Interview: Kim Saigh of L.A. Ink
Mon, 14 Jan 2008 08:09:36
The 101 Cafe is a cozy coffee shop that sits nestled deep in the heart of Hollywood. It's one of the few retro locations in LA that actually bears some semblance of history. The wood and brick paneling evokes classic TV Land, while the washed-out framed photos on the wall are completely Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Master tattoo artist and L.A. Ink co-star Kim Saigh sits comfortably in a corner booth. Smiling, her piercing eyes scan the room and she laughs, "I absolutely love finding places like this in LA. It's pure Brady Bunch!"
Kim's not "Hollywood" at all. She's early to this meeting and doesn't check her phone once during the two-hour conversation. Kim does find herself at an interesting point in her career though. She co-stars in one of the hottest shows on television: TLC's runaway hit L.A. Ink. However, she still maintains a serious devotion to her craft. Though its content may differ from the '70s classics, L.A. Ink is certainly modern TV Land with its interplay of four highly distinct personalities. Kim speaks with charisma and intelligence about the show and her work. Crafting vibrant tattoos since her teens, she became a beacon in the Chicago tattoo world and garnered international acclaim. She's also become sought out by rockstars far and wide, tattooing everyone from KoRn's Munky to Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme. Over a late dinner with ARTISTdirect, she delved into tattooing rock's greats, the TV show and what it means to be an artist.
What inspired you to become a tattoo artist?
When I was kid, I hung around a lot of tattooed people, and they all had really bad tattoos. I was like 15 or 16 years old, and I would look at their tattoos and be like, "These tattoos suck." I'd look at myself, and I knew I could do so much better. I had no idea of how to get through the door and into the tattoo world. I grew up pretty closed off, and I lived in the suburbs. People who owned tattoo shops weren't so quick to bring on new apprentices either. So I went into a tattoo shop one day, and I had drawn a tattoo for a friend. I wasn't expecting anything. The people at the shop came up to me, and were like, "If we taught you how to tattoo, would you want to learn?" I had already gotten my first one, when I was 16. I snuck out of my parent's house [laughs]. It just kind of fell into my lap. I think a lot of my life has been serendipitous like that.
Your artwork bears an intriguing fairy tale sensibility. Is that especially influential on your style?
I love storybook art, and I'm about as cheesy as you can get! I love fantasy art. I think as an artist, there are so many things that influence you, and you find a way for them to converge. I really love Art Nouveau. So I've got a lot of swirling, organic shapes in my art pieces. I worked with this one guy, my former boss, who was really into light and texture: just tattoos that flowed with the body. He was all about light and form. He had a heavy influence on me, even though I don't do the light sources like he does. I do really enjoy organic, natural textures. Now I really try to take on projects that represent me in the way I want to be seen. That's ever-changing too. You can only do one type of subject matter so many times. I think a lot of it is drawing, because what you do in your spare time is going to evolve. Your tattoos are also never going to be as good as the drawings, but you need to keep doing that on the side.
Also, you explore a lot of iconography: religious, literary and otherwise. Is that another deep influence?
I love iconography of all forms. I'm not religious. I hate the word "spiritual," but I guess if you had to categorize me as something…I really like what it represents. I think the artists of those time periods were just completely dedicated to what they were doing. I think the religious experience was for them, and not what they were actually producing. That's the way I see it.
The actual creation is much more spiritual.
I really love architecture as well. When you go into a big cathedral, you can see the hours someone put into the mosaics, domes and everything in the church. It's all done probably in the name of God for them, but I still think the actual religious experience is the artist producing the art itself. It's a selfless act of faith. I think religious art is supposed to evoke a feeling that's meant to humble you, and I like that.
The art is part of the artist.
Right! We all have these pictures of what God looks like. Who knows? I feel like artists are visionaries. Visionaries are so important, and I believe they're meant to set precedents in all art forms from visual to music. I don't think people always realize the affect of artists' work. Creating art involves a selflessness. I think a lot of people can't imagine doing that themselves. So that's why they come to artists, because artists can put those feelings out. Although, honestly, I respond more to music than I do to visual art. I see things, and I'm able to break them down and put them on paper or on the canvas or whatever medium. I've always had the gift to cultivate. Definitely being able to transfer emotions is important.
How did everything with L.A. Ink come about?
I got a call out of the blue, and there were two messages from a friend of mine, Juan Puente who's a tattoo artist at Spotlight Tattoo. I hadn't talked to Juan in like two years. So I walked in, and I called him back. He was like, "Kat Von D's got her own show, you've got to try out for it." I responded, "You're out of your mind. I'm not going to do it." So I got off the phone with him, and he said, "I'm going to put you on the list. If you change your mind, you don't have to do it." The only reason I wasn't going to do it was because I was scared of being on TV and everything involved with it. I had almost moved out to LA about three different times in my life. There was always something obstructing the move. However, I felt like this was a good time, and there was something pushing me out. So I went and tried out for show. There was about a four-month process of waiting to hear if I got picked. It was pretty crazy. Lo and behold.
Has it been fun so far?
It's been really fun. When I worked in Chicago, there were two of us in the studio. So I was basically by myself tattooing. Now I'm in a shop with a lot of people. We have whole crew now, as well as the artists. But that's actually proven to be really productive for me, and it's really inspirational to have those other people around. I realized that I do need other people's energy to bounce off of. Plus, I've gotten to do so many cool things. LA's like a play land. It doesn’t even seem real at times. It's definitely surreal. I think there's something really cool about experiencing that. You have a lot of choices, and you don't have to live your life in this little categorized box or whatever you thought you had to be. I think that's the mystique of L.A. It can be really creepy at times. I think it's also very profound in that your reality is what you make of it.
Do you feel like due to the show, the artistry has gained more of a mainstream acceptance?
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