Currently reading : Ten Questions: Rich Hardy
Recently relocated to Sydney via London, Rich Hardy has carved out a name for himself with his bold take on classic Western tattoo imagery. While so-called “traditional” tattooing is currently experiencing an ongoing popularity, with imagery and application techniques seemingly being continually regurgitated, Hardy constantly strives to push boundaries while remaining firmly rooted in both historic imagery and ideologies. Continuing our “Ten Questions” interview series, we caught up with Hardy to chat about his thoughts on tattooing among a number of other things. To see more of Rich’s work, be sure to check out his Instragram @rich_hardy.
To begin, could you please introduce yourself, where you are from and how you got in to tattooing?
My name is Rich Hardy, and I’m originally from a small town in Hertfordshire, which is around 45 minutes north of London. I now live in Sydney, Australia for the time being. I got in to tattooing pretty randomly, I didn’t really even think about being a tattooer until I got asked if I wanted to learn. I was getting tattooed fairly regularly in a small street shop in West London and then one day was asked if I wanted to apprentice, I started a few days later. I wasn’t really doing anything with my life, kinda drifting and just jumping from one shitty job to the next. It was a pretty tough time but I am grateful that I was treated like shit. It made me appreciate things a lot more and work harder, even when it came to being made to paint the outside toilet floor light grey in the freezing English winter! Unfortunately, me and my master no longer speak but I am eternally grateful for the opportunity he gave me to get my foot in the door. My good friend Greg played a big part in my life at this point too. He had got in to tattooing a couple of years before me and helped me a lot. He is one of my best friends today. Later on I was taken under the wing by a tattooer called Jynx from New Orleans who was living in London at that time. He pretty much taught me everything I know. It was definitely a big turning point. Without crossing paths with him, I definitely wouldn’t be talking here today.
You’ve cultivated a style that is clearly derived from the caucus of traditional western tattoo imagery. At what point did you decide to start to work like that and why?
I can’t put an exact date on it to be honest, but it probably happened around four years ago. I found myself very drawn to vintage tattoo flash and old black and white photographs that I was collecting and by immersing myself in this, it was inevitable. That was definitely a stepping stone to working in such a traditional way. I like that it just evolved in to this, I feel like I made no conscious decision to start making traditional tattoos. It feels very natural. So many people call their tattoos ‘traditional’ without understanding what makes a good traditional tattoo. Its seems to be a cool term right now. I think many of our forefathers in tattooing would be turning in their graves if they were to hear or see that.
Who are some of the historic tattooers whose imagery you draw inspiration from and what about it do you find so appealing?
There are so many but I am very drawn to tattooers from the early to mid 1900’s. There are many American tattooers such as Coleman, Marquand and W. R. King that I admire, but one of my all time favourites is a German tattooer called Christiaan Warlich. I think he was the most influential tattooer that Germany has ever known, his flash was so well drawn and fairly intricate compared to American traditional but still simple enough to be tattooed. They had the perfect amount of black to colour ratio. I have a fair amount of original photos of his work in my personal collection. They’re among my favourites. Its hard to explain exactly why I am so drawn to certain designs. Its like when you see something and you know that it is the most perfect thing, but you cant put your finger on it. This excites me.
Could you talk a bit about flash – how actively are you painting designs? How do you go about re approaching and reinterpreting old images?
I try to paint a few sheets a week when I am not so snowed under. Im always searching for that one design that I haven’t seen before that pops out to me. I love to repaint old designs and put a bit of a bolder line with them. I try to strip back the design a little more, as a lot of old English and European flash is more detailed than American. I do this as you have to look at the tattoo design as to how it will age in the skin over time. Many people don’t consider this these days, people are making their tattoos too detailed, with bold lines and with too much black (yes this is possible!). All of the old men you see around that have amazing tattoos on their bodies, are literally a dying kind. In 50 years, many people will be walking around with almost solid black bodies as the application and design of the tattoo is not thought out with the mind to age, just for the glory of Instagram.
When tattooing customers, do you prefer they pick from premise designs or do you actively produce new imagery for your clientele?
Many of my customers come in and just pick flash, that’s my favourite however when someone says they would like something specific, I go to my personal collection, books and mental memory of a certain image/design that fits what they would like. Some times change it slightly to accommodate their ideas but 99% of what I do comes from an image from the past, whether its from old flash or an old advertising design, almost nothing new.
You recently relocated from London to Sydney. Why the change and what are the differences and similarities between tattooing in Australia and England?
Yes, I just moved to Australia back in mid-february this year. We were meant to be living in New Zealand but plans changed. My girlfriend and I have been on the road traveling for almost two years, working on the road and seeing the world. I plan to keep doing this in coming February when my work visa has expired. We chose to live in Australia due to UK Border Control. My girlfriend is Australian and almost got denied entry in to the UK as we’d passed through there a few too many times in the last few years. She was lucky to be granted access but was told for her to visit again, she’d have to stay in her home country for a while as she hadn’t spent enough time there, hence we’re living here now.
