By Crystal Morey
When I first met Alex McWatt he immediately demanded to know where I lived, in Japanese. It caught me off guard but I answered him, in Japanese, and that was it. I passed the test and we were friends. I believe the next night ended in an odd hand poke circle of amazingness, but that’s a whole other story.
Alex possesses an incredibly dry sense of humor and views the world with a captious eye. I think his exacting standards are what make him excel as an artist. He drives himself hard and it invariably pays off. He has been creating compelling artwork for over a decade and he continues to grow as an artist and redefine his margins. I think it’s very easy to coast along when you are making a decent living as an artist, but to continue to submerge oneself in challenging endeavors after you’ve a recognized name is admirable. Don’t tell him I think that though, it’ll go straight to his head.
CM: Ok I am super excited about this interview but before we start I gotta know….McWatt?? How many nicknames were you hit with in school??
AM: Haa there were plenty. But McWhat???? and McTwat seemed to be favorites amongst my ever so witty peers.
CM: Yeah I had you pegged for McTwat. So run me through your career up to now. Did you go thru a formal apprenticeship? Have you worked exclusively in New York?
AM: I was incredibly fortunate to get an apprenticeship at Fly Rite tattoo under the hugely under-acknowledged Elio Espana. I apprenticed with him from about 1999-2001 and then I started working there. I also worked at True Blue Tattoo out in Queens, until I opened up Three Kings Tattoo in Brooklyn. My home base is New York, but I’ve been lucky enough to travel around and learn from tattooers all over the world.
CM: Tell me about Three Kings.
AM: Well it started 4 years ago when I realized Brooklyn could use a shop that wasn’t intimidating to walk into. I wanted to open a place where people could get amazing custom work done, but also be able to walk-in and get something they wanted that day. Three Kings is that place. All the artists that work there have something special to offer, and it helps us maintain a diverse client base. We all appreciate and support each other—it’s really become a second home to everyone that works there.
CM:There is definitely an amicable vibe in the shop. Working in NYC, and especially at a high traffic street shop, I am sure you have seen 1000 hot messes. Tell me some of the oddest things that you have seen working here…..
AM: I guess working here in NYC I’m pretty jaded. I’ve probably seen or tattooed some pretty strange stuff but honestly it all just blurs together at the end of the day. I had a pimp come in one day with his girls and he made them all get his name tattooed on them. That wasn’t necessarily odd, but it was impressive!
CM:Ahaha! Tell me his name was Clarence!! Your portfolio is prolific. I really like your animal illustrations, both on paper and tattoo-wise. I know you are pretty fanatical about not looking at other peoples work but are there other artists who influence you artistically?
AM: I’m really inspired by so many people and things. I mean there are some obvious choices like Audubon, Durer, and Hokusai. There’s also Walton Ford and guys like James Jean. All of whom are true masters of their art. But I also like to go to places and take pictures of things I see on the street, like sculptures on a building or even a garden landscape to broaden my visual library. And because I have an anthropology background, historical symbols have always fascinated me.
CM: Now that you have finally tattooed the ultimate tattoo, my badass Princes Leah Kewpie, I reckon you could go ahead and hang your hat. Is there anything else you would like to tattoo?
AM: That tattoo certainly was one my recent favorites. I’m really into trying to do some bigger custom pieces these days. Backs are a challenge to do and I enjoy taking on projects that require a bit more from me, both technically and creatively. I’d really like to do more large-scale birds, and be able to magnify the details that are lost on smaller pieces.
CM: I really love the birds you have been doing lately, I can definitely see you going bigger with them. I was sitting on the fence about getting one but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play star wars nerd with you. What do you do when you aren’t tattooing. Did you always want to tattoo, or did you have another path lined up, when you were young?
AM: When I’m not tattooing I spend as much time with my family as possible. I have two daughters that keep me pretty busy. I also play on a soccer team to keep the heart pumping. And whenever possible I try to get out of the city and do a bit of shooting (shotgun). So between all of that and staying on top of drawing I wish there were three more days in
I’ve been fascinated by tattooing for as long as I can remember. But when I was young, I wanted to be Indiana Jones—a real adventurer. Up until the start of my apprenticeship, I was in school studying anthropology and thought I would pursue graduate work. One day I finally got the courage to start tattooing, and I didn’t want to stop. Oddly enough tattooing has probably afforded me more adventures than anthropology ever would have.
CM: So true. Your days are pretty full…do you find time to do much artwork outside of tattooing?
AM: Well fortunately I’ve never been much of a sleeper, so I still manage to have a little spare time to do some illustrations/paintings, although not nearly as much as I would like.CM: Tell me about your tattoos…do you have any favorites?
AM: Well I have tattoos for when each of my daughters, Gracie and Sparrow were born so they have huge significance for me. I think for me the act of getting tattooed is almost more important than the tattoo at the end. I got a really awesome tattoo in a hotel in Milan. It’s small and silly but it’s loved none the less. I’m lucky enough to have tattoos by guys like Dan Trocchio, Chris Conn, Jeff Rassier, Eli Quinters and Ron Wells. Guys who’s work I really admire and I feel like just having tattoos by them has somehow made me try to tattoo at a higher level.CM: For people that want to get tattooed by you how far in advance do they need to book? Do you plan to do any upcoming conventions or guest spots?
AM: It’s like a two months wait. Unless I’m really super into the idea then I’m willing to stay late or something to make it happen. I don’t have any plans laid out. I’m not as into conventions as I am with doing guest spots. Conventions are fun to go to and see people that I haven’t in a while but honestly I might be a bit agoraphobic or something but the crowds kinda freak me out. With guest spots there’s so much more opportunity to open up and get to know people it’s a lot more rewarding. I’m definitely interested in heading back over to Japan and Australia has been on my radar for a bit too so we’ll see…CM: Very cool. You’d love Australia, I go there as often as I can, and there are some great shows being put on there now! Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
AM: Yeah one of our artists at ThreeKings Josh Egnew, just got back from there and his pictures and stories have definitely pumped it up on my list. Let’s see 10 years from now…Well, it’s tough to say where tattooing will be in 10 years. There seem to be so many outside factors pulling on the industry—from tv, to the economy, to fashion. I’ll always feel like New York is my home base, but it would be great to expand my presence internationally through tattooing and commercial projects.