Opening February 1, 2020, Body of Work: Tattoo Culture explores the rich history and modern artistry of tattooing as a dynamic, ever-evolving artform whose mainstream acceptance has been driven by popular culture. The exhibition features large-scale, original works of art created by Northwest-based artists who demonstrate the wide range of styles possible in tattoo art.
One of those artists is Nate Leslie, who got his start about 10 years ago after getting his first tattoo from a friend.
“Kind of clicked there that that’s what I wanted to do,” he says.
Growing up “drawing pictures all the time” with his brothers, Leslie says art has always been “something that we kind of naturally could do.” He illustrates his subjects with more realistic perspective and proportion than many of the themes found in tattoo in the past century, incorporating bold coloration and a deft use of gray shading.
What attracted you to your illustrative neo-traditional style?
Nate: Well, I fell in love with American traditional when I was younger. When I first started getting into tattooing altogether, it was really all I wanted to do, all I really cared about. And I guess that kind of evolved over time. I wanted to do things with a little bit more detail, a wider color palette, things like that.
Were there any American traditional style artists who inspired you?
Nate: Yeah, Myke Chambers. Myke Chambers I think is one of the best traditional artists there is and his work's been a huge inspiration. The simplicity of it and the large scale of it just inspired me from the get-go. When I was younger, I would look at his drawings when I was trying to compose my own drawings, kind of ripping off his style a little bit. He had a tough upbringing, and he persevered and broke through, and kind of revolutionized the American traditional style. And his pieces are recognizable in a crowd, and that's what I like about him. He just has a particular way of doing things. The simplicity of it, the contrast, the effectiveness of what he does.
How do you feel the tattoo industry has changed since you’ve become part of it?
Nate: Tattoos have gotten a lot more popular. My pool of possible clients is constantly widening. A lot of older people and people who just turned 18 are getting tattooed. And the diversity of people getting tattooed is becoming wider as well. Just growing popularity and social media probably. I think a lot more people are just seeing it. Like when they open up their Facebook or their Instagram, they're seeing people posting photos of tattoos. I would say almost all of my clients find me on Instagram.
What has been the most worthwhile part of becoming a tattoo artist?
Nate: Being able to have a lot of freedom with my art and with life in general. I feel like even if you have a shop owner, you're still kind of your own boss and that appeals to me a lot.
What’s something you wish more people knew about tattoo culture?
Nate: That we never stop working. When we're not doing a tattoo, we're constantly drawing. We're constantly thinking. We're constantly finding reference and inspiration for upcoming designs. It never stops. It just kind of takes over your life. And so a lot of people think when they're paying for a tattoo that they're paying for just that time that you've spent doing the tattoo, but they don't know that you've already spent 10 hours behind the scenes already working on that tattoo. I wish people would know that.
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