Posted October 9, 2012
Interview by Andrew Chen
Photos by Davi Russo
Most know Thomas Hooper for his intricate tattoo work which draws influences from nature, mathematical and geometric patterns, as well as eastern religious imagery. Others might be familiar with his artwork, which he exhibited in his first solo show this past January at Nepenthes New York entitled “Origins of Solitude”. Over the past year, we’ve had the pleasure of also getting to know Thomas as a husband and father: one who is constantly striving to balance his family, his artistic passions and his craft so that all receive the attention they deserve. He invited us into his art studio in Brooklyn to give us a look at his creative process.
Tell us about your first tattoo apprenticeship. What’s something you learned that still rings true for you today?
I was taught how to tattoo by Jim Macairt; he gave me the foundations to begin learning about tattooing. Something he said to me that still rings true today is a question he asked me when he found out I wanted to learn; you have to realize also that I was a frightened and insecure boy so this blew my mind.
He said: “What will YOU do for tattooing? You will get so much from it but what will YOU give back?” This is always in my head – how can I give back, how can I make something new and expand on what is already such an expansive wealth of inspiration and creativity?
What’s the most enjoyable part of tattooing for you? The toughest part?
The most enjoyable part is the transformation of an idea in my head onto a person’s skin. The toughest part is the physical act of tattooing, there’s so much pressure and stress as everything in that moment that I do will be recorded in the skin like images on film.
It is very important to me that my artwork be accessible to everyone, not just fans of tattooing.
What does it mean to you to know that your tattoos are appreciated by those who are not necessarily fans of tattooing?
When someone who doesn’t like tattoos likes my tattooing, I feel a great sense of achievement because in many ways I have elevated my tattooing out of their realm of normal interpretation of it. It is very important to me that my artwork be accessible to everyone, not just fans of tattooing.
In looking at your body of work, it’s clear that you find beauty in repetition. Why is this, and where did you draw inspiration from as you developed your personal style?
I love repetition, and I realized its beauty in looking at traditional Japanese tattoos. Everything is the same but slightly different. I found inspiration in nature and I then started looking at the work of William Morris, Christopher Dresser and Ernst Haeckel – the former of which lead to my interest in textile design and repetitive patterns.
What have you been working on in the textile design arena? What are some things you’d like to try in the future?
I have been working on designing repeating fabric patterns for a while now just in my spare time. I have been printing test swatches through a company called Spoon Flower, and one of my friends is going to start making quilts from them I think. The big achievement in this arena is a collaboration I have just finished with Michael and Nicole Colovos from Helmut Lang. Along with their designer Pascale Gueracague, I helped create a series of patterns that have been used quite a lot through their 2013 S/S RTW line. This is such an amazing thing for me, I’m really excited to see how it turns out. As for the future – who knows, I am willing to develop and try anything. I also have a couple of other projects working their way out of my brain onto the street
You employ painting methods where you lay down layer upon layer – sanding, destroying and breaking some down while leaving others intact to create these beautiful abstractions. What are you trying to communicate in your art?
Mortality and impermanence are strong currents in both my tattooing and art because I think they are the surest things we will experience in our lives. I hope studying them as subjects will hopefully let me see life in some kind of real way.
What’s something that you’re working at improving on right now – either professionally or personally?
I’m always trying to improve on myself, to be better than yesterday – a better human, father, husband, friend, tattooist and artist.
Mortality and impermanence are strong currents in both my tattooing and art because I think they are the surest things we will experience in our lives.
How has becoming a father affected your approach towards your work?
Being a father has given my work a true purpose, instead of just an expression of my ego and vanity. It makes my work have integrity and makes me work harder, with a true conviction. At the same time, being a parent has become the most important endeavour I have ever undertaken – it takes precedence over anything else: father, husband and friend before any form of work. Whilst wanting to work has hard has a possibility to create a strong and supportive life for my son, I also have to recognise the limits of this and where I must draw the line so that i spend as much time with him as possible. It’s a dance between being as much of yourself so they get to know the real person and be raised by the whole ‘you’ but at the same time not being selfish and absent from their lives.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I would like my legacy to be many things; I guess it’s a very subjective question because everyone will have a different view point and remember different things about me. One thing I would like to be remembered for is working hard. I’m not that talented, I just keep doing the same thing till I get it right – which hasn’t happened yet.