Clark North is a household name in the tattoo community. Over the last fifteen years or so, Clark has been profiled, quoted, and featured in such publications as Tattoo, Flash, Tattoos for Men, Savage, International Tattoo, and Tattoo Arts as well as featured and quoted in USA Today, The Travel Channel, and A&E's reality show Inked.
Clark got his start well over thirty years ago when he began doing his first tattoos on himself and friends as a teen. In his early days he was helped out by Mark Mahoney (then at "the rose" on the pike in Long Beach, California) and occasionally Mike Brown. Clark was tattooing illegitimately thru the '80s and did not legitimately enter the professional side of the business until he was sent to Rick Walters by Mark. From the early to mid '90s, Rick taught Clark to design, paint, and be a professional tattooer. Clark soaked up everything around him and was hired on by Kari Barba as a custom artist in her Anaheim shop called Outer Limits, where he worked from 1995 to 2004. His last two years with Kari Barba were spent planning, designing, setting up, and managing the Costa Mesa, California, side show-themed shop which opened in 2002. Since 2004 Clark has been in Las Vegas, Nevada, at Hart & Huntington for walk-ins and at Stay True Tattoo for custom tattooing appointments.
Clark North has mastered design, flow, concepts, composition, and form through drawing and painting for many years. He brings all his skill together prior to the final application in the skin for each custom tattoo he designs. The art form that Clark practices today is deeply connected to the history and style of early American tattooing. In recent years, Clark has been trying to honor one of the oldest forms of decorative tattooing, the Japanese tattoo. Large-scale full-body suits that were of one complete thought or mythological heroic story illustration were specifically in the realm of the Japanese. The imagery came primarily from Chinese literature introduced during the Tokugawa Shogunate and has its true beginning in late 19th century Japan. It has completely revolutionized the tattoo concepts of the modern western world much like Japanese calendar art causing the evolution of the impressionist and fauvist painters' movement in 19th century Europe. This so-called "Japanese-style" along with Clark's unique visionary symbols has led to his recent body of work. Clark has tried to tap the unconscious memory of all of the world's most powerful symbols and use them at the core of his work. Clark North's belief is clear: "It is important for the artist to find new ways to show the strongest and most repeated archetypal themes, as they are deeply linked to human psyche and will always be important to express the door to the soul."
Name: Clark North
First Started: As a kid drawing tattoos on self and friends
Fulltime Artist Since: Late 1980s
Mediums: Tattooing, painting, full-custom art
MT: Who do you look up to in the art world or who has influenced your work?
CN: I have loved tattoos since I was 5 or 6, drawing them on myself was normal when I was little. I've just always loved them and still do! Heavily tattooed people were such an attraction to me that they influenced my art and life, even when friends and others chuckled at me. I think my favorite classic art to look at is by the loose style painters like Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso even though I don't do that style. I have studied the styles of tattooing by Paul Rogers, Bert Grimm, Bob Shaw, and Colonel Todd, and learned a lot by the way they tattooed. I think my favorite tattooers from Japan are the Horitoshi family and the Horiyoshi family. Horitoshi is much more complex and Horiyoshi is a more simple look that is visible from across the room; both are great to study and learn from. I love the way Mick Tattoo from Europe has loosened up the style of Japanese imagery as well. All in all my favorite artists are tattooers.
MT: What is your favorite art medium to work in?
CN: I used to do all water color but grew up near the beach and did not know that they would get ruined from the humidity. But they did, so I started painting with acrylics so humidity would not ruin them. Now I know that if I had sealed the water colors they would have lasted, but was never taught that back then. I am pretty much self taught, but when Rick Walters helped me out my skills grew immensely. I use high-end Windsor Newton 300-pound paper and love the way it allows me to spread the acrylic super thin and it does not stink like many of the other papers when they get wet, also it doesn't break down and start glopping up like all the other papers I have tried. I would say tattooing and painting are by far my favorite mediums of expression.
MT: What style would you say your art can be categorized mostly as?
CN: I love to study mythology and tattoo themes and I think my art is mainly illustration. It is becoming mainstream to the collector because the young people have grown up and now they like to see the art that they grew up loving. The art of the cottages and mountain scenes aren't catching the eye of the young and middle aged person any more. People love tattoos and the art that depicts their themes are attractive. I have been painting and designing tattoos for more than 30 years. It's great that I can support my family with art whether it is in the skin or in the paint brush. As a tattooer you need to show what is possible in the skin before your client will see the possibilities, so you need to create things with the brush for examples, it's as simple as that, so the form of art is born from this purpose. I think it is zeroing in on what compels me and what I excel at that that finds the themes to paint. I paint things I would like to have on me or my wife, but we have pretty much ran out of room on ourselves. My job is to make women beautiful and turn boys into men with tattooing, and my art is for them. One thing I don't ever want to lose is the hands on "touch art." Doing flash is a hand-down skill in itself and is being lost with airbrush and computer art. I like to see brush strokes and techniques. As a tattooer it is important to do this by hand and keep muscle memory and strengthen it at every chance, so I design, paint, or draw at least an hour every day, besides tattooing, if it goes over an hour that's great because I found motivation and went with it. I used to do portrait art and excelled at it but at some point it became a bit of a chore and uncreative as the artist was the photographer, not me. All I was doing was duplicating his art, now I want to create things that can't be seen normally or photographed, and I have zeroed in on Japanese art because it can be shocking but is glorious rather than dark. Not that I don't like dark theme art, it just doesn't grab my attention anymore. Shock factor just for shock value seems to bore my clients these days, the Japanese themes can be very brutal, but in a very compelling, beautiful and sophisticated way. One thing I like to find in art is not so much what is done, but what is not done. I think that where nothing is done is just as important as what is done. Let the line stand strong and speak for itself. Sometimes filling everything in does not have a pleasant balance, so learning to feel the balance and back off a bit has happened to my art in the past decade. Design refinement and flow are so important and I think they only come from hours and hours of doing. The first 10,000 hours were muscle memory teachers but I didn't really start to flow with my art until I had a good 20,000 hours under my belt and now I am really just starting to learn flow, design, and simplicity. It's like at first I had to be perfect in order to master things, now I like the freedom and looseness I have and embrace it. I love to redraw old age designs and over my lifetime have been drawn to oriental art. The power of simplicity, boldness and flow, and this style is easy to blend with different imagery.