HAVING EXPLORED AND EXCELLED

IN METAL WORK +

  GRIND - CORE PERCUSSION,

        LIAM SPARKES


HAS SETTLED INTO THE ROLE OF

    ICON 

      OF BLACK LINE WORK TATTOO.

 

 

interview and portraits by Beata Kanter


 

Beata Kanter: Where have you lived?

 

Liam Sparkes: Mostly around London, most of the time. I was born in Hammersmith. For the last 7 years I’ve been on the road, traveling constantly.

 

BK: How did you get started?

 

LS: I studied sculpture in college. Wax casting, dipping, welding metal, things like that. Gave that up after a couple years and played music mostly. I started making flyers and posters for bands and album covers. That’s what helped me get into tattooing. I would tattoo myself, my ex-wife and my friends. At that time people weren’t really doing black line work.


LIAM SPARKES’ CLIENT 1/5


 

BK: Where did the inspiration for that style come from?

 

I also noticed that a lot of the words in the sketchbooks you gave me are in Russian.

 

LS: I’m very influenced by Russian criminal tattoos. I really like Russia. It’s a nice vibe.

 

BK: Really? I’m Russian… and so surprised to hear you say that.

 

LS: Yes. People are different there. Brutal day to day, and brutal in general. It’s an all or nothing culture.

 

BK: I agree. We are a very fatalistic people.

 

LS: Fatalistic, yes. And wallowing in sadness. Russians enjoy that. Getting a smile from a Russian is like getting blood from a stone.

 

The Russian aspect is really, in all senses of the word, inspirational. The brutality of it, the darkness... I quite enjoy it. I mean there’s a light side as well and it’s good to look at both in the same way, rather than shy away from darkness.

 

 


LIAM SPARKES 2/5


 

BK: Do you remember the first time you picked up a tattoo gun? The responsibility and trepidation that came with it?

 

LS: Yeah…the first few months that I started tattooing, I tattooed dead chickens.

 

BK: Dead chickens? Is that a standard skin to practice on in the industry?

 

LS: I guess so… dead chickens or fruits… you know. But yes, picking up a machine takes a long time. To get over the responsibility. After a couple of months I tattooed someone and it was um… didn’t go so well. I had terrible nightmares. I stopped for a little bit. It’s uh…a crushing responsibility if you mess someone up.

 

BK: What happened with that person?

 

LS: Let’s just say I messed him up.

 

BK: Damn... Did he try to sue you or something?

 

LS: No, no. I mean he didn’t even notice. It was just my own self-criticism. Still it was quite crushing. And I had to go try and get over it. It took a while.

 

That’s what makes a tattoo artist, getting over the responsibility of ruining someone. You do it every day. I mean, you mark them anyway. That’s a responsibility within itself.

 

BK: Huge responsibility.

 

LS: But yeah, after a while it becomes second nature.

 

BK: How long has it been now?

 

LS: About 10 years.

 

BK: That’s not so long. Do you consider yourself the pioneer of black line work tattoos?

 

LS: Along with Duncan X and Thomas Hooper… I’m next in line. When I was running around the world I was spreading that idea of black tattoos. I don’t really think of myself as a pioneer, just someone who was in the right place at the right time. News travels fast these days, so that probably helped.

 


LIAM SPARKES 3/5


BK: Do you see yourself being a tattoo artist for the rest of your life? Are there other things that you want to pursue?

 

LS: I think there are other things to pursue… but who knows. I guess we inhabit different lives in a lifetime.

 

I spent 15 years of mine playing music.

 

BK: What did you play?

 

LS: Drums, in this Grind-Core Thrash band called Trencher. We used to tour the world all over.

 

BK: Playing all over the world in a Grind-Core band… that’s a pretty rad life to inhabit.

 

What’s next?

 

LS

 

Actually, since I don’t really care about winning, I wouldn’t make a very good pool shark.

 

BK: What do you care about? If you don’t mind me asking.

 

LS: Comfort. Maybe a couple of years ago I would have said notoriety, but now I want comfort. And fun.

 

You can tell from the tattoos I think, I like to have a sense of humor with everything. I’m just laughing at life really. The absurdity of it.

 

BK: Absurdity? What do you mean exactly?

 

LS: Everything. Life, history, tattoos… it’s all pretty absurd if you really think about it.

I’ve learned a few things in the last few years. Something about not taking life too seriously and looking at the good and the bad in the same way.

 

Bad things happen and good things happen. That’s just the Ying and Yang of life.

 

BK: But you still have to have that instinctual response to it. Sadness, happiness.

 

LS: Yes, that’s true. There’s just no need to wallow in those emotions.

 

BK: If you can truly apply that… it’s an incredible way to go through life.

 

LS: I’m so glad I had this revelation when I did. Because now when I’m sad I just see it as doing time for happiness.

 

BK: I think you can add life coach to the list of possible career paths.

 

LS: Yeah… maybe. I’ll be some kind of substance wizard as well. A drug wizard.

