Jeremy Barber on biker shops, tradition and tattoo education
When Jeremy Barber was a young kid growing up in Milwaukee, tattoo shops were illegal in the city. That didn't deter him from pursuing his passion for art and becoming a tattoo artist. He's been tattooing for almost 20 years and has been living in Denver for the past five years. He currently works at Thick as Thieves Tattoo. Westword caught up with Barber, who talked about the biker shops from his youth, sticking to tattoo tradition and the importance of tattoo education.
Photos courtesy of Thick as Thieves
Westword: Why did you decide to move to Denver?
I was living in St. Louis. I had my first son, Atticus, and it's kind of a rough town. I was just kind of getting a little bored with it so I wanted to make a move to someplace fun and active and interesting to live because I figured was going to be tied down for a few years so I wanted to make sure I was in a cool place. So I did some guest spots for a summer, moved around the country and tested some things out. I really liked it here so I moved here.
How long have you been tattooing?
It's going on about 18, 19 years now. I started in around '94. I had a friend, Troy, who started teaching me a few things about how to get into the business, basically. I started tinkering around with machines and flash art and things like that, just trying to meet people and work my way into the industry. By '95 I was pretty much tattooing. I had done an apprenticeship with Cleen Rock One in Illinois, in the Chicago area. He taught me how to tattoo really well and I moved on from there.
Have you always been an artist?
Actually, yeah. I always did art for friends' bands and things like that growing up. I dabbled around with graffiti and stuff like that when I was young. I kind of just decided pretty young that I was good at art but that I wanted to do something with it, and graffiti wasn't necessarily going to pay bills at that point. Doing the stuff for my friends' bands was fun but it was so local that I started seeking out something that would be free and I could do what I want but at the same time respect myself and what I'm doing. So tattooing just kind of presented itself and I've been going on since way back then.
What styles do you like to work in?
Early on, when I first learned, I thought new school was the best thing ever--just color bomb new school. That's really what I specialized in for quite a few years. After I started getting into the actual industry and meeting more people and learning more things, I started to gain a lot more respect for traditional art, both Asian and American, and just the way things were done before. I realized that if I did things, to a certain degree, how they were done before but just put my own heart into it, it's gonna be my own but it's going to be way more mature and more developed. The way things have been done, especially with tattooing being such a technical artform, there are certain rules that you just have to adhere to. Later on I just realized that instead of reinventing the wheel or trying a lot of new stuff, I would just do stuff that was more based on tradition. It just looks better, I think.
Continue reading for the rest of the Q&A with Barber.