There was a time when sporting a tattoo would mark you gangster, sailor or punk. Today they’re adorned by young and old, rich and poor, straight and rebellious alike. In this series, we meet London’s finest tattoo artists to discuss the growing appeal of ink. Emily Malice, who draws on people at Femme Fatale, combines her love of botany and pop art in a “delicious collision”. Photography by Rory James.
DISORDER: What first hooked you about tattooing?
EMILY: I love the connection I have with people through tattooing. I was drawn to the liberation I feel it brings, how it makes your body your own. I wanted to give this freedom to others.
When did you first enter a tattoo shop, and when did you become a tattoo artist?
My parents would take me and my brother into studios when we were kids on our family holiday to Cornwall, so pretty young. We would sit and be in awe of all the mad flash on the walls. I didn't start tattooing till I was 23. I wanted to wait to find my own voice in my art.
What was your first tattoo, and how do you feel about it now?
My dad got this rubbish set-up from somewhere and did some sick tribal on my ankle whilst I was standing on a table. It was only me and this other kid at school who had a tattoo so I felt pretty rad haha.
Any advice for people getting a first tattoo?
I was an absolute scoundrel so I got tattooed rather young; however, there is no rush. You will know when you see an artist’s work that speaks to you. Trust your artist – they want to do their best and for the tattoo to look awesome! Don't feel pressured into something you're not vibing, make sure you are honest and discuss if you feel uncomfortable.
How frequently do you get new ones?
I like to plan but also in a zeitgeisty way. I got tattooed last week on a goddamn plane to celebrate an amazing day. Next is a spider from my dear friend Ryan Jessiman.
Tell us about your personal style as an artist. And other artists you admire.
I love botany – flowers possess timeless beauty. I also love pop art. I feel my art reflects these two loves in a delicious collision. I was so grateful for my time at [former London studio] Into You, where I got to work with many artists I had looked up to, in particular the absolute genius Duncan X.
What can you tell about someone by the artwork on their bodies. And what do tattoos reveal about your own stories?
This is quite a broad question. Tattooing is a chance to rip yourself open and sew yourself shut.
Is there such a thing as a bad tattoo – what does that look like and what do you say to someone stamped with one?
That’s all perspective. If someone put all their passion into a piece and if the person wearing the tattoo feels it speaks to them then it’s done the job. Not everyone is going to like the same stuff. That’s what makes life so interesting.
What style of tattoo artwork excites you today? And, what do you dislike?
I love learning and seeing work I wouldn't usually get to see in my day-to-day life. Inspiration is everywhere. I love what can be done with textures, [it's] more of a graphic kind of language. I'm not that into hyper-realistic baby portraits... the teeth creep me out.
How has tattooing changed with sudden exposure on social media?
I think Instagram has allowed the artists to be given a voice instead of where they work. It is great being able to see what my mates are up to around the world; everyone is more connected.
What defines the tattooing community? And how do you act or adapt within it?
There’s sass and lame egos every now and again but I like to keep my friends around me, supporting each other. Because if you really believe in your art and yourself there is no need to tear anyone else down. I love London I feel there is a lot of love and support here.
Are there still taboos in tattooing?
I guess lovers’ names can be risky.
Are you more into the craft or into the art?
I believe they go hand in hand – what’s the point if your work has nothing to say, no soul? I like to think that I give myself to my art.
What is your proudest moment?
When my tattoo dad Alex Binnie told me that I have done a good job. He gave me a chance at Into You. It was probably a risk taking me on seeing as I was quite young. But Alex and [fellow artist] Blue believed in me. I will always be so grateful for that chance. I don't think I would be here today. Art saved my life.
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