The idea of working with one’s sibling is perhaps one of the most frightening endeavors we can think of, but the thought of apprenticing under and co-owning a studio with your identical twin might just take the cake. Ryan and Matthew Murray, identical twins and co-owners of Black Veil Tattoo in Beverly, Massachusetts have somehow managed to navigate all three scenarios with a profound sense of style and grace that’s landed them a cult like following. But had it never been for Ryan’s unwavering determination, the duo might have never found their way into the tattoo community.
It’s hard to imagine now, what with the success of their shop as well as their individual careers, but there was once a time when Ryan wasn’t sure if a career in tattooing would ever become a reality. After countless attempts at landing an apprenticeship, his world was turned upside down when a tiny tattoo shop just off the side of the highway in New Hampshire agreed to take him on. “I was super excited to just be there because at that point I had been to so many tattoo shops, that I never thought it would actually ever happen,” he confesses. After three years of learning how to tattoo in the traditional style, and moving from his initial roadside, flash-centric shop, Ryan took a leap of faith when he agreed to take his twin brother Matt on as his apprentice.
Matt’s introduction to tattooing, on the other hand, was anything but ordinary. While not the most traditional approach, his apprenticeship under his brother allowed him certain luxuries — like learning how to initially tattoo in their signature neo-traditional meets illustrative macabre style, and feeling comfortable enough with his mentor to ask questions most apprentices would have kept to themselves for fear of looking foolish.
“I think for Ryan there’s pros and cons,” explains Matt who admittedly envies his brother’s more traditional apprenticeship some days. “It’s such a unique experience to see how those dudes [tattoo], hanging out with old timers day in and day out, but that’s something I didn’t really get to experience.” Of course, ask them who picked up the trade faster and they’ll both agree — Matt. The two eventually met in the middle, landing on the New England inspired imagery that’s become so synonymous with their names.
Inspired by macabre artists like Edward Gorey, Luis Ricardo Falero, and Francisco Goya, the Murrays’ style is best defined as quintessential Salem, rife with witches, sinister characters, and an overwhelming sense of the supernatural. “I think ever since we were young kids New England has been an influence. We’ve been drawing spooky stuff our entire lives,” explains Ryan. “Our family is from Salem, so it’s always been a huge part of [our art].”
Equal yet opposite, their dynamic is so perfectly harmonious that it’s quite difficult to imagine one brother’s success without the other, thankfully we doubt there will ever come a time when we’ll have to. Whether they’re weighing in on each other’s latest drawings, giving their two cents on how to tackle a particularly difficult tattoo, or collaborating on an upcoming Ouija board, it’s clear that Ryan and Matt’s journey in both art and life was always intertwined — there’s never one without the other.