Have you also done Kerry King's notorious head tattoo?
Yes I did his head and his arm. Kerry King is a very good friend of mine. Among many others I have tattooed members of Slipknot and Phil Anselmo from Pantera.
After twenty three years, what inspires you to keep tattooing and to continue being creative?
I need the creative environment to stay inspired. I have built this place around me so that I will constantly have inspiration and I won't stagnate. The group of artists that I have selected to work here at Last Rites, the art gallery and all the art that comes through every month is an overload of creative inspiration. So that keeps me interested.
Apart from the NYC Tattoo Convention, do you attend any others?
I do some. About three or four a year right now. Maybe next year I will start doing some more and be back in Europe. I just have been staying at home a lot because I have been working on larger stuff and I've got to run this place. It takes a lot of my time, interferes with my art unfortunately. I try to keep a balance.
Do you meet H. R. Giger often?
I met him about a year and a half ago. I had a gallery opening at his museum in Switzerland; a retrospective of my art. That was an amazing thing because, just like Slayer, when I was a teenager I was trying to emulate Giger in my art room. Now I have gone full circle and my work has been exhibited in his museum. It is quite an honour.
How do see the US tattoo scene at the moment?
You have to sift through the riffraff. You have to see the special stuff. I am really happy with the way things are going. There is a lot of amazing talent out there now that there never was before. A lot of things started in America and kind of spread. Photorealism is pretty neat. It is the big popular thing now.
Do younger artists show respect here?
Not all of them. There are young guys who don't know half the people they should… But I think there is a balance. There is always a balance. There is a degree of artists that respect where they come from and pay tribute to it or just respect in general, which is great. And then there are guys who think they are rock stars and don't give a dam about the guys that came before them. You know, it's the same everywhere.
What would you advise someone who would like to become a professional tattoo artist?
Get an apprenticeship. I suppose that these days you can learn on your own but I don't advise it. I think that you’ve got to be willing to travel, to go to a tattooer who is willing to train you and devote yourself to them for a while, whatever the agreement and be prepared to do exactly that. And don't shit where you eat as they say (laughs).
Paul Booth Fine Art.
Paul Booth Fine Art.
Paul Booth Fine Art & H. R. Giger sculpture.
Last Rites Tattoo Theatre.
Photos & interview by Ino Mei.