Tag Archives: phoenix

Alex Empty Interview by Phil Freedom

Alex Empty

Alex Empty is a tattoo artist ‘subsessed with symbols, shapes, and forms, a cyclist, ice coffee brewer, machinist, and  father of twins. Though I caught him daily on 5th street for a few months, I had to pop in to the  studio to get more than a minute of dialog. He has recently left Golden Rule Tattoo to develop a space with Taylor Ryan, just inside the Coronado.
Are you from phoenix?

Nosense
Nosense

nope. I’m from washington dc. i moved to phoenix in 95 to go to MMI.

MMI?

motorcycle mechanics institute. its the tech school that no one purses a career in field after graduation.

do u have a motorcycle?

i have a 74 150 vespa scooter. i’ve had many motorcycles and scooters over the years, i like clunky old steel stuff.
and you learned to work on them?
hm hmm. yes. that was the last job i did before tattooing…

alright then, how did it transition into you being a tattooer?

well i was going to that school and had been getting tattooed by the same dude for a while at Ace tattoo, Jim. He moved to Tucson and opened a new shop, and while he was building it he gave me the chance to commute to Tucson to be his apprentice. it was a long commute, though i was not there everyday. i would drive down in the afternoons or sleep at the shop and get up early, also i slept there on the weekends. i was finishing mmi while i was finishing my apprenticeship. that was 2002.
i worked around the valley for the first few years and in 2005 i moved to San Francisco.

What was living in sf like?

It was great, that city will always be my other home. it pushed me to really grow and develop as a tattooer. theres a lot of incredible talent there, its not for the timid or unskilled. i got to work in a few great shops with a lot of great artists, their influence was huge. i moved back in the summer of 2009

is the rose mural on the storage bin (arts market/food truck lot 400 block of roosevelt north side) the only public art you have done?

mostly. I’m not a graffiti guy, i messed around in high school and did a bunch of garbage and punk rock tagging, but its not my medium. when i got the can, i realized that i needed to learn a little bit about aerosol if i was going to get the painted parts the way i wanted them. i practiced behind my apartment to get those big black fades we like so much in tattoos. that shit is hard, Graffiti dudes make it look easy but its not. i have plenty of respect for the spray can.

before i did the storage can, i spent a couple months doing small pastes. funny little tattoo-like line drawing with phrases, some with the letters jumbled. its a fun way to make the same kind of expression that is in a tattoo, the same basic concept. like a skull and a small rose with “memento mori” or the like, phrased around it like a tattoo. i hate the verbiage of “tattooing buildings”, but the effect to me is not too dissimilar. finding a spot to not just place the piece, but also to push the narrative in some way. you have to find interesting use of space, it seems good street artists don’t just throw up shit anywhere. just like a tattoo, placement can really hurt the composition. im proud of the street artists here in phoenix, we don’t have that many, but that keeps the copycat bullshit down. i do want to see more though, ill do some too, but i want us to think more about composition and use of space than name or size.
Alex Empty
with the box, the sub-story is on these simple drawings and narratives under the grander one…
a rose… a banner…they tell you what they are…this is a dragon, or panther with a dagger in its head. its whats so great to me about the american tattoo. its self contained and extremely efficient at carrying its message, whatever that may be. with the storage box…all the imagery on there, the actual line drawings wheat pasted on there, theres hundreds of them…there some random shit…a lot is very obviously symbols of impermanence…theres lots of simple skulls and hearts, repeating and using them collectively to create larger narratives. i think this is where stepping away from the medium of a tattoo allows for really interesting compositions.

What other mediums do you work in?

Painting and drawing are my primary. i like to paint with watercolor and liquid acrylic, full body acrylic, i like to use various types of dyes…Taylor introduced me to a lot of different materials.

like at interdependent? yup.

everything we did in that show was a broad chomp. we tried all sorts of wacky shit. like sacrificing animals…we reenacted some illuminati orgy shit…Interdependent was largely an opportunity for the two of us to try different ideas regarding process and production. a majority of the show is collaborative work and in that process we tried a lot of techniques and materials.
I am also a machinist. i build tattoo machines for other professional tattooers. they are hand built and have a very classic aesthetic.

how long have you been painting?

i’ve been painting…the earliest painting i have, my mom has it, its a painting of a little cabin in the woods with pine trees and frozen pond…im pretty sure i was 8 or so.

