Daemon Rowanchilde is a talented tattoo artist based in Ontario, Canada at the Urban Primitive Tattoo Studio. His history with art and tattooing is an interesting one because he has dedicated his life to a soulful pursuit of a relationship with his chosen art forms. Catherine from Ratta Tattoo asked him some questions about his work:
Catherine: You have a rich history with art creation and and artistic exploration. Which art forms have you experimented with over the years, and which of these have had the greatest effect on your tattoo art?
Daemon: I did a lot of woodcarving when I was a teenager and also started oil painting at that age. From 1982-1987 I was enrolled in OCAD (then called OCA) to complete a Fine Arts Specialist diploma. During that time I explored ceramics, sculpture, experimental art, jewelry design and fabrication, foundry and of course, drawing and painting. In my final year I did an independent study on tattoo as a legitimate art form which at the time was quite radical. CityTV did a story on my independent study because it was the first time that a world recognized art institute accepted tattooing as art. This was the first time that tattooing was accepted as an art form on this level in modern history.
Painting and sculpture have had the most impact on my tattoo art. Sculpture has provided the 3D exploration of form which influenced how I approach the body in my design work. The tattooed body typically is viewed as a canvas, which is 2 dimensional. However, the body is 3 dimensional and therefore I adopt a more sculptural approach in my body design. I have also explored tattoos as energy patterns in my paintings and what I learned I transferred back into my tattooing. Sculpture, painting and tattooing are interdependent. They cross pollinate each other.
Catherine: You were one of the pioneers of tattoo art as aesthetic body design, aiming to create designs that flowed with the natural shape of the body. At the time, most tattoo artists were working chiefly in American Traditional or “Old School”, styles of tattooing that focus on choosing an area of the body that fits the design rather than creating a design to suit an area of the body. How did other tattoo artists respond to your shift in perspective?
Daemon: In my early years I was snubbed and told I couldn’t make a living turning down old and new school style tattoos. At times there would be a backlash by tattooists who could not think outside the box. They would lament that “it’s about the tats” and mock any talk about spiritual impulse, transformation and healing. But I refused to buckle under this pressure and continued to further develop my approach and style.
I made great connections with a few tattoo artists in Europe whose work I admired, especially Tom Ptolemy, whom I consider a great friend and mentor. In a Vienna convention, Tom asked me to design and do one of my early tribal energy wave tattoos on him and that gave me a boost both in public recognition and in my confidence. Another tattoo artist was the late David Kotker, with whom I travelled the Euro tattoo convention circuit. Later, I came in contact with Erik Reime and Xed Le Head who were both working solely in a black and gray pointillist style like myself. Both of their unique styles and philosophies inspired me to go completely pointillist even in the solid black areas. Erik explored hand and machine poked tattooing in his Nordic design style and Xed also explored both machine and hand poked in his Eastern influenced and geometric work. While visiting with Eric Reime in Copenhagen one year, Eric gifted me with one of his hand poke tools in a hand made birch bark container. I still have this today sitting on my alter in my tattoo studio. It means a lot to me. They inspired me to explore the hand poke method of tattooing which I still do periodically to this day. Incidentally I am working on developing my own wild crafted ceremonial black tattoo ink for this use.
After my first Euro circuit, my work started appearing in tattoo magazines and books on tattooing. It did not take long for me to develop a strong niche market of repeat clients and word of mouth. Over time I began to see how my early tribal work was influencing other tattoo artists in their tribal designs. This and my spiritual practice and psychedelic journeys at the time inspired me to explore energy waves and patterns further. Other artist’s attempts to copy my energy wave work didn’t succeed because the artists were trying to copy from a different paradigm. Some clients who initially went elsewhere to get my style copied because of the distance ended up travelling that same distance for me to do a tattoo makeover.
Catherine: Many of your designs have a warm color palette, with crimson and mauve as featured hues. Do these warm colors have symbolic or spiritual meaning within the tattoos?
Daemon: For many years I had felt the need to limit my tattoo work to black and gray. I wasn’t really attracted to the bright, often garish colours and thick outlines that were popular in van art and grafitti. Not that I have a problem with those art forms in their context but I needed to go a different route. I had been exploring colour shades in my early paintings. This inspired me to experiment with mixing a little red with my diluted grays and black to try to capture the look and feel of the warm reddish blush on a freshly done black and gray tattoo. Clients became attracted to this addition of the red shade and I began to explore various burgundy and aubergine shades and dilutions. What clients seem to like most about the muted shades is that the tattoos had a hint of colour, aged well and had a relatively timeless aesthetic like a tinted photograph or a classy black evening dress.
Catherine: You encourage your clients to approach the tattoo process as a spiritual journey, choosing symbols and the placement of the tattoo to reflect a life experience or personal change. The actual event of receiving the tattoo from you is often a ritual of personal and spiritual transformation. The result is that your clients get to experience a wonderful feeling of euphoria during and after receiving their tattoo. Do you also feel a sense of euphoria and cathartic release through creating tattoos?