 

BK: Ha! What’s your drug of choice?

 

LS: All of them. But if I had to choose one it would be acid. 

 

BK: Does it influence your creativity?

 

LS: Yeah… more like the feeling. (The feeling of) wallowing in this absurdity of things.

 

"Some of the situations I’ve been in and encountered in the last few years, probably mostly via drugs, are highly influential in the tattoos I do. It’s something like channeling the insanity."

 

BK: Have you ever gotten blocked creatively?

 

LS: Yeah, I used to, until I found a way to bypass the block. It’s all about turning off the conscience and going with your intuition. I don’t have too much of a problem with creative block these days.

  


EAST RIVER TATTOO 4/5


BK: Do you sleep well? Do you dream in color?

 

LS: No, I don’t really sleep that well. I’m a night person. Night crawler. I don’t sleep till about 4 AM every day, and I wake up 6 of 7 hours later. And I don’t dream that much. Only if I don’t smoke weed. When I was in Cuba I couldn’t smoke and I had nightmares every night.

 

BK: Jesus.

 

What does one do as a Night Crawler?

 

LS: I’m usually in a bar…or trying not to be in a bar. I’ll go to the cinema or just watch television. I like chilling, whatever that may be.

 

BK: That was my next question.

 

How do you unwind?

 

LS: Playing pool is my main passion in life. It’s like a meditation for me. I had my birthday the other day…

 

BK: Oh happy belated birthday!

 

LS: Thanks. I decided a few years ago, I should start spending my birthday as the best day of my life. For me that means pool, acid and a bit of shopping. It’s a good ritual.

 

BK: Amazing ritual.

 

 


LIAM SPARKES 5/5


 

Do you imagine yourself being older and what you want to achieve? Like a bucket list?

 

LS: I do think about that. I thought about it recently. I was wondering where the shop would be in 5 years, when I have to update the lease. I thought about it and then I thought about it philosophically, and then I thought… I shouldn’t worry about it. I don’t know where I’m going to be next month, let alone in 5 years.

 

BK: You could be dead.

 

LS:

"Could be dead yeah, worst case scenario. Or best case scenario."

 

I decided not to think that far down the line. I’ve done a lot.

 

Maybe I’d just like to be chill when I’m older. More chill. That’s what I would hope for. Who knows what… on my own, with a wife, lots of money, no money, children or no children.

 

Hopefully not lose my mind too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

for more on the artist, visit his profile at Old Habits Tattoo

HAVING EXPLORED AND EXCELLED

IN METAL WORK +

  GRIND - CORE PERCUSSION,

        LIAM SPARKES


HAS SETTLED INTO THE ROLE OF

    ICON 

      OF BLACK LINE WORK TATTOO.

 

 

interview and portraits by Beata Kanter


 

Beata Kanter: Where have you lived?

 

Liam Sparkes: Mostly around London, most of the time. I was born in Hammersmith. For the last 7 years I’ve been on the road, traveling constantly.

 

BK: How did you get started?

 

LS: I studied sculpture in college. Wax casting, dipping, welding metal, things like that. Gave that up after a couple years and played music mostly. I started making flyers and posters for bands and album covers. That’s what helped me get into tattooing. I would tattoo myself, my ex-wife and my friends. At that time people weren’t really doing black line work.


LIAM SPARKES’ CLIENT 1/5


 

BK: Where did the inspiration for that style come from?

 

I also noticed that a lot of the words in the sketchbooks you gave me are in Russian.

 

LS: I’m very influenced by Russian criminal tattoos. I really like Russia. It’s a nice vibe.

 

BK: Really? I’m Russian… and so surprised to hear you say that.

 

LS: Yes. People are different there. Brutal day to day, and brutal in general. It’s an all or nothing culture.

 

BK: I agree. We are a very fatalistic people.

 

LS: Fatalistic, yes. And wallowing in sadness. Russians enjoy that. Getting a smile from a Russian is like getting blood from a stone.

 

The Russian aspect is really, in all senses of the word, inspirational. The brutality of it, the darkness... I quite enjoy it. I mean there’s a light side as well and it’s good to look at both in the same way, rather than shy away from darkness.

 

 


LIAM SPARKES 2/5


 

BK: Do you remember the first time you picked up a tattoo gun? The responsibility and trepidation that came with it?

 

LS: Yeah…the first few months that I started tattooing, I tattooed dead chickens.

 

BK: Dead chickens? Is that a standard skin to practice on in the industry?

 

LS: I guess so… dead chickens or fruits… you know. But yes, picking up a machine takes a long time. To get over the responsibility. After a couple of months I tattooed someone and it was um… didn’t go so well. I had terrible nightmares. I stopped for a little bit. It’s uh…a crushing responsibility if you mess someone up.

 

BK: What happened with that person?

 

LS: Let’s just say I messed him up.

 

BK: Damn... Did he try to sue you or something?

