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The Threads of Meditation: Interview with Tattoo Artist Gossamer Rozen

The Threads of Meditation: Interview with Tattoo Artist Gossamer Rozen

Tattoo Artists10 min Read

In this interview with tattooist and artist Gossamer Rozen, they talk about the many healing facets of creation.

Weaving the threads of chimerical mythos into the fabric of our reality, Gossamer creates a multi-faceted world that deeply resonates with many. The familiarity of their artistic output may be the cross-cultural colloquy, the undertones of folk outsider art harmonized with Japanese manga and traditional textile patterns and, even further, within all this there is a childlike reverie met with an unswerving bite of authenticity. But whether made of filament or pigment, everything reverberates with a real love, as if Gossamer endows each object or illustration with the spirit and force of nature, much like the Shinto Kami.

Carving out a space within contemporary tattooing, their work echos the ethereal words of Filipino writer Tonogbanua; “the gossamer of dreams…the smell of warm earth loam - all these are woven in that fantasy, a poem.”

Gossamer's portrait by Joshua Allen Harris #Gossamer #JoshuaAllenHarris

How did you get into tattooing, and why was it something you were drawn to?

It began when I was 17, but did not come to fruition until a decade later. I was creating designs all the time when I was younger, and it seemed they might be good for tattoos. I had plans to have a drawing I made tattooed on myself by another artist. But, my parents were not happy about that, so I sat on it for a while. I wanted to understand tattooing and what it could or could not represent for me. And it was important to be sure of why I wanted to be tattooed.

My artwork reflects my identity and my struggle to deal with complex emotions. I have always been interested in fine arts; I graduated from Massachusetts College of Arts and Designs with a concentration in sculpture. I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania; around me were many street shops with cis white men tattooers and shop owners, taking walk-in clients, completing commissioned artwork to fulfill the client’s needs. That model of tattooing did not resonate with the work I wanted to produce. For this reason, tattooing did not feel like I belonged in it - as a client or a tattooer.

In the last few years, I discovered a new culture of tattoo artists on Instagram who were designing and tattooing their own designs, in their own style, almost exclusively. When I saw that it was possible for tattooing to be another medium of fine art, I was excited about trying to make it happen, even if that would limit my clientele. As I researched the history of tattooing, I discovered how much of my cultural heritage involved tattooing - I am Filipino and African American. This cultural connection was the beginning of my tattoo journey. Tattooing is an exploration of my individuality, my physical identity, and my heritage. I grew up in a very white, racist, isolated part of Pennsylvania with kind and loving parents, but the circumstances removed me from many of our cultural traditions. Tattooing, therefore, became my own journey to celebrate my heritage, and my gender identity.

At the age of 27, I finally got that tattoo I designed as my first tattoo. And a few months later, I had my face and hands tattooed with designs inspired from my heritage - African and Filipino - to solidify my commitment to tattooing.

Hand poke tattoo by Gossamer aka grelysian #Gossamer #grelysian #handpoke #stickandpoke #nonelectrictattooing

Hand Poke tattooing can be a very intimate experience. Can you describe the aspects of this technique that make you prefer it over machine?

Hand poking (also known as "stick and poke") is very meditative for me, similar to needle felting and sewing. I get lost in the details and the perfectionism of it. There’s also something crazy about very fine work completed with little to no tools - I strive to master detail-intensive techniques. That’s certainly something you can focus on with machine, but there’s a level of insanity that I love so much about creating a hand-poked tattoo one dot at a time - and gazing at the finished, and healed, result of that craft.

What is your tattooing/art-making philosophy first for yourself, and for your clients?

Art, first and foremost, must be a healing experience for me. For my whole life, art has been my way of living and my go-to method to ease my mental, emotional, and physical pain. There is a parallel to mindfulness in my methods of hand poking tattoos, hand sewing, painting, drawing, and wood carving. The process is paramount. It so happens that the result of the process resonates an aspect of me visually to the world. For recipients of my tattoos, and viewers and buyers of my work, I am happy not only about their connection not only to the finished piece, but also about their appreciation of the process - the endless hours of time and love I place into everything I touch. I hope clients identify with who I am and the cultures I represent. In my opinion there should not be a huge disconnect between the artist and viewer/client; I want to bridge that gap. I want you to see me and my life, but I also want you to know that I see you too.

