After 13 years at Kings Avenue, Matt Beckerich, along with Phil Szlosek, is creating a new haven for the fine art of tattooing in Huntington, NY. You can expect that the shop Fountainhead will be one that reflects Matt's commitment to creation and craftsmanship; there isn't a project he takes on that lacks for want of detail, devotion, and beauty. From the Never Sleep editions, to his intricate paintings, and his gorgeously rendered tattoos, Matt Beckerich is an embodiment of what focus and hard work can really accomplish.
The Never Sleep mission statement includes this, “We are guided by relentless focus on the core values and passion that shaped us into the tattooers that we are.” Can you expound a little bit on your values, as well as about the philosophy, purpose, past, and future of tattooing? How do you put these concepts into effect within your work?
That’s a great opening question. My values as far as tattooing is concerned, come from the way I was brought into it. It’s something that should be earned, not learned and it should come from the soul. It was never made easy and every step along the way was a sort of test, to try to push me away. Your devotion to tattooing has to outweigh greed and ego. Respect for the traditions, and for your predecessors ties into the art you produce. To me it’s sacred and shouldn’t be handed over easily. Our future depends on it. The theory is if you’ve really worked hard and had to sacrifice to be a part of this, then you won’t be so quick to exploit it for monetary gain or social climbing. Hence why the concept of tattoo school or classes available to the public is so frowned upon. Tattooing is a pursuit of an unattainable perfection of balance and personal expression. It’s so raw that it taps into people’s primal instincts on a subconscious level. Because of its permanence and irreversible nature, it’s a very intimate and deep art form that should be only done by those who respect that concept fully. Basically, someone’s motivations have to be in the right place in order for their contribution to this subculture to be a positive one. Tattooing has changed greatly in the 20 years that I’ve been doing it, some good some bad, and I strive to push it in a direction towards purity and longevity.
In an interview I did with Robert Ryan he spoke about “symbol illiteracy” and how it’s important to reclaim misused symbols, while also using iconography respectfully. Was this part of the goal with Tattooing's Guide to Symbolism? Why do you think it’s important for people to understand the meaning behind images within tattooing?
The goal with “Tattooing’s Guide to Symbolism” was to analyze and research which emotions or messages people within the Tattoo culture associated the images with, and why. There seemed to be nothing out there that really analyzed this. It’s important to try to correctly portray whatever feelings are behind the image you’re creating, but what I learned from doing that book, was that it sort of happens naturally, again, on a subconscious level. From my experience, someone can have no idea what the historical meaning of whatever design they choose or create is, but the emotions that are making them want to create it are usually in line with its historical meaning, if it’s coming from the heart. Obviously there are exceptions and you should be conscious of imagery that has long cultural significance, and research as much as possible.
Your work is very much supported by the foundations of Irezumi, and I hear often that this form of tattooing has many rules. Can you describe some of these rules, and why they exist? Why did you find yourself attracted to this particular aesthetic?
I found myself drawn to images of dragons, koi and Japanese style backgrounds as soon as I started paying attention to tattooing. At age 14-15 I saw pictures of tattoos from Ed Hardy, Paul Jeffries and Philip Leu and was sucked right in. I also happened to be in the right place at the right time and Angelo Miller immediately started to instill in me the discipline and devotion it takes to unlock that style. I was fortunate to come up around pretty legendary artists that I’m still humbled by. The esthetic of Japanese art and tattoo style resonated with me and I became obsessed. The way it flows on the body, the craftsmanship, and compositional layout has been a lifelong obsession.
It’s important to know the stories and meanings behind the images your recreating, and researching the drawing that your doing is a good way to learn and retain the information. If you're going to draw it, read about what it means first, and this process will give the image more life because you actually know what you’re trying to create. Aside from cultural meanings, there’s also a set of flexible artistic “rules” about esthetics. For example, images are supposed to be facing forward, especially with one-point tattoos. You don’t want to look at the back of a head.
Many artists find that traveling greatly enhances their work, and it’s clear that travel is a huge part of your life...what do you think it is about travel that helps support artistic growth? Can you name a place in particular that you found to be life changing or affirming?
Travel definitely makes an individual grow, artistically and as a person. Exposure to other cultures can humble you and opens your mind to a broader influence when it comes to forming your views and the way you express them. The life experience gained from it deepens the soul, which is where art should come from.
If there’s one place I’ve traveled that has had the most profound affect on my artistic growth, it’s London. This is mostly because I go there for the London Tattoo Convention which hosts a large portion of the worlds most influential tattooers. I leave there every year so inspired, just from being around it all. The friendships I’ve formed and all the good times over there have really been life changing for me.
When can we expect the 2nd book from Neversleep and any clues to what it will focus on? Are there any events, openings, guest spots, or the like happening in 2019 that you’d like to share?
I’m hoping to be able to start a volume 2 sometime in 2019. I had some big picture ideas when we started this project and they include future volumes focusing on specific styles such as Japanese, religious, et cetera.
As far as exciting things happening in the future, myself and Phil Szlosek are currently building our own shop in Huntington, New York. Fountainhead is going to be something truly inspirational to say the least and we are ecstatic about it. We’ve put all of our creative energy and passion into this vision and have used every means possible to make it a space focused on craftsmanship and creativity, where we can expand our horizons and grow as artists. Huntington is a bustling town on the north shore of Long Island and we felt that it’s the perfect place to settle in and create an original concept.
Aside from tattooing, I love designing and building spaces and this experience been really fulfilling for both me and Phil. We are also working with a few select people who share our same passion for real craftsmanship, and will be carrying limited handmade goods from Good Art Hlywd and Gregoire. Tune into Fountainhead New York for the latest on what we’re up to.