No one's work brings to mind the fuzzed reverb of Japanese noize quite like Joe Chatt. Immediately your imagination is set on fire by the Mad Max-ian illustrated world he's created set to the heavy soundtrack of Death Dust Extractor and GAI. His unique style is an amalgamation of classic Traditional techniques, Irezumi iconography, and the dynamic energy of punk rock. Under his confident hand, portraits of Ukiyo-e inspired heroes become enhanced with kinky leather, chunky chains, and an intoxicatingly hardcore attitude indicative of Joe's personal predilections. In this interview, Joe Chatt talks about his adoration for music, how his mum accidentally helped cement his determination to be a tattooer, as well as his take on the place of social media within the industry today.
How did you get into tattooing? What do you love about it? Do you have any childhood memories that kind of pointed to the artist you would become?
I got into tattooing and tattoos through music, I found punk, hardcore and metal music when I was young and it really grabbed ahold of me. I was drawn to the artwork at first, at how insane and evil most of the record covers looked. When I started to find more about extreme or underground music, that's when I started to see people that were heavily tattooed and I was hooked.
Growing up in a small town in England, I didn't get exposed to too many tattoos when I was younger, but the biggest impact I had was staring at my grandads tattoo that he had gotten during time spent with the navy. He had a thistle tattooed on his lower forearm with a banner, which I later figured out that he had gotten from Les Skuse. I remember being so amazed and intrigued with it, I think that's what sparked my obsession.
I remember telling my mum from a young age that I wanted to be completely covered in tattoos when I get older, and she replied "you cant, you will never get a job..unless you are a tattooer" and that really stuck with me from an early age.
What artists, art movements, books, films, art movements, etc. inspire you?
Tattooers that inspire me - DETH, Eddy Deutsche, Timothy Hoyer, Horiyoshi II, Horitoshi, Horizakura, R.G, Chris Garver, Pinky Yun, Jef Whitehead just to name a few. I draw most of my inspiration from ideas or imagery outside of tattooing, mainly from older books that I've found or from records sleeves and inserts. I'm really inspired by artwork from artists such as Hajime Sorayama, H.R Giger, Suehiro Maruo, Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi, Kyosai.
In the past 3 years or so I've been teaching myself to paint on Japanese washi paper, to try and replicate a more ukiyo-e feel to painting and allowing me to try looser non tattoo flash paintings. Although its been pretty tough to figure out all of the correct tools and equipment for the look I'm going for, I feel like a few things have clicked recently and I've been happier with the direction it's going.
In the paintings I’m trying to create a certain atmosphere and dark feeling of a post apocalyptic, futuristic world but then also stealing ideas from Japanese folklore, occultism and other things that I'm into. I like to look at old Japanese pulp mangas from the 70s-80s especially some of the horror or crazier S&M themed ones, the illustrations are very mysterious, dark and give you an unsettling feeling.
As a tattooist, you’ve been able to evolve the Traditional style to be unique to your personal perspective. How has your work developed over the years? How do your personal interests outside of tattooing affect your artistic output?
I feel like my style developed pretty naturally, I started out trying to do straight up classic American Traditional to begin with, but I never felt satisfied with it, I could never get it to look how I thought it should look. So I started to let my inspiration and life outside of tattooing take more control over my ideas and what I wanted to tattoo.
I've always been drawn towards Japanese tattoos, I think that stems from being exposed to Akira, Guyver bio booster armor, Ninja Scroll etc when i was really young, I was always obsessed with the folklore of Japanese culture. I also listen to a lot of Japanese bands such as Gastunk, SOB, G.I.S.M, ZOUO for example, and it all kind of clicked, that I should just combine all of these things into my tattoos.
Outside of tattooing, when I'm not cooped up in my room drawing or painting which is not often, I will go and see a lot of DIY underground punk shows here in NYC. There are so many amazing bands and artists that are involved in the scene here, its a very self sufficient creative hub, of some of the most creative and talented people I've ever met.
How do you feel about the role of social media in tattooing or the world in general? How do you think younger tattooers can go beyond the internet to be better artists?
I think social media is a double edged sword, I think it's amazing for tattooing that you can use free advertisement and be able to keep up with what your friends are doing in other countries. but I think that it's also very toxic, it has in the past really affected my mental health by being sucked into it unknowingly, I see how much it can upset or hurt people and give people an unrealistic expectation on reality.
Recently I have been making an effort to not really pay much attention to social media and trying to pay attention to not just subconsciously pull my phone out and scroll like a zombie. I think that also a lot of younger tattooers use instagram or social media for their reference, or even straight up tracing parts of other peoples tattoos, when really the coolest stuff is always in books.