Morgan English, also known as Tattrx, has built a business around the idea of preserving and supporting the most beautiful aspects of the tattoo community as well as the artists and studios involved. In this interview she speaks on why she felt this was her calling, her philosophies on tattoo culture, and her advice for people starting their own collection of ink.
Please introduce yourself. Who are you, what do you do, where do you come from, and how did you get to the place where you are now?
I'm Morgan, a manager and publicist for tattooers and studios. I come from a long line of artists, storytellers and history nerds. Today, all my friends are tattooers, so I live and work around the trade.
What drew you to the tattoo community and why do you love tattoos? What are your favorite pieces, and what do they mean to you?
I got a bad tattoo. The guy was a dick, slapped the stencil on crooked and insulted me the whole time. I thought I had to take it, or couldn't speak up. I walked out so mad that I changed my career path, so it was ultimately a good catalyst.
Researching and cataloguing modern tattoos became an obsession. I'm coming up on 10 years now of being the biggest nerd you've ever met, when it comes to contemporary tattoos.
As far as my own body? I'm building a glitch art bodysuit with 9 artists so far, and 3 more are in the queue. Everyone agrees to build on the tattooer who went before them, and to have their work built on later. It's dope. I have a line from neck to ankle, and each friend just adds something new along the line. Each session is special and different, so I couldn’t begin to choose a favorite.
Basically, tattooers come to me stressed out, and I help them relax. It's awesome.
Can you talk a bit about tattrx? How did you get into artist management and what kind of services do you provide?
Sure so, Tattrx (táh-triks) is my brand; it started as a blog 9 years ago, back when everyone removed vowels from names haha — but it's synonymous with my own name at this point, and people use “Morgan” and “Tattrx” interchangeably.
OG fans will remember the directory I built, circa 2015. But the only ways to monetize it took cash from artists' pockets, so I shut that down. I'd rather make no project, than create a parasitic project, you know?
Anyway, I kept hearing tattooers say things like, "I'm so overwhelmed by my inbox." "I lost money on the last tour." "I wanna get my name out there." And of course, "I wish someone else could just do this, so I can draw!" That's when it clicked for me.
My professional skills are pretty varied, so I offer an a la carte menu. Full-service PR, branding and social strategy, calendar / tour / event management, contract negotiations, even bookings and administration. Why not? It’s fun to wear a lot of hats. Basically, tattooers come to me stressed out, and I help them relax. It's awesome.
Social media has certainly changed the landscape of the tattoo industry drastically. What do you think are the pros and cons of those tools?
Social media launched the global resurgence of this trade, point blank period. In every country with free access to the internet, we see modern tattooing skyrocket. Women have easier access now, so can skip the biker shop hazing. Queer and trans artists have access, so can work without slurs or violence. And young indigenous tattooers have access, reviving ancient traditions.
Tattooing is for everyone again, as it should be! Forget about pre-dating colonialism; tattoos pre-date monotheism on every inhabited continent. It’s a fundamentally human activity.
So, while social platforms can be monstrous (abusing their power, suppressing views unless you pay), they did also connect us en masse, which stirred something in our collective consciousness. We dropped centuries-old stigmas so fast! It’s like we're returning to something very primal. It’s wild.
As a collector of tattoos, and as someone who is supporting artists regularly, what do you look for in a tattoo artist when you’re getting a piece from them?
Singularity. Is their voice their own?
And warmth. Technique means nothing to me if you're a jerk. I'd rather have a wobbly hand than a cold experience.
...follow the fire, explore and research and experiment. Success isn't a destination, it's a byproduct.
I really love that you have a very intentional mission and philosophy about tattoos/tattooing. Can you describe some more of your political or philosophical views surrounding this art form?
I love how tattoos can't be corrupted by the fine art market. You’ll never see a tattoo go from the street to a gallery to a billionaire's bedroom. It can't be cynically purchased as an investment, or roped-off from its source culture.
Now, is "tattooing" crowded with commercialism and classism? Sure. People are the ones doing it, so it's gonna be flawed. But the actual work, the design on skin, it doesn't have resale value. It lives, breathes and dies with its owner. This keeps commerce from going too far, like a built-in check on our worst impulses, so we can't destroy the heart of tattooing even if we tried... and now that I think of it, lots of people have tried. So. There ya go.
As a collector, and artist manager, what is the best advice you feel you can give to tattoo artists? And collectors?
Tattooers always ask me how to stand out from the crowd. But if your eye is on the crowd, there's your problem. Careers take off when people go out and get inspired offline, follow the fire, explore and research and experiment. Success isn't a destination, it's a byproduct.
The caveat to that is, if you have access to folks with status or power (celebrities, luxury brands, etc) you can align yourself with them and watch your career blow up. That's great, get paid. I just tell folks to "wear hype like a loose garment," because it's fickle and fleeting and disloyal as fuck.
For collectors? Hmmm. Who's the collector though? I guess my broad advice is to consider your bodysuit. If you have a tattoo, you have a bodysuit, even if it's 99% negative space. The main regret I hear from people who start small is that they wish they designed with the entire body in mind, rather than separate parts.
You also have another project called Chill Polyamory. What is this project about, and why are you passionate about?
Oooh you did your research! Haha. Yep, I'm ethically non-monogamous since 2012, but came out publicly last year (Chill Polyamory). Basically, my love life mirrors my work life: autonomous, yet deeply committed to several people who all know about each other.
It’s the most honest and sustainable way of life I’ve ever known. I live without fear or competition, and we all share resources. But I’m not here to preach or convert. Monogamy is valid and beautiful, too. Rather, I'm visible so I can be of service to anyone looking for polyamorous community. Because what does everyone want to be? Not Alone. So if you’re poly and feel lost or lonely, come say hi!
Any cool upcoming projects/collabs/travel plans/tattoo appointments coming up that you’d like to share?
I'm moving from NYC to Berlin in 2020, and my next tattooers will be Brody Polinsky, Julim Rosa and Yanina Viland.
I'm looking forward to being on the European continent for my 30's, with easier access to a wide range of tattoo communities. But who knows what tomorrow will bring? I'm open.