Liam Blvck (@theblvckmambatattoo) makes contemporary blackwork tattoos at Bebop Ink in Vancouver, Canada. Liam combines their legacy of Chinese and European culture in fantastic and dark works of art that straddle the line between top and bottom, just like the lines Liam tells us have existed throughout their careers and lives …
What inspired you to become a tattoo artist? Did you complete an apprenticeship, if so how was it? I have been fascinated with tattoos from a young age when I saw all of my favorite band members covered in tattoos, it really intrigued me. I remember thinking “can I just wear my favorite art on my skin forever?”
I was the only arty kid in my family, and my family thought I would go through this phase as I got older, but I didn’t. I didn’t really think about being a tattoo artist until I was 16. When I was really struck by the fact that I was extremely passionate about body modification and would love to do anything art related, but at the same time I was not. interested in just painting on canvas and selling my art in a gallery. After high school I ended up going to art school, which really reinforced the idea of becoming a tattoo artist. It took me years to find a real apprenticeship, but I managed to find one in a street store.
Luckily my mentor was ready to walk me through the process, even though it was a learning curve for both of us. I was his first apprentice. Most of the people who worked there were apprentices under another boss, and I was the exception that made me a black sheep. I’ve been taken through extreme ups and downs when it comes to my apprenticeship, because I wasn’t taught the way my boss was as an apprentice. I felt like I needed to learn faster and work harder to prove myself.
Can you tell us about your own tattoos and the process behind them? How do you settle into a drawing or choose an artist? I have collected a handful of tattoos from different artists around the world; each of the pieces represents my growth as a person and what I was going through at that time. Most of the tattoo artists I find are from tattoo magazines I bought, word of mouth, tattoo conventions, and artists from the late 90s / early 2000s on a website hosted on Angelfire. I was more on the scavenger hunt for tattoos back then, instead of just going to Instagram like you do now.
I used to believe that every tattoo had to have a meaning to have it permanently on my body, and I was told that if they didn’t, I would regret it for the rest of my life. Surprisingly, some of my most meaningful tattoos have now been covered. The older we are, it seems like we look back on things and feelings that we had changed. Nothing stays forever, every day we grow as a person. I realized that it was okay to just enjoy something in the moment, thinking too much that it would complicate things.
Most of my tattoos at this point don’t make sense, I rather liked the job the tattoo artist had done. I just want what they’re good at, not just the styles, but the topics they’re interested in as well.
Do you have a favorite tattoo on your own body or on the one you created? Every tattoo I’ve created that I’ve loved in different ways is asking someone to pick their favorite kids!
But I would say my favorite tattoo on my own body would be my black arm. It was a cover from a pocket that I had when I was between 18 and 20 years old. It showed how much I had changed as a person, and I realize at the time that I was still exploring my personal identity, as a woman at that time. , and as a non-white. Underneath the layers and layers of black is a super colorful pouch that even had an owl with neon pink wings! The blackout took me two to two and a half years to finish, each coat was done by a different colleague I trusted. The experience of a blackout arm is so different than getting a design, it’s a different level of engagement, and it’s something that’s hard to describe until you’ve experienced it by. yourself.
How would you describe your job? Do you think your experiences have shaped the tattoos you create? Although I was born in Canada, the majority of my childhood was spent in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was colonized by the UK around this time so I was exposed to European culture as well as the culture of my own people. European art has always been my favorite because I am obsessed with how humans can achieve such levels of detail in their craft or works of art. I was also into heavier music and often old European art was featured on album covers and related products.
My work is a fine line between European art and my life experiences on the borderline between Western and Chinese culture – my identity, my skin, my gender, my sanity collide with European occult imagery. It’s abstract and complicated.
What types of tattoos do you like to do, what designs turn you on? Is there something you would like to create or a particular concept you would like to explore? I would like to continue with the occult aesthetic in my work, but take it more in a surrealist direction. Loving what you do and taking it to another level is true self-growth.
How would you describe your experience as a queer tattoo artist in the tattoo industry? Does this influence the spaces in which you tattoo? I started out as a cis woman in the industry and lived through the struggle to join the boys’ club. I still notice how I am treated differently from my white colleagues, and often I get the harsh end of it all. Even the clientele at the beginning of my career treated me badly because most of the people who came to me did it because I am not white, they assumed they could get a deal on the tattoo that ‘they wanted.
I’ve also known male tattoo artists who put me in awkward situations like commenting on female appearances, wanting to meet me outside of the workspace for a “consultation” and when I get a tattoo their arm is positioned in a questionable area.
When I realized that I am not a binary and started dressing more queer, it was another segregation on top of what I had already experienced. I sometimes feel that the community itself is questioning my queer and my right to space because I’m married to a cis man and therefore I’m not queer and non-binary enough. I was always treated like a cis woman, and the name I chose confused people and some of them were a little uncomfortable when they showed up for their consultation and were expecting to get tattooed by a tattoo artist.
All of these experiences have shaped me. I want to tattoo in a safe and friendly space where all bodies, races, genders are welcome. Tattoo artists and clients have so much trust and vulnerability in each other that in this space judgment and hatred are not tolerated. Getting a tattoo shouldn’t be scary, and you shouldn’t leave with a traumatic experience.
I read that you had explored your profession in many different countries, is there a place or a moment that stood out for you? I have traveled to a few places throughout my tattoo career, I am always inspired by my experiences. Also seeing how other tattoo artists I admire love and perfect their craft gives me the motivation and validation to know that you are creating your own journey in this craft. There is no such thing as an art being superior to others, your craft is created by a collection of experiences. The people who come to you do it because they connect with your creation, and that is how the magic works.