Interview with Phil Wilkinson
How long have you been tattooing for?
7 years. One of my ex's uncles picked up this piece of shit kit off the Internet, and my girlfriend at the time passed it onto me. I used to practice from home and tattoo fruit all the time: bananas, oranges - mostly melons. One of my friends watched me tattoo a piece of fruit one day and decided to let me tattoo him. The whole thing was so unnatural to me at the time. I knew I had to fucking work. Following working from home for a while, I ended up with a very vague and quick apprenticeship that only lasted for a few weeks. I was thrown in at the deep end.
What led you to tattooing in the first place?
This may come as a surprise, but I thought tattoos were disgusting and scraggy at one point. I wanted to be a designer of clothes or roller coasters - I just wanted to do something creative. As bad as it sounds, it wasn’t until I watched Miami Ink that tattoos started to fascinate me. Seeing the way people applied different aspects of art in such an immediate way really appealed to me. Eventually I started drawing. I really wanted the lifestyle these artists had, and if I want something that bad I'll generally work for it.
What is currently inspiring you as an artist?
I'm trying to incorporate an abstract feel into everything I produce. Nothing really has to make sense technically. As long as it's readable, it doesn't have to make sense at all. I'm trying to be as loose as possible. Darkness and evil fascinate me. I’m very religious and a huge believer in God, and the more good I do, the more I feel like some kind of darkness is trying to challenge me. I think that being able to express darkness through my work has allowed me to let go of some of that. It’s almost as if some of these challenges fall away whenever a piece comes together. I don’t know where the fascination comes from. If you are one to believe in a past life, I may have seen hell before.
Things haven’t always been abstract in your world, are there any influences that have followed you from the start?
Bold tattoos. I draw so much influence from traditional work. I like tattoos that are striking from a distance. Sam Ricketts influenced me a lot when I was starting out, and is still my biggest influence to this day! He actually produced the candle and rose on my neck. The candle will never burn out as long as I try.
Can you talk me through your journey to the work you're currently producing?
I was producing bright, bold work until about a year back. I completely rejected colour. I don't really know why, since I always said I wouldn't use black and grey. I didn't think tattoos could be bold without colour. I think I wanted to push that boundary. I also gave up on colour around the same time my Dad passed away. As well as wanting to challenge myself with this new direction, the colourful work I was producing didn’t really feel genuine anymore. My girlfriend recently suggested that I might be colour blind - I don't even fucking know anymore! I have no idea how I got here. I'm just as lost as you are.
The rate at which your work heals is baffling. Getting tattooed is naturally a violent process, so what is it that you do differently or encourage that stops the healing process from being equally as daunting?
It’s all in the application. There’s different ways of tattooing. The impact creates the boldness of the tattoo, so I experiment with different ways of applying the ink. With the shading, I try to whip through the skin. The way I wanted my work to heal has also informed the direction it has taken. When I was working with colour, I was hammering the ink in! It's all about the healed product. That's what you should be thinking about when applying the ink.
Your work is incredibly idiosyncratic. How were all of the elements that are brought together to produce your work teased out of the process?
My work looks like it does because I was never happy with the tattoo, but always liked the sketch. I had to take more risks on the skin in order to let the work breath in the same way the sketch did. I’ve gathered a lot of techniques at this point. Once I've got the lines down, I can see the direction I want the piece to take. The more you break the boundaries, the more unique your style becomes.
Phil Wilkinson can be found on Instagram @blvkphillip
Interview by James Musker (@mirror.dash)