Intertwined in Ink: The Blackwork Witchcraft of Ryan & Matthew Murray

Intertwined in Ink: The Blackwork Witchcraft of Ryan & Matthew Murray

Tattoo artists and twin brothers Ryan and Matt Murray talk about their collaborative blackwork art, influences, and Ink Master.

The Murray brothers of Black Veil Studio open their doors and give us a view of what it's like to share your greatest passion with the very person who entered the world with you.

Hailing from Salem, it's no surprise that the brothers were pulled deeply into the enthralling history of the coastal city in Massachusetts. After all, Salem is a New England bedrock of history and being the backdrop of the infamous witch trials, it can't get any more momentous than that. To this day, the city's dark roots still reverberate into the soil and into its residents — stirring up the hearts of people who were destined to be artists with a taste for the dark aesthetics like Ryan and Matthew Murray. 

Ryan and Matthew Murray are twin brothers who embraced the city of Salem as their own and from which they drew great inspiration to their work. Befittingly, both Ryan and Matthew developed a haunting blackwork style that perfectly captured the dark themes of their tattoos. They spend their days creating and working together at Black Veil Studio, a tattoo shop they co-own. Their works are described as ‘black and grey for the grim-hearted’ which centralizes on Victorian-inspired macabre illustration.

Talk about how you both got into tattooing. I've read it was Ryan who first got into it.

Yes, that is correct. Ryan began tattooing first, after having an early interest in the craft long before even being of age for having a tattoo himself. Ryan started his tattooing career in late 2009 while Matthew was attending mass college to gain his bachelor’s degree in film and video. During his studies, Matthew started his apprenticeship with Ryan and joined him full time shortly upon graduating.

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Blackwork shadow tattoo by Matthew Murray. #MattMurray #blackwork #dark #macabre #blackveilstudio #devil #shadow

Have you always been inseparable?

Yes, always, we have never seemed to ever stray too far from each other for any extensive period of time. We have taken our separate trips on occasion, but it is extremely seldom when so. Even as children, we were in all of the same classes up until high school where we then often began switching classes with each other. Now as adults we live together, work together and share a car as well. Our lives have become so intertwined with each other’s, especially over the years that there’s no way they could be unwoven at this point.

Blackwork hand tattoo by Ryan Murray. #RyanMurray #blackwork #dark #macabre #blackveilstudio #hand

What common goal do you share in your careers as artists?

I think that our common goal is to create one of a kind tattoos that provoke both thought and feeling to whoever lays eyes upon them. We both share an eager urge to continue learning and to grow together as artists. There are always areas in which to improve, it’s something we both recognize and we often use constructive criticism with each other, pointing out each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we don’t spare each other, we speak our thoughts openly, yet kindly. I think each year we improve for this reason.

Blackwork bat tattoo by Matthew Murray. #MattMurray #blackwork #dark #macabre #blackveilstudio #bat #underboob

"We can successfully evoke the grim and dreary emotions that are often found in all our works, most often turmoil or bitterness"

What drew you to the ever-expansive world of blackwork? You use it wisely and incredibly, mingling it with dark and horror imagery.

Thank you so much! We have always been drawn to the darker aspects of life. By strictly devoting ourselves to a black and grey palette, we can successfully evoke the grim and dreary emotions that are often found in all our works, most often turmoil or bitterness. The one exception made daily by the two of us is white ink, we use white in almost every tattoo to pull out important highlights. 

In our artwork spiders and crescent moons are reoccurring imagery often found, spiders being a creative force weaving a scheme of fate, or depicting the cycle of life and death, and the crescent moon symbolizing enlightenment or the darker side of nature herself. Blank eyes are also reoccurring, it is often said that the eyes are the windows of the soul and that when we look into someone’s eyes we can see them for who they really are. By leaving them vacant the subject appears uninhabited or abandoned.

"I think that most of our artwork is very much inspired by the energy and history of our home, Salem Massachusetts"

What are the things that fascinate you that are reflected the most in your works?

I think that most of our artwork is very much inspired by the energy and history of our home, Salem Massachusetts. As well as heavy influences drawn from the death & mourning etiquette of New England’s Victorian past times. Our illustrations manifest a deep fascination for capturing a glimpse through the keyhole of a veil between two worlds.

Blackwork house tattoo by Matthew Murray. #MattMurray #blackwork #dark #macabre #blackveilstudio #house

In terms of art, in what ways are you different from one another (approach, influences, views, etc)?

I would have to admit that most of our influences, as well as artistic tastes usually, most often coincide with one another’s always, although our tastes and aesthetic are almost identical to each other’s our approach and the demeanor of our artwork differs with each result. If we were both given the same subject to draw or tattoo, chances are they would both have a very similar composition, but differing slightly in style. 

Blackwork hand tattoo by Matthew Murray. #MattMurray #blackwork #dark #macabre #blackveilstudio #hand #bouquet

"One of the most positive aspects of doing the show was meeting and making some great and talented friends"

Talk about the Ink Master S8 chapter. How was the whole experience — all the ups and downs of appearing on tattoo reality TV?

The experience was great, very strange and unfamiliar, but I’m glad that we could be a part of this season's show. From the start, we were both anxious with the idea of being a part of the show because we both have never been on television, especially with such a large spread audience watching you while you’re literally under the microscope. 

We were much more optimistic going into the season with having each other to rely on just like we do in our normal everyday lives, but that all changed when one of us were sent home very early in the season. That changed everything completely for the two of us, a lot of the time during or even before we start our tattoos we will consult back and forth with each other to get feedback from one another. It’s just something we have always done because we can, we have always had each other to trade artistic advice with so we just always utilize that regularly. 

One of the most positive aspects of doing the show was meeting and making some great and talented friends since the show ended we have still been keeping and touch and spending time with some of the greatest humans we have had the chance to meet, we didn’t expect to find that through a television network.

Aside from tattooing, in what other pursuits do you both enjoy working on together?

Aside from tattooing, we both enjoy playing music, photography, hiking, and exploring abandoned places whenever we have the chance to. We always constantly try to have other projects in the works other than what we have going on in the studio. We used to have a band together which we haven’t had much time for lately, but we are hoping that this coming year we will be able to get back into that because we both miss it so much. Other than that we mainly have been focusing on curating more upcoming events and art shows here in our studio.

All images via Ryan and Matthew's Instagram

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