Australia is definitely a little behind Europe and America. Not in a negative way but I think it’s due to Australia being so isolated that back in the day, it didn’t go on the same evolutionary path as the rest of the western world. I think there’s more tattooers in England and Europe that are influenced by old tattoo imagery and history than tattooers in Australia and by consequence, not many people in Sydney are doing very traditional tattoos so I feel like I have niche market here, whilst when I was tattooing in England, I had more (friendly) competition.
This is not such a comparison or similarity but a good key link between Australia and England. Older tattooers from Australia spanning the last 100 years have definitely been influenced by English and European tattooing. I feel this because a lot of English and Europeans have been migrating here. This is how western tattooing was introduced to this country. Australian traditional tattooing in the past has definitely developed its own style and look. Have a look at Dickie Reynolds, John Entwistle, Ricky Luder and Cindy Ray’s work for example. It definitely has its own look.
When I was visiting Five Star Tattoo in Fremantle recently, I was lucky enough that Ricky Luder showed me some of Australia’s earliest western tattooing artefacts that they had acquired recently on loan from the Hope family. There were photos from c.1907 of an early Australian tattooer called James Hope being tattooed by C F Morris, who was an English man. There was also his business card in this collection with the address of Moorbank, Sydney. He could have been one of the first tattooers here?… Among this collection were many sheets of flash that are similar to early European designs along with a few George Burchett machines. Rumour has it that his wife Edith wound the coils for these. I find this so exciting to see how western tattooing found itself here.
Your Instagram account boasts well over 10k followers. For many tattooers, this has become quite common. How do you feel about Instagram, or perhaps the internet more broadly as a tool for tattooers?
Instagram is a great tool for tattooers, with the bonus being it’s free. I’ve gained a lot of work from it, and it’s helped me to get internationally known which I’m grateful for, but it has its downsides for sure. It’s now become a deluded monster which people live their lives for, not with. Getting thousands of likes on your photo doesn’t make you a good tattooer, nor does having thousands of followers. The sooner people recognise this, the more of a future tattooing will have. It seems to boost ego’s and people are tattooing only so they can put a photo online, not just tattooing for what it is. And of course there’s the new age nuisance of people advertising to do tattoos cheap and undercutting the rest of us – they don’t understand what damage it’s doing to tattooing and I place the blame partly in social media’s hand for that. It’s very easy for someone to chuck up online that they’ll do a $400 tattoo for $100.
When having conversations about your work, one of the first things that often comes up are the full fronts that you have been known for. Could you talk a little bit about these, considering questions such as, are the customers coming to you for this type of large scale work or does it tend to evolve over time, how do you go about laying them out, how much artistic license do you typically have in these?
People come to me with the idea that they want their whole front tattooed but I always approach it as just one tattoo at a time, generally starting with a piece on their chest or stomach. Then they’ll come back and each session i’ll add to it being one to three pieces at a time, depending on the size – until it’s complete. Some can take a few months, others I’ve been working on for over a year – it depends when they choose to do more or when I’m back in their country. Historically it would’ve been built up piece by piece, and that’s how I approach it now, I’d never outline everything at once unless I’m visiting somewhere for a week or two and the customer is crazy enough to get it all done in a fortnight! But usually, I feel if you don’t stick to traditions, they are lost – that’s how I feel about tattooing now. Nothing excites me more about tattooing than seeing old black and white photos, this is my main inspiration for doing these. Its a massive influence on why I predominantly use only black in most of the fronts I do, although I have done a few colour ones purely at the customers request. As for subject matter, some people specify what they want for almost everything but many come to me with a few ideas they’d like to incorporate and let the rest evolve as we do it. I’m very lucky that my customers have a lot of trust in me, they trust the images I bring to them will make a great front piece.
What else are you in to aside from tattooing? Do these things ever come to influence your tattooing or vice/versa? And if so, how or in what way?
I try to keep my work and personal life separate but it always manages to cross over! Whether its painting at my desk at home, finding new things for my personal collection or working whilst on the road. I like to travel with my girlfriend and see the world and I’m really lucky she doesn’t mind too much that I work along the way. However, I’ve taken months at a time off whilst travelling, and that’s definitely refreshing. There’s also been times where I’ve been forced to take a break, like when we were on a rickety old boat in the south of Turkey for a few days, I couldn’t (or didn’t want to!) think about work whilst everyone else was diving in to the Mediterranean. My work definitely influences where we travel, for instance we’re heading to Malaga next year to visit a tattoo museum run by a guy called Lucas Hendricx – somewhere we’d not usually choose to visit. I think it’s safe to say that my life is heavily involved in tattooing, and given the very few responsibilities I have right now, it’s the only way I should be – it keeps me motivated.
With 2014 nearly half over, what do you consider being your biggest accomplishments? Do you have any other short/long term goals that you’re working towards, and if so what are they?
I’d say moving to a new country and straight up being so busy is a great accomplishment for me. I’m very grateful for so many great customers in Australia. Generally, moving to a new place has that fear of being quiet and having to build a complete new client base from scratch – I’m pretty blown away by the success I’ve had so far. As for future goals, I really try and not look in to that too much. Just over two years ago I had no idea that I was about to hit the road and now I’ve end up living in Australia. Who knows what will happen in the next two years. I find the unknown very exciting.