Tattoo World n°1: Adam Guy Hays

It is with the very talented Adam Guy Hays that Inspired opens its new section dedicated to the tattoo world. Born from simple conversations or personal experiences, whether tattoo artists or people evolving around the tattoo culture, this is where we’ll present images of the personalities that inspire us.

Adam is an American tattoo artist who grew up in Texas and who currently works at Red Rocket Tattoo in New York. He is well known for having developed the Star Wars iconography in tattooing with an old school twist. We met him at the Rodin museum in Paris after he recently worked at the prestigious London Tattoo Convention.

How did you go from loving tattoos to become a tattoo artist?

My love for tattoos started at a young age. I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember, but I started being interested in tattoos in middle school. I was fascinated by them and pursued tattooing as a career after I got out of school. It took a lot of time and I had to try multiple studios before I could get in to one to learn. I was run out of a lot of places before I found a studio in Texas that was willing to teach me. It wasn’t the best education but the shop was busy and I gained a lot of experience working there. A few years later I moved to NYC where I currently reside. I feel like the largest jumps in my career have been because of this city. It’s fast-paced and full of competition. It forces you to work hard to stay relevant. I love what I do, but I never forget that it’s my job. Applying my strong work ethic to something I love has helped me tremendously.

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What makes tattooing unique to you? 

I really enjoy all facets of this art form. There’s so many levels required to master this craft. The basis is drawing, which I’m always trying to get better at. That’s an ever-evolving part of it. Then there’s the fact that tattooing is fundamentally a kind of ornamentation, and a big part of the art form is figuring out the composition on the human body: the flow and lines that can add to the anatomy by accenting or contrasting a person’s features. There’s always the challenge of staying fresh and creative, so as not to be too repetitive. And then there’s the technical part of the craft: knowing your tools and machines, your needles and pigments, which are always changing but always staying the same. It’s an amazing medium in that you have to make all of these elements come together to create a piece of art.

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How did you come up with the idea of using Star Wars iconography in tattooing?

I’d always liked Star Wars growing up and thought its imagery was very versatile. I wanted to do something that would set me apart from people at conventions and would make me stand out. It started with a flash set I did nearly ten years ago and evolved from there. It seems like it’s caught on and is pretty widespread at this point–I see similar imagery all the time now. Now I end up doing some kind of Star Wars tattoo in almost every city I travel to.

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You are incredible at freehand tattooing, a practice that not so many tattooers feel comfortable with. What drew you towards it?

I’ve really only been doing freehand stuff for the last 3-4 years now. I was always horrible at stencils and would get frustrated with the process of creating a drawing on a two dimensional piece of paper to be applied to a three dimensional canvas. Be it an arm or a leg, the way the images wrap and bend always seemed distorted. I’d get frustrated trying to apply and reapply a stencil to the point where I’d just say fuck it and draw the damn thing on with markers. Before long I was more comfortable working that way. It’s given me a freedom I didn’t really have before and I’m much more comfortable with tattooing. Not to mention how much it cuts down in the homework factor.

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Did it change anything for you to be tattooed?

Being tattooed seemed to come so naturally to me. It’s armor and jewelry at the same time. It’s an outward expression of who I am. Some are serious, some are dorky and some are just reminders of who I was growing up.

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One anecdote about yourself we probably don’t know?

One of the best things about my job is the travel and all the places it’s taken me to. I once went to South Africa to do a convention. I spent a little time before the show at Kruger National Park, where there are over 160 different species of mammals walking around. Wild lions, hyenas, rhinos and hippos just waking around coexisting. It’s a park you can drive through in your own vehicle. While driving around through the park I came upon a lone elephant that I stopped to take photos of. He was like 15 feet away. I took a bunch of photos as he crossed my path on the dirt road I was on. I was just going to let him pass and go on my merry way. The steering wheel is on the opposite side there, and after the elephant was a little ways down the road I put the car in gear to proceed. When I hit the gas I realized I had it in the wrong gear and had just revved the engine instead. The engine revving made the elephant do an about-face on the road and charge me. I put the car in reverse as fast as I could and floored it. The elephant gave up chasing me about 100 yards down the dirt road. It was a « holy shit » moment for sure. Not every day you get charged by a wild elephant in a rental car.

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Adam Guy Hays will be guest spotting at Hand In Glove Tattoo Shop, Paris in May 2014.

Interview & Pictures by Céline Aieta

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