Artist Feature: Liam Blvck
There are so many tattoo artists that I follow on instagram but Liam kind of fell into my life in other ways and they are one of the local artists I have the most respect and admiration for. Not only are their tattoos beautiful and memorable, but also their quiet but bright personality really grabbed my attention and drew me to them.
Liam Blvck is a non-binary queer POC originated from Toronto, Canada, and currently reside in Vancouver, working at Sticks and Stones Tattoo (a tattoo studio that is known to promote diversity in clients and artists and a general feeling of inclusivity) Their style is something that plays to my tastes completely as they do “heavy blackwork, influenced by occultism, esoteric imagery, and heavy metal pulp art.” There is nothing I love more than bold black lines and dark imagery.
I asked Liam to give us a peak into their world as a tattoo artist in the scene today and they did not disappoint! I highly recommend both artists and collectors to read their answers as they did a lot more emotional labour for this project than I expected and they had a lot of really important things to say.
How do you push the boundaries of traditional tattoo artistry and culture?
I came from a traditional apprenticeship background as a queer cis women before I identified as non binary, and also getting a handful of tattoos in a traditional tattoo shop setting beforehand does give me a full on perspective of that traditional tattoo mentality. What I could describe as the traditional artistry, it's very masculinity based; everything has to be tough, no weakness, yet, it's extremely toxic to mental health because of the constant struggle and competition of being the "best".
For women in the art, it's still very sexualized; from tattooing magazine, to instagram tattoo models, it's very white male gaze. For LGBTQAI2+ and Sex Workers, safe spaces just simply do not exist. There are numerous times I feel so small and vulnerable because I do not feel like I fit in my industry and community no matter how "covered" I am.
By pushing the boundaries of the artistry and culture, it starts with how we interact with clients and peers; tattooing shouldn't be an exclusive club, it shouldn't make anyone uncomfortable in any sort of way, it shouldn't be a struggle to find an artist who folks can put complete trust in. I've witnessed clients (also from experience) being tattooed from an artist who clearly made them extremely uncomfortable because of their comments/attitude.
I want to make sure anyone who comes to me feels like they can put all their trust in me and be able and comfortable to speak their thoughts and ideas.
Getting a tattoo is an intense experience. You are getting something permanent from someone you just met few minutes or hours ago and that can be scary. I will always reassure my client that they are not alone and it's okay to admit that you can't sit through a whole session without taking breaks. As the tattooer, I have the responsibility to guide/check on clients to get them through this intense experience.
Comparing within the past 5 years, tattooing had changed in such a big way because of the growth of social media especially Instagram which promotes tattoos on an accessible platform for everyone. You can simply just go on explore page or search a hashtag, and tons of tattooer's profile and work will show up in the palm of your hand. With that it comes with a double edge sword of outsider perspective vs. inside perspective, new generation tattooer merge from the blooming of social media vs. tattooer who’s been tattooing before social media existed.
I’m very thankful of how social media brought the community, global wise, closer, and having more access of knowledge to perfect the craft. At the same time I would always stay respective on the craft itself: where is came from, how it started, how privileged we are to get to this point.
How did you establish your unique style and who are your influences?
Before tattooing, I did attended Art school and studying Art in a very institutionalize setting. My style of work didn't set up a foundation until the last year of school; most of the subject matter is based on spirituality through trauma, anxiety, depression, with a mix of my interest in Metal music/high fantasy/bdsm culture.
I adore artists from Luis Ricardo Falero, Goya, Caravaggio, Francis Bacon to artists like John Baizley/Florian Bertmer. I'm very into intense compositions and details work, which leave viewers a "feeling". Also, because of my music interest it comes natural that I attracted dark subject matter. Haha
Beside the establishment of my style and my influences, I view my work as a big "fuck you" to what consider something that only "heavily masculine" men would draw, especially cis white men. Although I'm non binary, queer, my art is already queer and it doesn't have to painfully try to make itself as "queer" as possible; I've drawn into masculine things since I was a child, and I feel like my community is lacking there's masculinity within the femininity but minus the toxic element.
Would you be willing to speak on your experience as a queer POC (person of colour) artist within a very cis male dominated industry that celebrates whiteness heavily? How do you see the industry changing from what it used to be with the emergence of more queer run spaces?
As a QPOC, although I met wonderful people within the industry, I feel like an outsider. I often feel like my words are not take seriously and dismissed because not only my gender and ethnicity, but also my appearance that does not fit into the “conventional” POC. Being a WOC or femme POC in the industry gives extra layer of struggle, by which you’re being judged by your appearance before your work. As if I have to create this persona that appeals to white folks, or consumers so people like my work. At one point it discouraged me so much that I almost wanted to give up my tattoo style, and just be a people pleaser, but in the end I stick with authenticity. I presented my work in a way that said this is who I am as a person; my experiences of growing up as a POC shaped who I am. We have to be mindful that not every POC are the same and has to be the same to cater the majority of the general public. My craft should be the voice of who I am, because this is why I devoted myself in this industry.
As the emergence of queer run spaces, I can see the industry already changing slowly. But it still needs support from the clients and the public. Without folks who go to the queer safe space tattoo shop, queer tattooers won't be able to continue their craft and won’t be able to provide the space that people need; as unfortunate it is, we're living under capitalism and queer spaces struggle to survive. Also, we need to stop capitalism from brainwashing and controlling what we can see or even telling us what we suppose to like or dislike.
I can see positive changes of the industry in rethinking the way of learning the craft (the thought that traditional apprenticeship aren't the only way), also the visibility of diversity in style. But as I've mentioned, it will be a very slow change and needs a lot of support from outside.
Outside of tattooing, how do you like to express your creativity?
To be honest, besides make art, I just do more paintings to express my creativity; being a tattooer is hard to have down time to do pursue other hobbies. I myself am a parent of 2 pups, beside working art, and I spend time taking care of them. There really isn’t much a day off for me; when I’m not at work, I’ll be drawing designs, answering emails, and drawing up more designs for my flash book. I would say tattooing is almost a 24/7 job; it's a lifestyle you're devoted to for the rest of your career.