Hand poke tattoo by Gossamer aka grelysian #Gossamer #grelysian #handpoke #stickandpoke #nonelectrictattooing

Throughout your artwork, your voice is wonderfully implicit in all of it; it's so very clearly your own. How has your style evolved over the years? What inspires you? What advice do you have for others trying to find their voice?

A difficult one, because the cultivation of voice, style, and practice is ever-developing as you go through life. For me, first and foremost, I want people to remember that I make art for myself. It is to please myself, comfort myself, heal myself. It happens that in this process I have been able to connect to others who also want to be pleased and comforted. It's great that my work sometimes fulfills that. I often try to live in an isolated bubble. There is activity all around us all the time, so much information and data; it’s important for me to sit, marinate on what I take in, and lay it back out on the table.

Sure, there will always be things that interest and inspire me. I grew up Catholic, and around a lot of Chinese art that my mom had from the Philippines. I loved drawing and reading Japanese manga, underground comics, and other self-published works. Although much of my work is representational, there’s an abstract world going on in my mind that I think appears consistently in my work. I also find a lot of influence in folk art and medieval art from Asia and Europe, especially textiles like rugs and tapestries. I appreciate the worn handmade things you’d find in your grandmother's home, used over and over for ages, those kinds of ordinary objects that have treasure and meaning from always being a part of your life. They age with you, just like tattoos.

My advice for others trying to find their voice? Create. Create and don’t stop creating. Don’t always ask for feedback. Just make and make... and make art so much that it is your obsession and it is the most important thing in your life. Make time for art. Sacrifice other desires and pleasures for art. If you want to be an artist, art has to be your entire life. Create from yourself. and create for yourself. Don’t seek so much validation and influence from the outside. It’s your voice, after all, that people want to hear - not someone else’s. And for goodness sake, don’t make art with any expectation of making a dime. You need to make because you love it. And maybe someday it can support you too.

Hand poke tattoo by Gossamer aka grelysian #Gossamer #grelysian #handpoke #stickandpoke #nonelectrictattooing

I would love if you could talk a bit about your fine art practice. You make clothing, sculptures, wearable art, prints, paintings...Why do you think you're drawn to so many mediums, especially those that are very *hand use* intensive? Are there any mediums you hope to experiment with but haven't yet?

As I said earlier, art needs to be meditative and healing for me. For so much of my life, and as it is now, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, dysphoria, and dissociation have been a plague. Touching these fabrics, drawing on paper, for hours without knowing when you’re finished, not caring if you are, it grounds me. My hand to the medium is key. My hands are as strong as my eyes. My eyes take things in for me, and my hands take things out of me. My intimate connection with art-making has informed me physically, in reference to creating wearable art… the sculptures and characters and clothing design, they become voices of myself, speaking to myself, friends, ideas, concepts that interact with one another physically and outside of my mind. I want the objects I make to be used, to be worn and destroyed, to be mended and repaired. I want them to age with me, I want them to be a part of everyday life.

In the full-body photograph by Joshua Allen Harris, I am wearing a piece I made myself, under a tapestry jacket handmade by my friend Mia Vesper. Fashion is a big inspiration and it's one of the many mediums I want to get into. I have big plans to make tufted rugs. I want to make clothes, model in them... I want to learn tapestry weaving, I’d like to get into ceramics again, and to make stained glass again. I want to make bigger pieces, like my curtains, that activate a space, in a sacred and tactile way. And of course, I'd like to make more books, zines, and comics. I suppose, when I try to create everything in my world, I build a safe space for myself.

Hand poke tattoo by Gossamer aka grelysian #Gossamer #grelysian #handpoke #stickandpoke #nonelectrictattooing

How has your background informed your artistic output? How has being a QPOC affected your experience in the tattoo industry/culture? 

