Rhys Gordon's Tattoos
Coming into contact with heavily tattooed people planted the seed. Getting my first Tattoo at 15 even though I probably looked 11, I knew this was what I wanted to do. The sound, the smell, the atmosphere of tattoo shops had me hooked. In a time when they were the opposite of today, worn by outsiders, sailors, crooks, the list goes on!!!! Always a sense of fear mixed with excitement when entering this hidden world, almost like walking into a rough pub. Not knowing what to expect or who would be in there. Tattooing has always had its own filtering process, to gain an apprenticeship you didn’t produce a portfolio of artwork like today, I think it was more a test of character that opened the door. Well these are my observation's. For somebody to bestow some information on you was quite an honour and meant you had earned a level of respect, a great feeling and sense of achievement that I think can be taken for granted today, with everything so available and readily shared.
I spent the following years honing my skills tattooing. I began getting tattooed by some of the leading artists of the time , like Little Mick , Paul Braniff , and Trevor McStay in search of knowledge, but instead of asking questions I simply watched and tried to remember everything I could. Around this time I moved on to work with Kenny Mac at his old Brunswick studio. Still a working class area and on the first floor above a sex shop. The next 2 years were an amazing time, coming into contact with more artists, and lots of interesting people. I joined the P.T.A.A around this time, where I had to attend several meetings then present photos to be judged by my pears on artistic skill and character before becoming a probationary member. I went to conventions, visited other artists and treaded respectfully through this world.
Melbourne were I grew up had some great tattooists with names like Shaky Bill and Inky Rick. I walked into a well-known dodgy Flinders street Tattoo shop along time ago, met by the owner leaning in the doorway smoking a cigarette. I had to squeeze by him to get in. Without missing a drag he growled "what do ya want?" I replied "I’m just looking", His reply, was simply, "Make it quick then!!!" Great stuff, a time were flash was the industry standard, and you were likely to get kicked out if you asked any questions regarding how to become a tattooist.
My entry came via a close family friend, Tattoo Charlie. I did my first Tattoo with home made machines at 15. Then spent all my spare time hanging around his Tattoo studio, watching, cleaning, listening, getting tattooed, absorbing as much as I could. A time of no Internet, no tattoo magazines, so everything known was a well guarded secret. A sleeve wasn’t constructed of your favourite images from the Internet or some celebrity you want to look like, it was chosen from the designs on the walls. A time where wizards and castles reigned supreme. My own arms were carefully picked out from the latest J.D Crow flash sheets that were the money makers of the day. Every few weeks I would either get an outline or something completed. My half sleeves were made up of about 4 major pieces then filled in with a bit of biker dust or some other random scribble. A far cry from what’s being Tattooed on skin today. This was all part of my learning process, and my arms are a messy gathering of a bygone era and the only story they really tell is the time I’m from. Tattoos can simply look good and be just as valid with no meaning, as to some that have emotional attachment that gives them justification. Guys have always wanted to look tuff and girls sexy. Simple!!!
I always loved Japanese Tattooing from the beginning wanting a bodysuit from first sight. So when Paul Jefferies of Smiling Buddha in Canada came to Australia to work with Trevor McStay at Dynamic Tattoo in 1995, I immediately booked in for a big dragon on my thigh. This experience opened my eyes to what could be done both artistically and professionally. The dawn of custom tattooing and appointments had arrived , as opposed to lining up outside a tattoo shop before it opened to get in . I then had Trevor tattoo me adding new pieces to my arms and kindly reworking some older tattoos. Luckily for me Trevor took an interest in me, giving me the help he could along the way. He has remained a mentor and friend over years. In 2009 I had a black dragon back piece done by him, completing my bodysuit. A true gentleman of the Tattoo Industry who has been there and done that. Still maintaining incredible enthusiasm and work ethic.
1995 saw me leave for London in search of adventure and knowledge. I went to the Dunstable Tattoo conventions, the opening of the Amsterdam Tattoo Museum, visited as many shops as I could, absorbing everything possible. Working in London exposed me to opportunities that have been invaluable in both tattooing and life in general. I worked in a super busy street shop in the heart on Kensington Market which