 

LS: No, no. I mean he didn’t even notice. It was just my own self-criticism. Still it was quite crushing. And I had to go try and get over it. It took a while.

 

That’s what makes a tattoo artist, getting over the responsibility of ruining someone. You do it every day. I mean, you mark them anyway. That’s a responsibility within itself.

 

BK: Huge responsibility.

 

LS: But yeah, after a while it becomes second nature.

 

BK: How long has it been now?

 

LS: About 10 years.

 

BK: That’s not so long. Do you consider yourself the pioneer of black line work tattoos?

 

LS: Along with Duncan X and Thomas Hooper… I’m next in line. When I was running around the world I was spreading that idea of black tattoos. I don’t really think of myself as a pioneer, just someone who was in the right place at the right time. News travels fast these days, so that probably helped.

 


LIAM SPARKES 3/5


BK: Do you see yourself being a tattoo artist for the rest of your life? Are there other things that you want to pursue?

 

LS: I think there are other things to pursue… but who knows. I guess we inhabit different lives in a lifetime.

 

I spent 15 years of mine playing music.

 

BK: What did you play?

 

LS: Drums, in this Grind-Core Thrash band called Trencher. We used to tour the world all over.

 

BK: Playing all over the world in a Grind-Core band… that’s a pretty rad life to inhabit.

 

What’s next?

 

LS

 

Actually, since I don’t really care about winning, I wouldn’t make a very good pool shark.

 

BK: What do you care about? If you don’t mind me asking.

 

LS: Comfort. Maybe a couple of years ago I would have said notoriety, but now I want comfort. And fun.

 

You can tell from the tattoos I think, I like to have a sense of humor with everything. I’m just laughing at life really. The absurdity of it.

 

BK: Absurdity? What do you mean exactly?

 

LS: Everything. Life, history, tattoos… it’s all pretty absurd if you really think about it.

I’ve learned a few things in the last few years. Something about not taking life too seriously and looking at the good and the bad in the same way.

 

Bad things happen and good things happen. That’s just the Ying and Yang of life.

 

BK: But you still have to have that instinctual response to it. Sadness, happiness.

 

LS: Yes, that’s true. There’s just no need to wallow in those emotions.

 

BK: If you can truly apply that… it’s an incredible way to go through life.

 

LS: I’m so glad I had this revelation when I did. Because now when I’m sad I just see it as doing time for happiness.

 

BK: I think you can add life coach to the list of possible career paths.

 

LS: Yeah… maybe. I’ll be some kind of substance wizard as well. A drug wizard.

 

BK: Ha! What’s your drug of choice?

 

LS: All of them. But if I had to choose one it would be acid. 

 

BK: Does it influence your creativity?

 

LS: Yeah… more like the feeling. (The feeling of) wallowing in this absurdity of things.

 

"Some of the situations I’ve been in and encountered in the last few years, probably mostly via drugs, are highly influential in the tattoos I do. It’s something like channeling the insanity."

 

BK: Have you ever gotten blocked creatively?

 

LS: Yeah, I used to, until I found a way to bypass the block. It’s all about turning off the conscience and going with your intuition. I don’t have too much of a problem with creative block these days.

  


EAST RIVER TATTOO 4/5


BK: Do you sleep well? Do you dream in color?

 

LS: No, I don’t really sleep that well. I’m a night person. Night crawler. I don’t sleep till about 4 AM every day, and I wake up 6 of 7 hours later. And I don’t dream that much. Only if I don’t smoke weed. When I was in Cuba I couldn’t smoke and I had nightmares every night.

 

BK: Jesus.

 

What does one do as a Night Crawler?

 

LS: I’m usually in a bar…or trying not to be in a bar. I’ll go to the cinema or just watch television. I like chilling, whatever that may be.

 

BK: That was my next question.

 

How do you unwind?

 

LS: Playing pool is my main passion in life. It’s like a meditation for me. I had my birthday the other day…

 

BK: Oh happy belated birthday!

 

LS: Thanks. I decided a few years ago, I should start spending my birthday as the best day of my life. For me that means pool, acid and a bit of shopping. It’s a good ritual.

 

BK: Amazing ritual.

 

 


LIAM SPARKES 5/5


 

Do you imagine yourself being older and what you want to achieve? Like a bucket list?

 

LS: I do think about that. I thought about it recently. I was wondering where the shop would be in 5 years, when I have to update the lease. I thought about it and then I thought about it philosophically, and then I thought… I shouldn’t worry about it. I don’t know where I’m going to be next month, let alone in 5 years.

 

BK: You could be dead.

 

LS:

"Could be dead yeah, worst case scenario. Or best case scenario."

 

I decided not to think that far down the line. I’ve done a lot.

 

Maybe I’d just like to be chill when I’m older. More chill. That’s what I would hope for. Who knows what… on my own, with a wife, lots of money, no money, children or no children.

 

Hopefully not lose my mind too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

for more on the artist, visit his profile at Old Habits Tattoo