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[Zupi] Paul, when did you fall in love with illustrations and why did you start representing them through tattoos?
I was generally an outcast when I was young. So that basically means I spent a lot of time sitting at home alone drawing pictures. Usually images of what I would do to all the kids I hated in school and, of course, a bunch of bizarre super villains as well. It seemed like the only positive attention I received was when I drew a picture, so I guess in my youth I would seek my approval via art. I always seemed to communicate better in pictures than words, plus I sucked at baseball.
Once I discovered tattoo art, I really found myself intrigued with the idea of its permanence and the idea of people wearing my art forever in such a personal way. I find it to be the ultimate art form.
[Zupi] So you were the type of child who loved skeletons and horror movies…
My mother always told me that whenever she offered me crayons, when I was really young, I always picked out the black one. So I guess I’ve always been into dark art. Years ago I found notebooks from second grade that had these rudimentary attempts at skulls and monsters. I really attribute a lot of that to being in Catholic school and abused by nuns so frequently. The nuns that taught me seemed to fill me with a lot of hatred early on in life and I guess that’s always been reflected in my art.
[Zupi] Do you have any formal education in arts? Do you think a diploma is essential when it comes to illustration?
I think art education is a double-edged sword. In my younger years, I always seemed to rebel from various art classes in school. I always felt they were only trying to program me to fit in the box. As a result, I find myself tutoring myself through research and exploration on my own, because my experience had always been making me do it their way. I’ve never been a big fan of rules. However, my regret lies more in my lack of knowledge in art history and general technical knowledge that I would have learned sooner had I gone to school. I think school is a wonderful thing as long as you are capable of maintaining your individuality and objective approach to what you are taught.
[Zupi] Tattoo art is very popular nowadays. What do you think are the good and the bad points about it?
I get asked about the mainstreaming of tattooing all the time, and my answer remains the same: in today’s society it is inevitable that tattoo art grows in its popularity. We live in a society where many people scream for some degree of individuality more than ever. The world governments make us feel like a number every day. And it almost seems like the final frontier of freedom of expression is tattoo art.
Plus it’s still rebellious as it’s a painful experience and one of the ultimate commitments you can make in your life. I think more and more people have a need for these things.
The reason I don’t mind the mainstreaming so much, and the growing pains that come with it, is because I know that while the popularity may bring a thousand more people to the industry, the trendy sheep that end up coming aboard and ultimately force on the dilution tend to fade away in almost no time at all. The thing is that the global awareness also dramatically increases, and maybe a couple hundred of those thousand people actually end up deserving to be here.
[Zupi] You are considered the king of rock tattoo. Which bands do you listen to? Do you usually work listening to music?
I’ve always thought this “King of rock tattoos” title was a little silly, but I also know that it plays a significant role in exposing more people to my art itself, which is my ultimate goal and probably any artist’s ultimate goal.
I experiment a lot with my creative environment and music does play a significant role. But for me it’s all about soundscapes then what type of music I prefer. I find that to create to one’s own full potential as an artist, your surrounding environment needs to be sculpted to be as conducive to your creativity as possible. I think this is important to find your full potential as an artist. The more left-brain distractions that you have around you; it only becomes increasingly difficult to stay in the right brain-dominant mode where your art exists. I therefore find myself listening to dark ambient soundscapes and rarely are there any lyrics or words spoken at all. This helps me find my “zone” much more effectively.
[Zupi] If you could choose anyone in the world to tattoo, who it would be and what would you like to create in this person body?
If Caravaggio was still alive, I would likely go to incredible lengths to share creative time with the master. I can’t really think of anyone alive today that I feel that same drive with. I couldn’t possibly know what I would tattoo on him but as he is the father of Tenebrism, it would surely reflect that.
[Zupi] Have you ever tattooed an idol of yours?
I don’t really have idols. There are definitely artists and musicians that I harbor a sense of admiration for what they do, so therefore getting an opportunity to tattoo them always offers an exciting moment. My reasons are because I see it as an opportunity to take part in a creative collaboration. If an artist or a musician has inspired me over time, it tends to be a lot of fun to share creative moments with them directly. I still love bands like Slayer, for example, so tattooing someone like Kerry King is always a pleasure.
[Zupi] Is there a theme you would never draw?
I don’t do Christ portraits, unless he is suffering at the hand of evil. I don’t do pro-Christian themes. I suppose it’s much like asking a Christian to do a portrait of Satan. I tend to be a man of principal. I also generally do not do logos and things like that.