If one were to describe Andy Johnson’s approach to tattooing with a single word, forgoing aesthetic attributes like skillful or intricate, it would be thoughtful. Johnson works in a remarkable monochromatic, black line-heavy style, but it’s the concepts he’s contemplating that stand out.
“If I look back at all the art I generally love that I’ve created … it’s always monochromatic. I’ve always viewed the world in blacks, a monochromatic view,” Johnson said. “I also really try to play with the idea of taking big things — positives, negatives, life, death, love — and shrinking them down into tokens or images. The cyclical nature of life and the duality of good and bad in everything you see.”
Johnson became enamored with tattoos long ago, growing up in the punk rock/skater scene and admiring the older kids’ ink. But he didn’t get into the art form, instead attaining a profession (and creative outlet) as a graphic designer for 12 years, until he felt he’d found his role.
“My best friend growing up became a tattoo artist when we were 20 years old. It was really a biker scene then, and I didn’t think I could contribute,” Johnson said during an interview at Downtown’s Long Street Collective, which he opened a little more than a year ago. “Then I started getting tattooed again really heavily, and just really researching it … and saw people were pulling from other things.”
Johnson points out artists had been doing creative, intellectual tattoos for decades, but it was an underground occurrence that he hadn’t been aware of. Once these specialists had carved out a place, Johnson knew “I could be happy doing this for the rest of my life.”
And Johnson couldn’t be in a happier place right now. After working in other shops for five or six years, Johnson decided taking a somewhat unconventional approach was the right move. He invited two other artists (who, like Johnson, tattoo, create other forms of art and play in local bands) whom he also cites as best friends to join the unique and intimate “collective” practice.
“The word ‘collective’ is an important word … and I’m proud to say, I think we’re doing it,” Johnson said. “I never wanted to have a shop with five, or six, or 10 artists. I’m an intimate person. I don’t like big parties. I like hanging out with a close group of people.”
Intimacy is essential to Johnson because, as any tattoo artist will tell you, the entire process is all about a close relationship.
“Artistically I don’t really care, or try to think about … having a legacy. I think that’s a false road to go down. More important is the intimacy that you get from tattooing,” Johnson explained. “You’re putting [some]thing on someone, and there’s a dialog between what they want and what you want to create for them; trying to understand what’s between the words that they’re saying and … I think that’s the most beautiful thing about tattooing.”