(he’s digging through a stack of black and white celebrity portraits contemplating being able to do them on this girl that had moved away…) my dad liked to paint landscapes and we would go to this park in DC and set up our easels.

Ship Tattoo
Ship Tattoo

so you feel like you are mostly into classical and traditional artwork and tattooing…?

sure, thats i use the term traditional only because it best describes my tattooing, which has typically bold lines, heavy black shading, classical arrangements. most of the time i  paint the way i draw and i pretty much learned how to draw based on tattooing…but i definitely don’t…i think of it more as like a language than as a style… like strong images…their visual presence, regardless of their message… you can tell what it is from across the street. that being said i draw influence from japanese art and zen buddhism, not in the way talyor does(big japanese flowing tattoos) but in the concepts of composition: efficiency, intention, negative space..these things i see in everything from the silk painting to flower arranging. i just try to understand and borrow from the purposefulness of those moves. and it also has to look like a fucking tattoo. Tattooing isn’t so much about “styles”, its a medium with rules and limitations. it doesn’t take an artist to see when a tattoo isn’t working.

i’m obsessed with impermanence. its quirky, ironic,. its almost comic to me, you know…it mocks us…time, fate. the very certain end of all things that we know…everything is born and dies…
I’m really obsessed with the interplay between the human psyche and it’s imminent demise and how we negotiate the specifics of life in art. the nature of impermanence, is that it allows us to more freely live. its zen. life is only as beautiful as it is because of these factors, because of this constant negotiation with inevitability. we don’t get to keep the blossom.

our show was themed around the concept is that nothing exists without having a cause and effect relationship to everything else, interdependence. nothing truly exists alone. so in putting that into art practice…we started these things within the art process…collaborating, influencing and cross influencing, biting, straight up jacking each other’s work. we really got to see how our two processes worked and worked together. that relationship is the seed for this place (the Bookhouse). in the end we showed 43 pieces of art, most of them directly collaborative.

back tattoo alex empty
back tattoo alex empty

so what the Bookhouse all about?

Well when we open this fall, it will be Taylor Ryan and I’s tattoo studio, art space, machine/work shop and total art compound. we are making a place that best suits our needs and that of our clients. Our space will give us the ability to follow all of our art disciplines under one roof and really cultivate and harness the creative power that exists around us. being able to streamline my creative process is kinda my objective here. i feel like we are building the foundation for our own artistic growth and we want to share and network with people who feel the same.
we will want to participate and maybe even host some art events, not just tattoo stuff and tattoo people, but phoenix and surrounding artists of various media. drawing nights and group projects, critique sessions, fuck man let your imagination run…more art community. basically we wanted to build a repository of creative means where we can thrive as artists and give our clientele 100% of our selves.

so you into the apocalypse?
nope. don’t believe in the apocalypse.

you think any serious changes are on the way?
i love to see people that are thinking .knowing we could grow and adapt their skill set, be it creatively , artistically,….i think thats the answer, being ready. not like militias. but like arming the mind, arming the creative mind. its problem solving. and for me u know its all essentially meaningless and impermanent. my career, my drive as an artist is to make really justified work. it comes from tattooing, i  feel like I’m using this persons skin, putting them in pain, its got to be justified.

do you ride a bike everywhere?

i try to , i have a car too, i use more then i like to. i have twin girls, toddlers..so i have to drive a lot.

do you think automobiles accelerate the inevitable doom we face?

Action Reason
Action Reason

yup. they have an accelerator pedal, no?

doesn’t that make bikes and bike culture revolutionary?
i thoughts bike were vehicles

any parting thoughts?

you can’t be mad at natural selection, i love the city.

send all tattoo and art inquires to
a.empty@gmail.com