Jaya Suartika, also known as Jayaism, has created an aesthetic world that transcends boundaries of medium and incorporates a humanistic approach to every form of output. His admiration for life is visceral, powerful, and the visual creations harmoniously reflect this in a deeply cathartic sense. It is artists of this nature that embody the golden core of the tattoo community. With an open heart and mind, Jaya develops works that are catalysts for change in perspective, emotion, and skin. Whether transforming physical bodies with incredible patterns evolved from ancient practices, photographing the most beautiful places and moments around the globe, or envisioning projects that bring people closer together, Jaya Suartika is an elemental component of our beloved industry. In this interview, Jaya gives us a look into his thoughts on evolving as an artist, the importance of giving back, and his hopes for the future.
I’d love it if you could talk a bit about your background and how you came to tattooing. Are there any childhood memories you remember that hint at the artist you would become?
Becoming a tattooer was never in my scope, until I reached the mid 20s. My father was an artist, I wouldn't say of any success, but he drew and painted. While he was alive, I do recall him having some handpoked tattoos from when he was in school. He was a heroin addict, so, I would presume, my surroundings as a child, would have been quite different to other children. Our house when I was a young child was always filled with art on the walls with Indonesian Batik or Tenun Ikat fabrics, draped over furniture. Music was always playing. He died when I was 13 from his addiction. Alongside this, I also spent a lot of my childhood years in between Bali and Adelaide. Bali in itself is rich in artistry and craftsmanship. My Balinese culture is a very well decorated culture, filled with intricate and delicate ornaments. From the village steps all the way to the top of the temple's peak. Being surrounded by art was a norm. I also drew as a kid, but life took over for a period of time (I became a father at 19 years old and was a full-time musician for 7 years), and it wasn't until I managed to get into University and study Architecture that my drawing was reignited. This was the beginning of the tattoo journey.
How has your style evolved over time? How does your background or personal preferences influence your work and how do you merge those with clients needs or wants?
I can confidently say that at this moment of time, I am at my most unique and authentic self. Patterns have always been prevalent throughout, but I feel the journey has been always just exploring. After world travelling and being exposed to a lot of wild ideas and abstract art, my mind wandered down the hole of Cubism and appropriating certain ideas from Picasso and Braque's philosophy, and combining these with some traditional tattoo approaches. Meanwhile patterns were always there. They kept pulling me back in. Indonesia has a rich history with tattoo, Borneo in particular, however, as much as I love all of these ideas, I found myself constantly asking myself, how do I create something different?
To my knowledge, Batik and Tenun Ikat motifs hadn't been translated into tattoo. Yet, they are a powerful component to Indonesia's identity as an artistic culture. It was decided around 2018/19, that I would only use these as reference, unless of course, the client is of a certain cultural heritage that would take us down an alternative path. Clients are always in full control and understanding of outcome, with designs, and I can sometimes spend half a day discussing ideas, concepts, drawing and sketching before tattooing commences. Everything is designed on the day. It is a very intimate and unique experience where the tattoo has been designed for the client and that client only. I never use the same pattern twice.
I’d love it if you could talk about certain types of iconography or patterns that have sacred foundations. Do you think it’s important for artists working with certain cultural motifs to know their history and roots? Is it possible to visually show appreciation without appropriation?
I feel this is an extremely broad subject and cannot be answered simply. If answered at all. This is a question that will end in a question. I do think it is important for artists to learn about the history and origins of certain cultural motifs. It is definitely a constant journey of learning, on multiple levels. Tattooing always holds more integrity if the artist has done research on cultural ties with certain motifs. And ideas that come from clients can also bear mixed ideas of origins. Innumerable cultures throughout the history of mankind have countlessly crossed paths and swapped ideas within art and culture. The only issue is, nowadays the technology has assured sources have exponential reach and this reach pretty much erases its path behind it, almost instantly. It's also hard to tell when things are used subconsciously.
We truly are living in a digital mess. I endeavour to only use books as reference for this exact reason. As for the 'appreciation without appropriation' part, I think appreciation can be achieved when ideas are inspired by and/or somewhat reminiscent of a certain cultural motif or idea. To further 'appreciation', education and understanding on the cultural significance is also important. Saying this, you can also find some minority cultures or persons from certain minority cultures, who love the idea of their designs and motifs being used, regardless of artist's or wearer's cultural heritage. So, would this be appropriation, in the negative sense?
I think it is ultimately important for tattooers to ask themselves before tattooing any culturally significant motifs, would they feel comfortable standing before an elder/shaman of that culture, a tattooer in particular, with the tattoo they did, between them. How would they feel? How would they answer questions asked by that elder/shaman? Would they feel proud or ashamed of what you did? I don’t have a solid answer or I don’t even think there is, but it should be an ongoing discussion amongst tattooers. Educating and rational discussion is healthy and should be encouraged.
How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?
I am approaching only 10 years in the industry, so I can only speak for the stories or history that I know of, or my own experiences. From what I have seen, a lot of the older toxic masculinity or white patriarchy ideas of the Western tattoo industry is somewhat on its way out, or at least awareness has grown of its presence. Artists and studios are finding their own ways of doing things and breaking away from the norm and 'how it should be' mentality. A huge thing that needs to change here in Australia is how insurance companies work with tattoo studios. Insurance companies still base their exorbitant premiums off of the outlaw motorcycle culture that drove most of the tattoo industry throughout its history. Yet, most State governments of Australia have heavy vetting, for every tattooer that is legally working, to have zero affiliation with any club. Apart from this, I tend to keep to myself and focus on my own world and environment of tattooing.
What have been your greatest accomplishments and struggles over the years? How do you define success and do you think artists have a responsibility to the world?
My own accomplishments have been to travel the world and meet so many amazing humans, I can now call my friends. I have also had the privilege of being published in a few books, which has been a completely amazing and humbling experience. Within tattooing, I believe success is being happy with the tattoos you do and doing them well, and achieving that understanding of your own way of handling interpersonal relationships with clients. I think tattooers have a responsibility to their clients and also tattooing. A lot of artists take, but never give. Seems a lot of 'ownership' of ideas can plague a few minds, as if they invented tattooing. What has any particular tattooer given back to tattooing? Tattooing should indefinitely have its struggles, otherwise you're not trying hard enough.
Beyond tattooing, what are you really passionate about? What do you wish you had more time for?
I love philosophy and exploring world affairs and politics. I am endlessly watching lectures or listening to podcasts on philosophy, psychology, politics, the natural world and health. I play chess. I make perfume. I make jewellery. I paint. I ride bicycles. I ride motorcycles. I am passionate about the future of planet earth. I am a father. I wish I had more time to go camping.
You’re stranded on a desert island and can only have one book, one toy, one movie, and one record. What do you choose?
BOOK: SAS Survival Guide. TOY: Swiss Army Knife. MOVIE: 2001: A Space Odyssey. RECORD: Mogwai - Mr. Beast
Any upcoming projects, events, life advice, future plans, or special insights you’d like to share?
I have a solo exhibition pencilled in for 2021 in Paris, details to be confirmed. Be nice to one another. Look at the person, not the label. :-)