I think my tattoos have had a direct impact on individual people more so than any other medium right now. I expected some of this, but perhaps not as quickly and not with this level of excitement. Being a QPOC tattoo artist has empowered many people to come to me to be tattooed, because I represent a piece of who they are. That is very powerful for me. Tattooing will always be my most intimate art-making experience because it directly involves my application to another human’s body. Because of this, artist-client relationships are very spiritual. As I share the work I do, and the recipient shares the work they received, I think it’s creating a deeper cultural bond for representation, inclusion, and diversity in the tattoo industry. It’s a shift that I am honored to be a part of, and I believe there will continue to be more artists like me who cater to clients who are searching for an artist that can provide this sense of belonging.

Hand poke tattoo by Gossamer aka grelysian #Gossamer #grelysian #handpoke #stickandpoke #nonelectrictattooing

How do you think, going forward, the tattoo industry, and fine art world, can be more diverse and supportive of minority cultures? What are your hopes for the future landscape of these communities?

Broadly speaking, we need more cis white allies and queer white allies with powerful platforms to rip things apart from the top down. There is only so much time, energy, and education us POC and QPOC can provide from the ground up, to push back and have our voices heard. Without the acknowledgment, reparation, and action, this movement will not be complete. I can only hope that slowly we will get there, but this truly is a larger cultural shift than what we see in the art world. This is a global change that must acknowledge the damage colonization has had on our world, and actively make amends to it. It will not be quick and easy by any means.

Hand poke tattoo flash by Gossamer aka grelysian #Gossamer #grelysian #handpoke #stickandpoke #nonelectrictattooing #tattooflash

What do you think it is about New York that makes it such a special place for artists? Who are some awesome people in NY that you think are doing incredible work?

I’m very new here, so it’s difficult to describe. I have not traveled to many places yet, but I have always felt I belonged here in New York - as an artist and as a person of color. I attempted to move here over six years ago shortly after graduating, but I was not successful. It was worth waiting until I was in a good place financially and emotionally to take on this big change. From what I have seen so far, the DIY tattoo community here in NYC is so welcoming and knowledgeable. Everyone is out here helping one another, coaching one another, ensuring we are working safely and appropriately. We are doing our best to make our artistic dreams reality, and we’re all in it together. The knowledge share is really incredible, and I’m happy to be a part of that.

I’m still getting to know the amazing amount of incredible NYC-based artists... at this time, I’d like to use this space to shout out my studio mates, Astrid Elisabeth and Mars Hobrecker who co-own our little private studio Somewhere NYC in Ridgewood. They began this space as a means to give back to the community, to provide artists from all over the world a place to practice their work here in the city. It’s an amazing opportunity to be a permanent member of this space, and to provide new artists an opportunity to have a place to tattoo - often their first guest spot, which was the case for me. So thank you, Mars and Astrid, for creating such a welcoming, open space for tattooers, especially queer and POC tattooers.

Hand poke tattoo by Gossamer aka grelysian #Gossamer #grelysian #handpoke #stickandpoke #nonelectrictattooing

Beyond tattooing and art-making, what are you passionate about? If you had an infinite amount of more time, what would you do with it? What are your goals and hopes for your future? 

Actually, this is the part I have trouble with because I am too focused on art! Well, I am also a musician, having played the cello for about 14 years before taking a decade-long break at age 18. I’d like to get back into that now that I have a little more time and try to learn a few more instruments as well; I picked up a lever harp the other week to teach myself. I always wanted to model, so I'm putting myself out there to be photographed more often. I want to travel more so I can gain a first-hand perspective of the world. Although it’s good for me to create from my mind so much, I want to use this opportunity to become more aware of what’s happening around me. Goals and hopes for my future? I’d like to take care of myself, my health, to ensure I can keep making and exploring for as long as I’m able to. I’d like to continue to make new friends and acquaintances. I'd like to collaborate, I want to make art with people I'm close to. Who knows what else.

Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

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

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