Crammed into the tiniest little sliver of a booth at the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention, Audie Fulfer Jr. was having a little fun with his client as he worked on adding a skull to the man’s neck. “It’s a unicorn cock,” Fulfer laughs. “It’s OK, you’ve got a 30-day money back guarantee.” Even if it was a unicorn’s love parts, the client would be a fool to return a prime example of Fulfer’s cartoonish take on color realism.
“I know a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘your portraits are so cool, but they look different,’” Fulfer says. “I tell them, it’s more like illustrative realism. I don’t put up a border to it, if I want to throw a color up in there I’m going to throw a color up in there. Even if it doesn’t belong, as long as it looks good.”
This freewheeling attitude towards realism means that he isn’t bound by any rules. Instead of being slavishly devoted to what something looks like to the exact detail in reality, Fulfer’s portraits look more like how we think they should appear. This approach allows him to give a realistic treatment to things that never could exist, like beloved cartoon and comic book characters. “As I grew as a tattooer I found that trying to be be stuck to that ‘oh it’s got to be a tattoo design like an eagle or a rose’ was boring,” Fulfer explains. “Anything can be a tattoo design as long as you know how to execute it as a tattoo.”
As you look through his portfolio it’s not difficult to imagine a young Fulfer learning to draw while holed up in his room, surrounded by comic books with Ren and Stimpy playing on the tube. In his work you see touches of Jim Lee (a Marvel artist responsible for the phenomenal X-Men run in the ‘90s) and Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butthead/King of the Hill fame), but more than anything you see the influence of Kevin Eastman.
Simply put, there is no better artist to go to in this world if you are looking for a tattoo of Eastman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Fulfer is able to find a happy medium where the turtles look best — somewhere in between their cartoon version and the grotesque rubber masks that ruined the first couple of movies. It’s about as close to reality as overgrown turtles with ninja skills could (or should) be.
Whether it is Leonardo, Wolverine, or Zoidberg, Fulfer has a way of bringing the fantastical into our world without losing the spark that made it so special in the first place. Getting the right mixture of the two worlds is a very tricky task.
Oh, remember that skull we started off talking about? It ended up winning Tattoo of the Day and taking second place Best of Show in the convention's contests. So clearly, Fulfer’s unconventional take on realism is working out. Although, we can’t help but wonder how a unicorn cock would have fared with the judges.