Skin Nicks: Marked for Life
( this is abridged from an article published in the New Zealand Herald by Michelle Hewitson)
A Young man out on the town on a rites of passage boozing binge wakes up in the morning with a permanent reminder of the night he can’t remember– a tattoo.
That was then. Nowadays, the tattoo parlor is more likely to be called a studio; the drunk or drugged will be shown the door and think twice if you want a hit of the demon nicotine to get you through the painful parts.
Tatu is home to resident tattoo artist Rob Krause, who has been using bodies as canvases for over sixteen years. Unlike other skin art salons, his specializes in Samoan designs. Krause, whose connection with Samoa is through his German/Samoan ancestry; is learning the traditional methods, using bone instruments, under the guidance of South Auckland artist Paulo Sulu’ape.
He figures he has five years of training ahead of him before he’s qualified. In the meantime he will engrave bits of bodies with patterns a la Pacifica with the tools of the modern tattooist’s trade– the whirring needle.
Since 1990, tattoo artists have had to be licensed; and the new image has attracted a different clientele. In that time, says Rob, the image of tattoo studios has been completely turned around.The initiative to clean up was driven from within the industry. Rob says 60% of those who decide to treat themselves to a tattoo are women, although he admits that this may have something to with his personal style, which he describes as “softish: I like fantasy art more than skulls”.
And, he says, tattoos have entered the mainstream as a form of body adornment. Before the mid eighties most of his clients were blue collar workers; now there’s no social demographic attached to who goes under the needle.
Rob says people are no longer afraid to go into the studio– and that’s as much to do with the concerns about hygiene as it is marking the body for life.
Much of his daily crust comes from following the whims of his clients but Rob says he has turned business away. “Some people I flatly refuse to work on, some of them come in and they’re obviously not the full packet of crisps”. If people show even the slightest degree of hesitation he sends them away to think things through. “It’s something to be taken seriously and I always ask what possessed you. If it turns out it was a spur of the moment thing I wont do it”. Rob will also attempt to talk people out of having their current paramour’s name etched for eternity. “Children and parents are fine– their for keeps– but I think a lot of requests come out of a last ditch attempt to keep a relationship alive”. And he always asks how long the couple have been together. ” If it’s a week, it’s see you later. You can’t afford to do it– the worst advertisement for your work is people who are going to regret it”.
Rob says tattooing is looking to its roots and the traditional motifs of Maori, Samoan and Rarotongan art are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand.
His advice to prospective clients; think beyond what is trendy when contemplating something that may mark you as an up to the minute member of the in crowd today but which might make you blush when you’re settled in the suburbs.