Dark art tattoo aestheticism has always been a powerful zeitgeist juggernaut within the tattoo industry. Perfectly fitting with the undergrounds penchant for taboo imagery, deathly visuals depicting ghosts, succubi, and demonic overlords fitted with medieval weapons will always have a special place within the community. Nate Burns, also known as Revolting Worship, may think of himself as relatively new on the scene, but his unique take on Illustrative evil has drawn the attention of many tattoo collectors. Wonderfully detailed and executed with highly skilled techniques, Nate was kind enough to give us a peek into his process, inspirations, and hopes for the future.
How did you get into tattooing and why were you drawn to it?
I guess maybe a small seed was planted in seeing old military tattoos on both of my grandfathers & my uncle when I was really young. I thought they were really interesting even if I didn’t completely grasp the history or concept of what a tattoo was at the time. I remember thinking that I wanted to get tattooed “when I was old enough”. Around 13 or 14 years old I started to become more aware & interested in flipping through tattoo magazines at the supermarket. I became more interested in what the actual act of tattooing meant to both the artist & client involved. The concept of decorating one’s body the way they see fit really appealed to me. That was also around the time tattooing was in its burgeoning introduction to the mainstream limelight with shows like Miami Ink, etc. Drawing was something I’ve always just done since I was 5 years old or so. Making my own comics, etc. Growing up, most of my friends would ask me to draw them things & eventually that turned into requests for drawing tattoos for people (thankfully, only a couple of those came to fruition hahah).
Got my first tattoo at 18 of a Lovecraftian drawing I did (sorry, don’t have a cooler story behind that). But that did lead to eventually meeting the person/artist that would end up apprenticing me as I continued to get tattooed over the years. After we developed a friendship, had some art nights together & I got to know some other tattooers/given an inside glimpse at tattooing; my apprenticeship began and I started my way down the magical path that is tattooing.
Can you talk about your style and how it’s developed over time?
From a really young age I was always super inspired by comic books. I’d make my own that were usually just rip-offs of my favorite issues that I flipped through for hours. That eventually led me to old woodblock, engraving & pen & ink illustrations which were, probably not coincidentally, also a big influence on a lot of the album artwork in the music I was getting into at the time and seeing. Lots of metal, hardcore, punk, etc. Fast forward & by the time I started apprenticing for tattooing; my drawing style had already been super heavily influenced for years by all these things. Artists like Dürer, Dore, Beardsley, Wrightston & Cole have been continued sources of inspiration since first stumbling upon them.
Once I started tattooing, however, I feel like my drawing style became cleaner & more deliberate in their mark making all the while adding in some influence from older tattoo art/flash while becoming more entrenched in the history of the craft. I like that it’s a symbiotic relationship: my drawing skills have improved because of how tattooing makes me think of applying them & my tattooing gets stronger because of time spent drawing. I feel like that’s how it should be. They both feed each other & keep things interesting/evolving.
What tattooers, films, books, art movements, music, etc. inspire you? Why do you think you’re drawn to Dark Art?
As far as tattooers go I’m super into the work of Tim Lehi, Freddy Corbin, Dansin, Andre Malcolm, Rose Hardy, Henry Lewis, Heather Bailey, Derek Noble, Zac Shienbaum, Rafel Delalande & infinitely more. Horror & comedy movies in general tend to be my favorite although I’m admittedly really terrible at watching things because I tend to have them playing in the background while I’m drawing. Im a big Lord of the Rings & Dune fan. I’m incredibly into medieval, romanticism, art noveau & a healthy amount of contemporary art. Been reading comics, in and out , all my life. I guess “dark art” attracted my attention from a young age because like a lot of young people I was fascinated by “monsters” & the occult so that just kind of transposed itself onto the art I found myself naturally attracted to.
What is your advice to young tattooers looking to find their style? What do you think about tattooers, now, shunning the traditional apprenticeship and learning on their own?
I feel odd answering this because I’m a young tattooer myself. I’ve only been at it for barely 5 years which is a blip on the map compared to the juggernauts in this industry so I don’t feel like I’m qualified to give any real advice. I’ve got a ton to learn...I mean, the learning should never be done if you’re doing it right. Right? But I guess the best advice I can think of at this point in my career is: DRAW. Once you’ve done that: draw some more. And then keep drawing. You get out what you put in. This not only applies to a lot of aspects of life but especially in any craft, not just tattooing. But especially tattooing. There is not A-HA! moment. Just a series of small victories interrupted by moments of uncertainty. Get as comfortable with it as you can because the rewards are well worth the sweat. The more you work at it, the more your confidence builds & the more risks your willing to take to continue growing.
How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?
Tattooing is more accessible than it ever has been both for artists looking to get there work out there & clients to see the work. I’d say social media is a double edged sword; I’m definitely from the crop of tattooers that have always had social media at their fingertips but I feel like it’s important to recognize it as a tool & try to distance yourself from it so you’re not getting too emotionally invested in it. Getting nice feedback feels great but that shouldn’t be what you live for. I think artists that are worth their salt are always going to be more concerned with how THEY THEMSELVES feel about their own work first and foremost. If the client is happy, that’s all that truly matters. If other people out in the world enjoy it too, that’s just an added bonus. I still think word of mouth & a trusting, repeat clientele are the most important lifeblood for any artist and those things can still be cultivated off of social media. Obviously using it to jump start that cycle is ideal.
I also think the fact that no one artist HAS to be a “jack of all trades” anymore (even though I find that to be incredibly impressive & commendable) is beneficial for the morale of tattooers around the world as a whole. In the sense that by making it much more feasible for artists to become more specialized in what they do it, in turn, allows them to be more stoked on getting to create the work they WANT to create day to day and that promotes more enthusiasm in tattooers that translates into stronger work overall. We all know, as an artist, that you’re more inclined to put your all into a piece your excited about making opposed to a piece that doesn’t appeal to you in that same way. You do your best no matter what but there is a tangible energy translated into the former.
Beyond tattooing, what are you really passionate about? How do you spend your vacations or time off?
I’m passionate about drawing so I’m normally doing that regardless of if I “have” to for appointments or just doing it for sheer pleasure. My wife & I like to go hiking when we can or at least get out into nature with our dog. I’ve been trying to make more time to read. I love doing it but it’s embarrassing how many things I’m behind on that I keep meaning to read.
Do you have any projects, events, or plans upcoming in the future you’d like to share?
Honestly nothing that jumps to mind. I’m just excited to work on a lot of cool tattoos coming up. Maybe there will be some more “event” tier things post-pandemic but, for right now, I’m just feeling fortunate to tattoo while I can in the current climate.