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Leather Barbies and Beefcakes: Interview with James Lauder

Leather Barbies and Beefcakes: Interview with James Lauder
Tattoo Artists5 min Read

In this interview with James Lauder he talks about getting into tattooing, his aesthetic, and Vancouver community.

Sapphic love, leather daddies, Madonna dolls, and ball gag babes...this is only scratching the surface of James Lauder's incredibly clean, bold portfolio. With a sense of humor matched with an emotive sensitivity, his work is fun, but powerful. 

Merging artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Tom of Finland with 1950's aesthetics, James Lauder has created his own personal style that resonates deeply with the queer community. With foundations in a personal philosophy that applauds communication and education, Mr Lauder's tattoos are vignettes into a world full of visibility, gender fluidity and sex positivity. 

If you're in the Vancouver area, make sure to see his solo show at the Dynamo Arts Association. The opening is November 23rd at 7pm and will be running from November 22nd to Dec 3rd!

What were you like as a kid? Do you think it was pretty clear you would become an artist?

I was a pretty quite kid, spent most of my time drawing or watching cartoons. Throughout school art was always my main focus, so for sure.

How did you get into tattooing? Why was it the art form you were most drawn to?

I'd been interested in tattooing for years before I started (I'd been getting tattoos for a long time, had friends/family that were tattoo artists, or who worked in shops etc.) but there were a lot of things I had to learn and get over before I felt comfortable pursuing it. I think the moment it all really clicked for me was after reading: Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade. It's this brilliant biographical work about a University Professor (Samuel M. Steward) who becomes a tattoo artist and underground queer icon (Phil Sparrow) in the 1950's at the age of 40. It completely twisted my head and I felt after reading that I became a bit of a nerd about it all, I spent a long time building up my own pen + ink drawing skills, and keeping a dense journal of everything I was learning from reading/watching about tattoo histories, symbolism, important artists, technique, heath + safety. While doing all this I still had my own design practice and was working as a part-time instructor. I eventually cut back on both and got a job working front desk at a shop to learn things I couldn't on my own. I met so many talented and open artists who were incredibly supportive and encouraging of my work. Yi Stropky was the first person to put a machine in my hand and if it was not for him, Shannon Elliott or Daniel Giantomaso it would have been a much more challenging road. I've officially been tattooing for over 2 years now.

Many of your pieces are very much inspired by contemporary kink/queer culture. Can you talk about how your style has developed over the years, and why those aspects of culture were important for you to illustrate/tattoo? What artists, visuals, films, or books inspired you along the way?

I think discussions around toxic masculinity and queer culture are becoming more common in our community. Imagery and visibility have an equally important role though. It’s normal for us to see images of women being vulnerable, whether physically restrained, showing affection, or crying. Many link femininity with emotions and emotions with weakness. ’Being a man’, ‘Manning up’, and the more aggressive ’Don’t be a pussy’ clearly express that emotions are the antithesis of masculinity. Within my own practice as a queer artist, my focus has been to challenge these beliefs by creating images that explore vulnerable masculinity and flip gender stereotypes. I think for people who like my work maybe its because it reflects or allows them the space to express their own ideas around queerness and gender.

As for inspiration I have too many to list :) Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom of Finland, Christian Rex Van Minnen, Miranda July, Mike Giant, Jim Henson, Rick Baker... (I could go on forever) I also watch a lot of movies + other video content.

As someone who does do a lot of kink tattoos that feel really authentic and genuine, I’d love to hear your advice for white bread newbies who are interested in the community, but are perhaps a little too scared to dip their toe in. How do you think people can educate themselves on sex positivity, and get involved in what can often seem like an intimidating culture?

I think the internet is always an interesting place to start (for good + bad reasons). There’s a number of sites + forums where you can get information or find other people to explore whatever your specific kink(s) might be. I would just take it slow, try new things and be safe.

I have so many friends who have moved to Vancouver and say it’s one of the best places on the planet. Can you describe what the arts and tattooing scene is like there? Why did you decided to set up your private studio in that particular spot?

Vancouver is pretty great (I do have a bit of a love hate relationship with it at times though). We’re really lucky to have a number of talented artists in the city and people who appreciate + support what they do. I just think things need to get more affordable or people will be priced out of living/working there.

We got really lucky with our workspace, but it definitely took a while. Finding a place that was queer friendly and a part of the community was really important.

Beyond artwork and tattooing, what are you most passionate about? If you were going to live forever, what are the first things on your list of places to see, things to do, or skills to learn?

Film is such a collaborative and impactful medium, in a short amount of time you can connect to another persons story or life in way that can change how you see or think about something forever. It’s also a very easily accessible medium, both physically + intellectually.

I wouldn’t want to live forever, have you seen Death Becomes Her? ;) I just want to keep improving my work and trying to understand myself better, travel everywhere (Japan + the Philippines are next on my list). Maybe learn how to sleep 8hrs a night (so envious of people who can sleep anywhere).

Any travel plans, collabs, or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

I’m still figuring out travel plans for 2019, but I do have a solo show coming up called ‘Vulnerable Masculinity’ at Dynamo for the end of November that I’m really excited about :) Just feeling lucky that I get to do what I love with such awesome people.

Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you ? IG: @lathe.of.heaven