Opal and turquoise set into silver filigree. Butterflies and beetles skittering across skin. Ferns and flowers hugging natural curves. In Meg Adamson's world one can almost hear the creaking of branches in the wind, the croak of toads, the clicking cicadas. With a glance at her portfolio you're immediately thrown into the forest, the desert, a cathartic natural haven. The same could be said of her tattoo studio, Reliquary, a positive and intimate space in Portland, Oregon.
In this interview with Meg, she talks about the punk philosophies of equality and anti-consumerism, what artists inspire her work, and the importance of supporting activist organizations.
Can you talk a little bit about your artistic background? What were you like as a kid, and did you always want to be an artist?
As a kid I was very shy, but artistically driven. My mother is a multidisciplinary artist who, while I was growing up mainly focused on these incredible photo-realistic colored pencil drawings and portraits in her free time. I remember being like 6 and frustrated that I couldn’t make things look real the way she did, and I think that made me extra self critical, positively and maybe a little negatively haha. She would also encourage me to make my own coloring book pages or be more creative than coloring inside the lines. Art has always been the only direction that has made sense to me.. I’m not good at much else.
How did you get into tattooing? Why was it the medium that you were drawn to most?
I would definitely say it’s NOT the medium I am drawn to most haha.. I love it, for sure, and am grateful for it every day, but I think of myself more as a painter who tattoos. In college I majored in fine art painting but I took as many elective courses in other art mediums as I could for 7 years until I was cut off basically, so I dropped out to learn more on my own. I am just drawn to making things and learning new skills. I somewhat reluctantly but luckily got into tattooing 6 years ago, in my late 20s, through the encouragement of my friends and art peers who were also tattooing. Before tattooing I was trying to make a meager living as an artist / painter (and sign painter) for a long time. At first it was a bit depressing honestly that folks were much more eager to invest in tattoos than paintings I put so much of myself into, but Ive found a creative balance over the years in the collaborative process and now I think it’s pretty damn cool that I get to tattoo my paintings on people basically. I just feel lucky that people are into what I do.
Who are your artistic heroes, tattooers or not?
There are so many incredible artists out there I admire, dually for the work they produce and because I could never think or tattoo the way they do. My first real tattoo was a Margaret Kilgallen painting, so it's safe to say she’s been an “inspiration” from a young age, as a female artist making something of herself without compromise, drawn to folk and handmade style within a similar west coast punk/art scene I grew up in. Really I could go on and on about artists who have formed the way I look at life but that would take a very long time, and I find new ones all the time. As far as parallels, artists that draw inspiration from old naturalist illustrations, fine artist like Walton Ford and Lindsey Carr. Stephanie Browns naturalist tattoos blow my mind, and Van Priegonova´s steady hand, oof. I could stare at every one of both of those women’s lines forever. But contrarily, I love the almost psychedelic work from artists like Arielle Coupe, Manee Friday, Albie Brant, Kevin Hennessy, and James Mckenna off the top of my head, Artists who’s brains work in ways I just don’t understand just fascinate me.
I was recently tattooed by Ruby Jae who is wonderful and in Port Townsend. It was awesome to find and connect with and get tattooed by an artist who is motivated by nature in a similar way as yourself (although I cannot really speak for her motivations). Just visiting her studio and seeing her sketches on the wall, getting a peek inside someone else’s imagination when it comes to plant composition and seeing things from her perspective was great.
You seem to have a very deep connection to nature. Why do you think it’s something that resonates with you? Would you consider yourself an eco-political artist?
I could say I am political, but I would rather say punk. Really I am just a person with strong beliefs in equality and a hatred of capitalism, with a pretty cynical outlook on humanity in general. 99% of my tattoos and my artwork aren’t political or an opinion, they are escapism. I am simply motivated to survive thanks to beauty in the natural world, and my ability to live among plants.
...to promote equality and understanding...that just makes living in this world a little less harsh.
You’ve done a few benefits here and there to support things like PPOP, etc. Can you talk about why this is an important facet of your working process? How and why do you feel others should get involved?
I am angry at many, many things in this world haha. A big motivation is losing so many friends to overdose because of the stigma and societal shame that makes them feel they have to use alone in hiding. The violence against marginalized members of our community, and just rampant and inexcusable hate and ignorance in general that those who aren’t affected by get to conveniently ignore. Its important to remember that a community is not composed solely of its most positive parts. We are all in this together and no person has value above another. Supporting your community however you can when you can, compassionately, and trying to engage yourself into understanding perspectives other than your own is essential for it to succeed. We all benefit from it.
I am an anti-capitalist living in a capitalist society, who has the privilege occasionally to donate my working hours to my community and to organizations like PPOP who help a lot of the overlooked misunderstood and disrespected members of our community who happen to use drugs. A positive mental attitude isn’t the answer to the worlds problems, neither are tattoo benefits, but if I can use any part of tattooing or art or my existence to promote equality and understanding that just makes living in this world a little less harsh.
Your shop Reliquary Tattoo seems to have a really welcoming and compassionate vibe...what is the mission behind the studio? What do you feel makes it special or different from others? How would you describe the Portland tattoo community?
It feels special to me because it's my club house, filled with the things I’ve collected over the years, and within it I can do whatever I want. My friends are there with me through artwork and tokens, and lots of plants. I’ve tried to curate an environment where anyone can feel comfortable and open with their experience. Reliquary is different than traditional shops in that it is a small private studio, so its more intimate and less distracting than a street shop. The process feels more cozy and collaborative to me this way, and I only do one or two tattoos a day so its really casual and I can take my time, even if the tattoo itself only takes an hour. But that being said I also love the energy of working and getting tattooed in “street” shops as well. I didn’t start Reliquary to be different, I just wanted to do things my way and have enough space for all my crap. Our mission is simply to create a comfortable and safe experience for all, and to not be shitty people.
The tattoo community in Portland is so diverse. This town is full of insanely talented and friendly people and that is what has kept me here for the last 14 years, despite the rain.
If you could only read one book, listen to one album, and eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be?
The book Saguaro by Carson Mel probably, the Album Radio Ethiopia by Patti Smith Group, Burritos, and I would bring Margaret Kilgallen back from the dead, but I would ask her to mark trains with me instead of having dinner.
Beyond tattooing, what are you super passionate about? In another life, if you weren’t a tattooer, what would you be?
If it was my choice? A painter who sold paintings haha.. or a helicopter pilot. I'm passionate about being a good dog mom, keeping my houseplants alive, and finding time to paint.
Any projects, travel plans, etc. coming up you’d like to share?
I am working on one or two murals I’m excited about that will keep me in Portland and outside of the studio this spring, and have hopes of finding the perfect vehicle to take my dog and dude out on the road for an extended tattoo tour this summer or fall. Maybe eating some vegan tacos with Van and doing some tattoos at SSS again in Mexico City this August? Who’s to say what will happen this summer.