Clever as hell and creatively spanning more than a few different tattoo aesthetics, Lara Thomson-Edwards, aka 90sdolphintattoo, is a tattooer who works at The Circle in London. Known for blending Japanese iconography with vintage cartoons and a cutting wit, Lara took a moment to talk about the evolution of the tattoo industry, her artistic inspirations, and why humor is so important.
Can you talk about what drew you to the tattoo industry? What was your experience like becoming a tattooer?
My experience becoming a tattooer was comparatively very easy. A friend of mine, Daniel Cook, was working in a small shop in the 'burbs and encouraged me to apprentice there. It is not something I would have considered had it not been for him. Often, you hear horror stories of people taking on apprentices and not giving them the time that they need, but I never felt like that. I got to learn from one of my best friends, so he was honest, firm and present. I'm really grateful for that.
Your style merges vintage cartoons, Traditional, Irezumi icons, and more. How has your style evolved over the years and who are your artistic heroes?
A lot of my style comes from pushing against any need to be "highbrow", and a real disdain for anything over-intellectualized. It is a mash-up, bastardization of different visuals - anything that appeals to me. I’ll be inspired to draw by anything, from a turn of phrase in a podcast to something in the background of a movie. I previously felt a need to justify my artwork through theory or some ‘deeper’ meaning when I was studying Fine Art but have no desire to do so now.
My brother gave me Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini one year for Christmas, and that whole ambiguous, imaginary world was really appealing to me. Apparently, when asked for a grand meaning behind the encyclopaedia, Serafini said “You see what you want to see. You might think it’s speaking to you, but it’s just your imagination.”
I’m a TV and film anorak so Scott C’s artwork was a turning point for me, to see someone making artwork referencing the things I loved was really influential. I used to want to be a character designer, so Andy Ristaino had a huge impact on me as well. The expressions he can create with such minimal details are wicked.
As far as other tattooists are concerned, some of the first tattoos I saw that really shaped my practice were Rob Wilden’s traditional pieces. Seeing his use of colour was one of the first times I’d seen that kind of bubblegum-tropical traditional and it blew my mind. My favourite tattooists are Claudia De Sabe, Wendy Pham, Pauline Tabur, Rion, Acetates, Bunshin Horimatsu, Onnie O’Leary, Kola, Miss Orange, Rafa Decraneo, Rosie Evans, Wolfspit and I love Shannon Perry‘s portraits. Having joined the team at the Circle now, it’s really great to work alongside artists like Kola, whom I have admired since very early on in my career.
How do you feel about the shift of tattooing going from “underground” to a more mainstream trend? Do you think there are positives/negatives for the tattoo industry, especially when social media is involved?
I would really like to express a grievance with the oversaturated market, or the flood of kitchen wizards, but I haven’t been tattooing long enough to remember when that wasn’t the norm, so I'd be hypocritical. It would be really cool if TV shows hadn’t completely fucked the publics perception of tattooing though.
The more tattooing enters the mainstream, the more sexualized people with tattoos, particularly women, have become. 2019 saw the popularity of “Tattooed Women” increase by 85% worldwide on Pornhub.com (109% in people ages 18-24). “Tattooed Women” was the 3rd most growing category on Pornhub.com, a website with an average of 115 million daily visits last year. This is following 2018’s 88% increase.
The continued surge in the fetishization of tattooed women is undeniable. I think it is a side effect of being more mainstream and it’s leaving tattooed women exposed to all sorts ludicrous generalization. To me, a lot of the things people would see as social media issues, the scrutinization, the shaming and the bullshit, is actually symptomatic of something much bigger. I am of the opinion, let people do whatever the fuck they want (as long it’s not hateful), who cares, it’s an app.
Social media brings tattooing to groups of people that, historically, have not been as included in the industry. As social media continues to breed discontent amongst artists, this can mean that people lose sight of the positives. I’m really proud to practice a craft that is truly for everybody and isn’t as elitist as most art forms.
It should also be noted that tattooing relies heavily on self-moderation. An advantage of social media is that people can be made aware of predators, racists etc operating within the industry. Whilst before, people like this would have been protected by the elusiveness that being “underground” can bring. There’s nowhere for people like that to hide anymore.
Humor seems to be a big part of your art... including sharing cringe worthy moments of Vin Diesel dancing to Beyoncé’s Drunk in Love. So..I’d love to know if you think cereal is soup, what you think the worst first name is to give a child, and what animal you think would be the rudest if it could speak and why.
Cereal isn't soup, don't be vulgar. Soup is the worst and cereal is the best.
Colin. “Baby Colin” …
Those foxes or owls that wear monocles or bowler hats, I bet they are all dead stuck up with nae chat.
Humor is important, particularly if your art is self-reflective or therapeutic. People taking themselves too seriously can sometimes make me feel the same way that those videos of Vin Diesel do. I think if I took tattooing too seriously, I’d never be able to pull a line… Way too much pressure. Yeesh.
What do you love about tattooing? Are there any pivotal client moments, travel moments, etc. that helped you grow as an artist that you can remember?
As I touched on before, one of my main loves is not having to explain myself. If I want to draw a yokai, I can draw a yokai. If I want to draw a dildo, I can draw a dildo. It doesn't matter what MY reasoning is, if it speaks to an audience then that’s satisfying enough. To me, that means that although my work is often reflective, and can be personal, how it relates to me can remain entirely private. It’s not really about that. It’s about what the client projects, their narrative. I think if you produce real work that comes from genuine interest or inspiration, that comes through, and people will relate... at least that’s what I hope.
A time that really helped me grow as an artist has been embracing sobriety. There are as many changeable relationships with alcohol/drugs and creativity as there are artists out there, and there’s no wrong way to create. I just found that taking something that was destructive (for me) out of my life made more room for everything else. Initially my work had a crisis when I started to get healthy because it used to be an outlet for one part of me, but as that faded away, it has become a way of embracing another.
Beyond tattooing what do you really love? What do you wish you had more time for?
I’d like to train to be a lawyer. I wish there were more true crime shows on Netflix. I have an idea for an animation short I’d like to make one day, and I’d like more time to draw.
I really love doing nothing as well, I can’t remember the last time tattooing wasn’t in the back of my mind. If I could take a year out and go and be a Real Housewife or something and then come back to it, that would be great.
Do you have any projects, collabs, travel plans, etc. planned for 2020 that you’d like to share?
I'll be traveling in the U.K. a bit in the spring and then hopefully will be planning some overseas guests later in the year. I would love to do more collabs, but nothing planned as of yet :))