Daemon: There is a glow, the way I imagine a midwife would feel delivering a baby. I feel contentment and deep gratitude because I get to facilitate and witness a profound change in the client which continues to unfold over time. Sometimes I feel mildly tired because my days tend to be long (6-8 hours). I hold a heart-focused energetic space the entire time to induce entrainment and initiate the flow zone which is the safe, euphoric space for the client to have their felt experience. Everyone has a personal story which is important to be acknowledged and heard but healing can only happen in real time. People don’t have to be conscious of a specific story, quite often the impulse is intuitive which is the heart intelligence and soul connection that I help them realign with.
Catherine: Your tattoos marry organic lines and geometric shapes in an elegant mix of tribal, religious and aesthetic design, all the while accentuating the area of the body that the tattoo is placed on. Many tattoo artists would be quite daunted by the challenges you face with your style. Is there any one tattoo that stands out as being the most challenging?
Daemon: Scars and other kinds of coverups or renovations are the most challenging and intense with respect to psychospiritual healing. Aside from the challenge to modify something that is no longer pleasing to the client into something more aesthetic that they can relate to, there is sometimes the underlying trauma of a negative event during the execution of the original tattoo or scar. The attitude of the tattoo artist effects how the client ultimately feels about the cover-up tattoo. For example, I have had clients come in to cover-up mastectomy scars and scars from cosmetic surgery on the breasts and abdomen. So whenever the client looks or thinks about the existing tattoo, any negative energy stored there echoes back. Likewise positive energy echoes back if the client has received a positive experience during the tattoo process.
When working with toxic scars the tattoo artist has to be aware that the stored energy can rise up suddenly and overwhelm the client who is getting the cover-up or renovation. It can come up in memories of abuse that the client didn’t even know they had. The artist needs to be fully present, to unwaveringly hold heart space and honour the process even if the client is crying or faints, or has intense emotional outbursts of anger and grief which may be projected at the artist. You can’t take it personally because your job is to safely and compassionately deliver the client through the chaos into a new state of being where they are in a transformed relationship with themselves on all levels. I am not kidding when I say the tattoo process is a birthing process and I serve as a spiritual midwife.
The most difficult toxic scars to heal are not physical but psychospiritual in nature. This is the case of people suffering from PTSD, emotional abuse and addictions. I have a few clients who are police constables dealing with PTSD. In this case the healing process is more gradual and transformation and integration requires a multidisciplinary approach that includes psychotherapy, other forms of bodywork and meditation.
Catherine: The quality of your linework, dot work and shading is exceptional – the work of a master artist with years of experience. Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring tattoo artists who want to improve the precision and quality of their style?
Daemon: In my experience the first thing is to learn how to hold a sacred heart space that honours the client and yourself. There has to be a balance. By developing your feeling sense you can learn how to entrain to the flow zone or metaphysical reality from where all creativity and life originates. These are the golden threads or strings that poets and scientists speak of that will lead the artist into that infinite potential reality and have a direct influence on the quality of their art and how it unfolds and speaks to people. There are tattoos that may be technically brilliant but lack energy and vitality and this a felt experience that people unconsciously respond to.
A psychic once told me that my tattoo work facilitates soul realignment. Clients follow a golden thread that leads them to me because I help them reconnect with their inherent wholeness, independent of any belief system. The heart perceives everything as whole and sacred, whereas the mind tends to see things as separate and disconnected. This disconnection and alienation reflects the struggle not only in ourselves but also what we see in the world today. I believe that the suffering in the world is a reflection of our own suffering and our inner struggle to reconnect with our Source and realign with our soul’s purpose. The more that tattoo artists (or anyone for that matter) learn how to perceive from their heart and their felt sense, the closer we can manifest a tipping point that can transform the whole world. I recently had the opportunity to attend the last ever experiential workshop taught by my teacher, Stephen Harrod Buhner (I will be posting a podcast of the recordings of those 5 days with Stephen. I highly recommend that listeners do the exercises that Stephen guides us through and to read his books, especially The Secret Teachings of Plants which introduces the idea of the heart as an organ of perception with intelligence greater than the brain). During the workshop we explored ways of entering the what he calls the metaphysical background of the world and how to recognize and follow golden threads. One golden thread that I recognized I could no longer ignore is that I have to teach and share what I have learned and practiced. This winter I am going to draft up a curriculum where I teach my approach to tattooing. I hope to have the first weekend module ready for May 2015.
Catherine: What are your preferred methods of communication with potential clients?
Daemon: Face to face communication in real time during the tattoo session is my preferred way. However we do have an initial e-consultation via email where the client can cover the 5 Ws: who they are, what they desire, when to book, where on the body they want their tattoo, and why (optional). I will also be working on an experiential workshop designed for clients who may be interested in getting a tattoo but don’t know how to access their inner soul blueprint for their art. The workshop can also serve to teach people how to access these deeper parts of themselves and inspire some kind of art expression whether through a painting, a poem or prose, film, etc.
I have not been very active with social media mainly because I have been so busy and I am not that media savvy. However I am now posting fairly regularly on Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and occasionally Pinterest and I will be setting up a Google+ page. Presently I am working with Seth J. Rowanwood of Inklight to redesign and rebrand my website and have more of an online presence, including a YouTube channel where I am posting my video blogs and interviews with clients.
I would also like to thank you, Catherine, for taking the time to research me and my work and present me with your thoughtful questions.
Catherine: Thank you, Daemon.