There’s the shitty kind of tattoos you find on the wall in grimy shops down St. Marks or Sunset, and then there’s the kind by Alex Royce. Fusing classic tattoo imagery with internet humor, the Toronto-based artist inks existential stick-n-pokes for sad boys and girls on the web. Through subtle lines and detail, Royce rewrites the drunken bro tradition of tribal tattooing, crafting delicate pieces of slightly morbid satire, from “Cry Baby” script to smiley-faced skulls. Whether he’s hand-poking spliffs or smoking skeletons, Royce’s work seems to acknowledge that death is a not-so-distant reality—so we might as well get all the tattoos we can.
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk stick-n-poke tradition and his favorite hat-wearing skulls.
Name: Alex Royce
Favorite song to tattoo to: Anything by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Favorite tattoo: A skull in a baseball hat
Most embarrassing tattoo: Three people having sex
How’d you get into tattooing?
A friend of mine suggested I teach myself to tattoo, and I couldn’t think of any good reasons not to.
It seemed more accessible and less intimidating to me than using a tattoo machine.
Is there something you get out of the practice that you don’t from traditional machine tattoos?
Technically, stick-n-poke is the traditional form of tattooing—it’s the way tattoos have been done for thousands of years before the invention of electricity and the tattoo machine. But I like that the process of hand-poking is less invasive, and can be done with minimal supplies.
When did you get your first tattoo?
I got my first tattoo when I was 16 from a friend. It was a simple anchor on my forearm.
What was the moment you went from liking ink to wanting to be an actual artist?
I had an interest in tattoos for a long time, but never considered being a tattoo artist because I was always focused on being a fine artist. After I did my first tattoo a couple years ago, I realized it was something I really enjoyed and wanted to pursue.
Any pieces you’ll never do?
I refuse to do any hateful tattoos, like swastikas. I won’t do religious tattoos. And no dream-catchers or infinity symbols, either.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I want to remove any stigma that people may have about hand poked tattoos—I want my work to be considered as art.