Adam Traves loves tattooing dicks. Through fine lines and abstract shapes, the Melbourne-based artist inks boners and bondage scenes, highlighting queer visibility in a heteronormative world. And besides his unapologetic odes to queer culture, Traves also crafts surrealist pieces that explore identity and representations of self. With his free-hand faces and body-less statues, each of his designs holds heavy intellectual meaning. But they’re also for people who just want a big dick on their chest.
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk about his craft, Instagram censorship, and of course, cock.
Name: Adam Traves
Favorite Song To Tattoo To: Aaliyah radio on Spotify, Arca or Moloko
Most Embarrassing Tattoo: Bad tattoo usually have good stories
Favorite Thing To Tattoo: Naked men, dicks and hairy bodies
Next Tattoo You Want: Something sexy from @bigboypinups
How did you get into tattoos?
I can’t remember if there was anything that got me into it, or if there was a pivotal moment when I became fascinated with tattooing—I think adorning the body is driven by something subconscious and unknown. Getting tattooed was just something I was just always going to do.
When did you get your first tattoo? What was it?
I was 18 or 19, and I got a chain and pocket watch with no hands. When I started getting tattooed, I felt like everything had to have this profound meaning to it. But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized the meaning means less and less—every tattoo just adds to the narrative or is just a fun stupid thing, a little snapshot or memory.
What was the moment you went from liking tattoos to wanting to be a tattoo artist?
I was given a tattoo machine and it all kind of started from there. I started tattooing myself—I had no intention of it becoming a job, I wasn’t even tattooing other people at the time. But the moment I saw tattooing as a viable career, was a few weeks before I moved to Melbourne—I’d quit my job and didn’t have a flat. So I slept on couches and tattooed my friends for money or food/accommodation. This was out of necessity, but it gave me the push to tattoo people other than myself, as well as being terrified by the enormity of permanently marking someone else’s body. I really started to enjoy tattooing people and the way people reacted to the tattoos.
Your tattoos have a very surreal style. Where does that come from?
I studied fashion design at university—working with the human form as a medium to communicate ideas has influenced aspects of my design style, treating the body as a space rather than a canvas.
What inspires your designs?
I like to find inspiration in things outside of the tattoo medium—painting and sculpture, books, videogames, historical images, sci-fi comics/anime and mundane everyday life. I’m also inspired by any artist that’s doing things on their terms—artists who are pushing against any form of resistance and rebelling against what’s expected, and LGBTQIA+ artist who put themselves, their identity and their bodies into their work.
What’s your process for designing a piece?
There is really no formula as to how I come up with designs—I like to draw and I spend a lot of time drawing anything, objects, people, fantasy, porn. A lot of ideas just come out of drawing, reacting to, and developing the drawings—I usually draw with no objective, no end result in mind. Sometimes it’s better to just do something—thinking too much about anything is a bad idea. But weed is a very nice disinhibitor and makes for an unhinged flow of surreal imagery and ideas.
Is being queer an important part of your identity as an artist?
Yes. Queer visibility and the celebration of individuality are both important. And given the climate of the hyper-masculine tattoo industry, I think it’s important to distance yourself from its archaic ideologies. My identity as a queer artist gives me a different perspective in an industry that is cis straight male dominated, and being visible about identifying as queer and being situated outside of the canon of heteronormativity, creates a safe inclusive environment for the discussion of ideas/designs relating to individual experiences, sexuality and identity.
You have a large online following. What role has Instagram played in shaping your career?
Instagram has completely changed how tattoos are consumed. You can get your work out there, clients can now seek out artists they like to do their work and a lot of clients are collectors—getting tattoos that aren’t conventionally tattoo-centric because they want to collect and wear art. But I do get a bit fed up with Instagram’s censorship—a lot of my male, queer, explicit designs are reported/removed.
Are there any designs you’ll never do?
I wouldn’t say never—unless it’s racist or just stupid and offensive. Some of the old tattoo clichés are so bad they’re good—armbands and tramp-stamps are overdue for a revival.
And I don’t like the idea of designing a tattoo copied from a photo of an unknown tattoo or an uncredited illustration found on Pinterest/Tumblr.
What’s the hardest tattoo you’ve ever had to do?
Any tattoo has the potential to be hard, but thinking of tattoos as hard is not good head space to get into—every challenging tattoo is just an opportunity to learn something.
I can’t pick. But my favorite tattoo to do is anything with a cock in it—any design that has the male form exposed and sexualized. As a queer male artist, I like designs that center around male bodies, exploiting, subverting and sexualizing the male gender/form. It’s just not something that you see in tattooing that often—it’s usually a sexually objectified female form, for the straight male gaze.
Your style seems much more like classic art than any traditional tattoo style. How did you develop it?
I didn’t have a typical apprenticeship, so my style of tattooing has developed naturally from my illustration style. I was encouraged to develop my own style rather than imitate what’s already out there. But I’m really an artist that tattoos rather than a tattoo artist, if that makes sense.