Every Friday, BULLETT’s introducing our favorite Instagram profiles and getting to know the people behind the posts.
Name: René O’Donnell-Gibson
Occupation: Tattoo Artist
Favorite Profiles to Follow: @sir_rabin, @gustavo_martinez_tattoo, @willsheldon, @chillypete, @shannoneperry
René O’Donnell-Gibson’s dreamy, avant-garde tattoos make you wish you were anywhere but your own life—at least, that’s how we feel when scrolling through his Instagram. Whether or not you like tattoos, his delicate designs will immediately change your perspective. There are no ohms or tribal tattoos in the New Zealand native’s repertoire. Instead, he inks unassuming, minimalist pieces that explore far beyond the typical tattoo tribute. Tracing skinny, naked women or his popular five-line sunset, O’Donnell-Gibson crafts his own permanent paradise with existential imagery that could just as easily be hanging in a museum as tatted on your body.
Beginning with a homemade, cassette tape tattoo machine, similar to the ones used in prison, O’Donnell Gibson viewed his work only as a hobby until he finally built up the confidence to pursue it as a full time job. “I always knew I wanted to do something that involved working with my hands, but never thought I’d end up being a tattooer,” he says. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever been 100% sure that I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Thanks to Instagram, the self-taught artist is able to extend his reach well beyond the web. Once he started gaining followers, O’Donnell-Gibson left Australia, where he was living, to tour tattoo shops in major cities across the world. Nowadays, the tattoo artist is not exactly based anywhere—but he makes his way everywhere, having spent the last few months touring Europe, with plans to work in New York this summer.
But even through minimal lines, O’Donnell-Gibson’s work conveys a subtle complexity. A rose-pierced chain, a sunset confined inside of a scotch—each piece asks deeper questions about freedom and restraint. Like his username, O’Donnell-Gibson explores interpretations of paradise with imagery of feminine bodies on the beach, their faces obscured, or the lines of their hips intentionally left unfinished. In one tattoo, a mysterious woman makes her way into the night under a black moon, suitcase in hand, like she’s leaving for another life. Conceptually, his handle alludes to ideas of romance and death, both their own versions of ending and escape.
“I like “paradise” because it takes you away from reality,” he explains. “Palm trees and sunsets can relate to a lot of things beyond what a palm tree or a sunset may initially represent.”
For O’Donnell-Gibson, tattoos aren’t just some kind of drunken mistake. His attraction to them as their own medium reflects the duality of his art—he’s drawn to tattoos for their permanence, but also the authority of their owner to prescribe the meaning, erasing the necessity for commitment to an idea. This juxtaposition is also present in his brighter pieces, where, even there, he’s able to capture a feeling of reluctant joy. A cool Monte Carlo tearing off in flames or the outline of a girl in an 80’s-style outfit, complete with slip-on sneakers and hoop earrings sans head—with varying subject matter, he consistently returns to motifs of leaving and absence. The subjects invite you to look, but always remain one step removed from reality, whether they’re without eyes or whole faces, or posed neatly, gazing off with dreamy, far away expressions. Whatever the style, all of his works leave you feeling nostalgic, or desperate for an endless vacation of your own.