From Tatts to Wall Art: Spotlight on EJ Arnold

Illustration by Ej Arnold

Because I was a compulsive doodler in school a good friend of mine would say, “You should do tattoos.” As I followed my career, he followed his passion and became a hard-core biker. We remained in touch and each time we saw each other he would say, “You shoulda been a tattoo artist, man.”

I thought of Tom when I met EJ Arnold at Washington Galleries in January 2014. Arnold was a contributor to a four-person show the second Friday of that month. His story is as interesting as his work.

How did you come to take an interest in art?
EJA: Art was something that I always did — even as a kid. It was one thing that just came easy to me, but the content always was very dream-like images that sometimes, even though they could be seen in mind, sometimes were a little more difficult to achieve on paper. I had a lot of support from my family growing up, too!

How old were you when you moved from Tennessee to Georgia?
EJA: I think I was 8 or something like that. Possibly in 2nd or 3rd grade.

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What was your life path from Georgia to tattoo artist in Duluth?
EJA: I began a career in the body piercing and tattoo industry in 1992 in Philadelphia. I always worked in tattoo shops and began tattooing in a shop that I was already working in and started tattooing after I was apprenticed under an artist from Austria. After that I traveled all over the US doing guest appearances at different shops west coast and east coast. Always kept trying to create pieces that are in private collections. I had never been to Duluth, and soon learned it is for sure an artist town. That’s what I like about Duluth!

What gave you the feeling that Duluth was an Artist’s Town? How did you hear about Duluth?
I’m used to bigger cities and you can see a lot of creativity in Duluth. A lot of creative people here. And I haven’t even seen the Minneapolis scene yet. I can’t wait to go and visit soon.

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You’ve been here four years? Where is your tattoo shop?
EJA: I have semi-retired from the tattoo shop scene. I get asked to do guest appearances at shops on the east coast and there are plans in the works for South Florida again but I want to wait. I’m trying to focus more on the art for now. Some of my clients have traveled from California for a few days to get tattoos and then go back til the next time.

What kind of pen did you use for your Pinto Bean drawings? Do you work in other media besides pen and ink?
EJA: PITT artist pens-India ink are the ones i prefer to use. I’ve used others, but less the mess the better. Manual ink pens are probably the ones I keep at the bottom of the list of pens to use. I’ve used them in the past, but prefer the PITT artist pens.

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Where do your ideas come from?
EJA: Most of the ideas come from my mind. They could be just random thoughts that just appear and then I visualize them on paper and sketch them out in pencil and then slightly erase them and then the inking process begins, so each piece is actually created twice.

Do you always work in series? What did your previous series consist of?
EJA: Most of the other pieces that were done in the past were just random individual pieces, no real order or anything. They were more Dali-ish like pieces. Images that at first were numerous pictures of fried eggs with images and females melting with eggshells, and zippers and kickstands of matchsticks.

In a recent chat with Arnold I learned that he has returned to Georgia to be near his family after the passing of his father. In the meantime, he’s been preparing a new body of work which will be reproduced in a series of lithos. It’s my hope to share some of these new works in the near future.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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