The Lost Lands of the Incal: Interview with Jackson Epstein

The Lost Lands of the Incal: Interview with Jackson Epstein

New York based tattooist Jackson Epstein gives us insight into his psychedelic, comic infused artwork.

Can you remember the first time you saw Heavy Metal? Or leafed through the magnificent underground anthology Garo? Maybe it was the magic you felt when Mr. Natural sauntered into your life, or when the Oms of La Planete Sauvage murdered their keepers...but whatever or whenever it was, it's hard to deny the imaginative power of fantasy and sci-fi. 

Evocative of the creme de la creme of comic book creations, Jackson Epstein tattoos strange landscapes and fantastic planets that take you back to primordial and esoteric destinations. His inventive and visionary oeuvre is an amalgamation of past illustrative masters, inventive futures, and his own present: an eye that can clearly convey the phantasmagorical world within.

What is your artistic background? What are your first creative memories?

After graduating high school I came to New York where I studied illustration at SVA, but I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. As a kid, I carried a sketchbook and comic books with me everywhere I went. I was really inspired by Indiana Jones and Star Wars; not just the exciting characters and plot lines, but the worlds that were created within them. I was mesmerized and became focused mostly on the ships and architecture.

How did you get into tattooing? Why was/is it something you are passionate about?

I became interested in the idea of getting tattoos when I was around 15. I was constantly drawing really terrible ideas for tattoos I would eventually want to get. Fortunately, I waited until I was 18 to get my first one. It was only about 3 or 4 years ago when I became interested in actually doing tattoos on other people after realizing that stick and poke tattoos weren’t just done by drunk people in college dorm rooms. There is a stick and poke tattoo artist called Sally who really inspired me at that time. Their tattoos were so incredible to me, I became obsessed with trying to figure out how to do it myself. It was a lot of trial and error and I practiced on myself as well as all of my friends. There was something about being able to do a tattoo on someone that was so immediately satisfying to me. It's just like the feeling you get after finishing a drawing you love, except it involves someone else as well. I love it because of how intimate and special experience feels for both people involved.

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Your artwork is like if MC Escher and Moebius had a baby that constantly watched Ralph Bakshi films. But that’s just the first thing that comes to mind...what artists, tattooers or not, inspire you? How do you come up with the designs that you do?

I never really got into Mc Escher, although other people have made that observation as well. Bakshi is great! I love his movie “Fire and Ice”. One of my biggest inspirations as an artist is Moebius, as well as his contemporaries. The way Moebius sets up his compositions is so beautiful. Every panel in his comics could be its own stand alone drawing. His work has the perfect balance of seriousness and playfulness. To be honest, most of my inspiration doesn’t come from tattooing. It comes from comics, illustration and other forms of art. I have a large collection of art books and comics at home that’s growing everyday. That’s where I draw from for inspiration.

Why did you choose to do non electric tattooing rather than machine? What is it about that experience for yourself, or the clients, that you find fulfilling or satisfying?

In the beginning, it really just had to do with how to create a tattoo with very little setup and materials. Technically, all you need is needles and ink right? As I continued to grow as a tattooer, I became more interested in the designs and the worlds I was creating rather than the method used to make them. I think the look of a stick and poke tattoo does work pretty well with a lot of my designs; hazy seascapes and crumbling architecture.

Rather recently stick and poke tattoos have become increasingly popular, even though they are totally of ancient times...what do you think is behind this resurgence? Why do you think people are so attracted to the hand poke aesthetic/art form?

Honestly, I’m really not sure why the stick and poke style is so popular right now. I think it’s because there is such a big scene for people to do whatever style they want with tattoos and there’s more experimentation in imagery as well as a resurgence in methods of how to create those images on skin. It feels like right now more than ever that everything is welcome. More artists and illustrators are learning how to tattoo, and there isn’t as much of a separation between being an artist and being a tattoo artist. I think it's really sick actually, the more styles the merrier.

What do you hope your artwork will say to viewers? Do you have a philosophy or political agenda behind your work, or is it all for the pure pleasure of creation?

All the tattoos I design are part of a world I’m creating in my head and through my art. It’s kind of like a map. Bit by bit, all the architecture, the items and the creatures I tattoo give a little more insight into this world. I feel very fortunate that people want to get my drawings tattooed, and I love that people kind find their own meanings in them too.

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