Simon Lice, better known as Lice 4 Life, is a wood-cut artist and print-maker creating morbid collages and striking one-of-a-kind works from the comfort of his home in Melbourne, Australia. Over the years, Lice’s work has developed a synonymous relationship with tattoo culture – drawing from the same skull-ridden well. Here, Lice demystifies this connection and speaks to the thinking behind his infamous wood-cut work – as well as his affairs with jewellery and hand-poked tattooing.
How did you develop a relationship with your craft?
I have always drawn in some shape or form as long as I can remember. My dad drew, painted and made sculptures – our house was covered in his artwork! At school, art was the only class I enjoyed and the one that kept my interest. If I had my way, it would have been the only class I took. Around the same time, I got heavily into graffiti. That pretty much took over my life from then on and was all I thought about. I got interested in the idea of becoming a tattooist following years of getting tattooed. I started drawing more and putting a portfolio together, but due to lacking the commitment when it came to an apprenticeship, and a few failed attempts at teaching myself to tattoo, I moved on.
I was enjoying the drawing, so I continued to do so. I got a little better and was getting a good response. People kept asking me if I made prints, so I had some digital ones made. They turned out really well, but I felt quite disconnected from the whole process. At the same time, I had started exploring linocut printing. The designs were pretty simple in comparison to my other work, so I wondered if wood would be able to hold more detail when carved – allowing me to recreate my ink drawings more closely while cutting out the middle man. The idea of working with a process that is so steeped in history and tradition really appealed to me, and so I picked up some supplies and gave it a go. I have since become obsessed with every aspect of woodcutting. My relationship with the craft reminds me of how I used to feel about graffiti all those years ago: the obsessive thinking, working out how I can get progress – thinking on what my next idea might be. You can find yourself getting lost in the carving. It’s calming and kind of therapeutic. It’s always a thrill to pull that first print – seeing all your hard work come to life. It’s a very satisfying process.
Your work has such a strong sense of identity. Can you speak to the influence of the imagery you naturally gravitate towards?
It’s simple: I draw what I like and what I find interesting. Skulls, insects, medical anatomical illustrations and pretty much any Victorian, medieval woodcuts and etchings. Over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself increasingly influenced by collage art and old punk album artwork. I recently went to Gee Vaucher’s exhibition when I was visiting the UK. I’m still feeling really inspired from that show. My influences are pretty much endless.
There are a lot of repeating themes in your work: death, darkness – the void. What do you feel is the “red thread” that runs through what you do?
I think you nailed that for me: all the above. Life and death, probably more so death, with a dash of confusion in there for good measure. I’m not sure why that is. I just gravitate towards those themes and the imagery associated. Like I said, I just draw what I like, and if there’s some hidden meaning behind it I’ll be fucked if I know! I was told once that my work gives someone the creeps. I really liked that. I like the idea of making an audience uncomfortable and uneasy, but at the same time having them find beauty in things that they might not normally. Simply put, I like turning beautiful images ugly and making ugly images beautiful.
How do you see your work evolving?
It’s hard to say. Hopefully, it’ll become more complex. I want to add more layers to the work and more colour. I like the idea of colour softening the imagery and conflicting with the dark nature of it, but saying that it seems to evolve quite organically, and so it probably won’t end up looking anything like that.
Can you speak to your relationship with tattooing?
The first time I went into a tattoo shop, I took in a symbol that I had drawn. It was something that I used in my graffiti a fair bit at that time. The tattooist’s first comment when I showed him was “Is that it?” I nodded my head, and he then asked “Do you want me to straighten it up?” I wanted it as is. I don’t think he was very impressed with my choice of tattoo, but he did the tattoo anyway. When we finished, I had to lie down as I was a little faint. Yes, I was one of those people. That was my first tattoo experience – it wasn’t the worst, but it didn’t inspire me in the slightest. If anything, it put me off getting tattooed. It took another couple of years before I got my next tattoo. I worked with this barman who had just got tattooed, and recommended a shop just down the road from my work. It turned out to be Into You. I had no knowledge of the shop or its history, but I went for a walk-in one Saturday morning. The shop blew my mind. It was very different from the shop I had visited a few years before. There was a real energy there – it was crazy! The shop was full of such big personalities. There was artwork plastered everywhere. It was real inspiring. We’re talking maybe 2003 or 2004. Tattooing wasn’t so “in your face” like it is these days, so visiting Into You made such an impact on me. I went back pretty much every other week, give or take until I moved to Melbourne Australia.
Around the time I started getting tattooed, I had stopped the graffiti for one reason or another, so I guess getting tattooed, and my interest in tattoos in general, took its place – as did the print-making when I discovered that many years later. The tattoos gave me a confidence that I never had before, but also a mask to hide behind. They make me feel like myself. Around 2005, I started to get tattooed by Duncan X on a regular basis. I’d also started doing some hand-poked tattoos on myself. I was pretty heavily tattooed at this point, so it only seemed natural for me to start putting a portfolio together with the hope of getting a tattoo apprenticeship. I would say Duncan was the biggest influence on my early flash drawings. I think you can still see that in my work today – hopefully in a good way! He was also the person to suggest I should do some hand-poked tattoos on myself. Becoming a tattooist didn’t happen, but I believe if I had tattooed, I’m not sure I would have developed into the artist and print-maker I am today. I’m very proud of the way my art has developed and all that I have achieved with it so far. There seems to be an over-saturation of tattooist these days, so I think one less isn’t a bad thing.
I’ve seen your work on the walls of countless tattoo studios, and your work-ethic and tastes speak to that of the tattoo world. How do you see this relationship with tattooing developing?
Getting tattooed is something I have to do. It’s me, so that won’t ever stop – whether that’s getting tattooed professionally or doing hand-poked pieces on myself. I enjoy the process and the look, and there is never a lack of space. I will keep going over the old with new, fresh ideas. It’s the same as the art: there is no point standing still. We have to evolve to stay interesting and interested – it’s all part of the story! In relation to the art, I feel like I’ve moved away from flash style paintings and I’m not trying to create works that directly relate to tattoo culture. I think of them as more print based collages – composition pieces. I hope I’m reaching a much wider audience than just the tattoo world, not that I don’t appreciate being associated with that world. I just want the artwork to stand alone and appeal to everyone and anyone – tattoos or not.
You’ve recently taken your hand to jewellery. Can you speak to what drew you to the craft?
That’s funny because the jewellery pre-dates the tattoos and the printmaking! I did a traditional jewellery apprenticeship when I left school at the age of 16. I’ve just turned 40. For many years, I treated it as a job – a way to earn money, pay bills, buy tattoos, go down the boozer. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed it and put my all into it, I just didn’t have that desire to do my own thing. In recent years, working with other jewellers that have a real passion for what they do has inspired me to push my abilities, and since going out on my own a couple of years ago, that desire to create my own collection – bringing all of my passions together, has come about. I hope to have a fine jewellery collection out later this year.
For the time being, the woodcuts and jewellery are plenty to keep me occupied. I do want to explore other forms of printmaking, but I’m still learning when it comes to woodcuts. I’m very much in love with the whole process. My girlfriend wanted to buy me my first printing press for my birthday, which was an incredible gesture, but I turned it down. I’m still getting the hang and feel for hand-printing, and I want to master this before I move on and explore the mediums associated with a presa. Maybe a show or something in the future could be cool.
You can find more about Lice For Life at: