Perhaps you don't know his name but you've definitely seen his tattoos. Martin Dobson has made it his mission to collect work from the very best tattoo artists around the globe, but in a very specific way. Like puzzle pieces dotting his body, Martin has decided that instead of random flash scattered across his skin he would have artists do miniatures within carefully connected hexagons. Although incredibly distinct, he has found a way to assemble his ink from all of the best tattoo artists in a way that not only works for him, but also pushes artists to do something new and different. Perhaps this is why people are so attracted to his way of collecting...
Martin has been tattooed by Tattoodo Ambassadors Chris Garver, James Tex, and Jacob Wiman, as well as many other incredibly talented artists. He was kind enough to give us a little of his time and explain how his collection came to be and why tattoos, as an art form, have such an enriching community aspect to them.
JM: What was your first tattoo and why do you think you’re so in love with the art form? Do you remember how you felt about tattoos as a kid?
My first tattoo was done when I was 17; I must have said I was 18 and it was a rebellion thing, I think. It was 1997 and I was living in a town north of London and no one I knew had tattoos. It was a very small piece of tribal flash I picked off the wall...I was very very green and didn’t know anything about the art form. Over the next 7 years I got many more tribal pieces, extending what I had done previously. I lived in Thailand for a year in my early 20s and got a wrap around on my upper arm, a shoulder piece as well as my back done (a 14 hour session over two consecutive days - never again!) then I periodically went back to the same artist when visiting on holiday and got some extensions and a calf piece.
JM: How did you come up with the idea of collecting miniature pieces from so many of the best tattoo artists over so many different styles? How do you choose who will fit what space?
After all the black tribal ink I got, I spent 15 years not getting tattooed. Over that time tattoos become a lot more fashionable and also more artistic. I’m sure they were previously but I wasn’t deep in the culture and tattoos becoming more mainstream definitely opened up a world of how amazing tattoos could be to me. I would see other people with art on them and really wanted to get some but I felt that the new color styles I was seeing would not fit in with all my blackwork so I never took the plunge.
Then I was on a 4 week vacation over Christmas and New Year in 2015/16 in New Zealand and Australia and the idea came to me that as I get to do a lot of traveling with work it might be cool to start collecting tattoos from different studios in the countries I visit. This morphed into getting different artists to fill a space with a design of their choice. My wife came up with the hexagon shape which made the whole thing fit together.
The first one was done in Queenstown New Zealand and the artist Chloe wasn’t sure of the concept but between us we came up with a size for the first one and then she did a great design of the mountain range we could see out the window of the studio.
JM: How many of the best tattoo artists have you worked with, how many hexagons are filled, and who do you hope to fill the empty ones?
For the first 4, each artist just added a hexagon connected to the one before but that was a nightmare for the artist to get lined up and so when I came back to London I had an artist that was a friend of a friend, Rich, add a design and then do the whole grid work. He added 35 hexagon outlines so future artists could just add their design without having to worry about the sizing and trigonometry.
I went pretty crazy in the first year and got 17 hexagons filled so I tried to chill out a bit in 2017, but got another 7 filled by May. I decided I wasn’t going to slow down so I got Rich to extend the grid work on to my ribs...a silly decision...which increased the total number of hexagons to 50.
I currently have 31 filled and that’s in the first 2 years. I have a couple confirmed for the Brighton Tattoo convention next month by Norm Love Letters and Gibbo, 3 more for a trip to Milan by Mattia Mambo, Antikorpo, and Mirkosata, also Jak, Steve and Dave from the Rat Pack are all up for filling spaces this year. Plus many many more in my head and on my wish list.
If I listed my whole wish list it would be far too long but some artists I’d love to work on it would be, Eva Krbdk, Ben Kaye, Gakkin, Ryan Evans, Rob Borbas, Alex Pancho, Kahn, Boris, Nikko Hurtado, Niki23gtr, Jeff Gogue, Arlo DiCristina, Horiyoshi 3, Shige, Justin Hartman, Paul Booth, Kari Barba, Darwin Enriquez, Filip Leu, Chris Cooks, Chris Nunez & Kat Von D.
JM: Are you surprised by the interest in your idea, and the tattoos you’ve collected? Why do you think people are drawn so much to your particular way of collecting tattoo art?
I was surprised by the interest yes....I only had 200 Instagram followers before people started posting about my project, it’s now about 1700 and growing by the day. I guess it’s because I stumbled on what is a reasonably unique idea in a tattooing world where designs are hopefully unique but placement, size and layout is not always.
JM: Will you ever stray from this specific layout of tattoos?
Not yet and I probably won’t but I discovered Jesse Rix after starting the project and I think he could do something amazing if I was up for breaking with the rules…. though I don’t think even with his skills I could be convinced to move outside the structure as I think that is one of the best things. These are small spaces where the best tattoo artists are challenged to fit in a design that looks good and that, hopefully, people will immediately recognize the art - it’s definitely made some hugely talented and experienced artists sweat a bit!
JM: How has the experience of collecting tattoos from the best tattoo artists across the globe enriched your life? Do you have any favorite moments or stories you’d like to share with us?
It’s enriched it massively…. the more I sample tattoo culture the more I’m hooked. The people are amazing, generous and nothing like the outside stereotype that most non-tattooed people might think of tattoo artists and studios. The connections between artists all over the world, recognizing each others work on my leg and recommending their friends to work on a hexagon next to them has been so much fun. I have lots of stories but I might hold them back for when I put my little book together when the project is totally finished, whenever that might be!