Friday, April 10, 2009

The Tattooed Poets Project: Jackie Sheeler's Swirling Tribal Tattoos

Today's tattooed poet is Jackie Sheeler. The photos she sent me were taken by one of her friend's daughters, who utilized Jackie as one of her subjects in a photography project about tattooed New Yorkers.

Jackie explains:

"I have just two pieces, if by “piece” you mean connected & thematic. I didn’t get them all at once, though.

The big one on my left shoulder was done all at once by an artist named Carlos Alfonso at the 23rd street tattoo shop [Rising Dragon Tattoos]. I told him I wanted a “wing”, and pointed out about half a dozen pieces of flash that were kinda-sorta but not quite what I wanted. he told me to come back in a week, and he had created the amazing design that you see.

The tattoo on the right has come about in stages.

The first bit is the somewhat intricate tribal abstraction on the top back of the shoulder. I got that one around 1993, when tribal was just starting to become popular, and it’s a funny story.

I went to an illegal flash parlor in Brooklyn [tattooing in New York City was illegal until 1997], a basement filled with all guys except for me, and just one artist, a big old guy named Tony, who looked like somebody you’d meet on The Jackie Gleason Show. I had a copy of a tribal piece that I’d Xeroxed out of a tattoo magazine, and I told him I wanted that only bigger. He seemed pretty shocked – “you want THAT?” – and said sure he’d do it for $60, which was a lot cheaper than I’d expected. He ran it through that mimeo machine or whatever it is that they use, enlarged it and stenciled it onto me...

...But then I had to wait. Why? Because a drug dealer came in with his falling-down drunk girlfriend, gold teeth, handfuls of cash, and a gun pretty obviously stuck in his waistband, and needed immediate service. His girlfriend was getting a tattoo “for him." He picked out the flash – a big, ugly bulldog, snarling and all – and had Tony put it on the girl’s abdomen. It was pretty horrible. She was gorgeous, and I knew how she was going to feel when she woke up with a hangover and THAT on her belly. Anyway, my turn was next and tony got the piece done in like half an hour.

I didn’t get another tattoo for 9 years, which is when I got the big one that Carlos did on my left shoulder.

I went back to Carlos (by then he was working at MacDougal Street Tattoo Company [since closed] ... in 2004 and got my “wing and a prayer” tattoo, which is the feathery wing with a peace sign emerging from it that’s just above the crook of my arm. I actually got this piece on July 6, which is George Fucking Bush’s birthday, and I got it in honor of him being about to be thrown out of the White House. (My band also released a single related to that, so it was a big thing for me – though obviously things didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped!) That piece was a standalone for a while, then I went back and asked Carlos to do a few more curlicues up my arm to attach it to the tribal on my shoulder, which he did.

Two years after that, I went back to MacDougal tattoo to get the curlicues extended down to my left wrist, and asked for Carlos. They said he was “no longer practicing” but it was a very strange moment, and the two people at the counter had these looks on their faces. By that time I’d gotten to know Carlos a bit. He was always having girlfriend problems and talking about moving back to Florida, so I asked if he had done that. So sad. No, he had committed suicide a couple months before. He was only 31.

It was very strange for me, all of a sudden my art seemed different. I felt like I was wearing his suicide note, in a way. But that (rather absurd) feeling passed, and I went back to MacDougal in a couple of weeks and had Carlos’ friend, Patrick Conlon, put on the curlicues in Carlos’ style. That session was like in honor and memory of Carlos, and we talked fondly about him while Patrick worked."

Thanks to Jackie Sheeler for sharing her detailed recollections of her tattoo stories.

Please be sure to head over to BillyBlog to read one of her poems here.

You can also read her blog, Get Angry With Me, here, or visit her band, Talk Engine, on MySpace Music here.

1 comment:

jaxx said...

hey bill, thank you so much for this feature! i had no idea you'd run the whole involved story of my tattooed life, and i am delighted that you did.

this is the one project out of all the NatPoMo projects that i find to be completely original -- and a whole lot of fun! thanks again!