Reflecting the towering, stone-grey steel of his beloved home-soil, Mark Judges’ “violent, humorous and idiotic” work speaks to the chaotic and all-encompassing nature of London. Through hijacking suggestive mysticism and crude surrealism – effortlessly balancing the dramatic and the absurd, Mark flies the flag of brutal local tradition. In conversation with Nine Mag, the “recovering punk” demystifies the ways in-which his work co-opts old images to convey new messages, and walks us through the disarming nature of his tender, romantic and overly-honest warpaint.
Can you speak to your relationship with tattooing?
I always loved it! I got tattooed for the first time just before I turned 18, and was back a week later for more: sailing ships on my arms picked straight off the wall, more or less. Steve, the first guy who tattooed me, lived in a van. He knew who my favourite bands were: Crass and The Sonics, and for an 18-year-old kid to meet an adult who they connect with is really something. I got tattooed by him a lot – mostly my drawings, which were just my attempts to draw the stuff I’d seen in tattoo magazines. I took a bit of a break. I went off to art school in Brighton, where tattooing was more “accepted”. There were loads of studios, and they were all really good, but I’m a recovering punk. When everyone’s doing something. I get suspicious – reactionary. At the time, I was mostly making really loose paintings – trying to be Raymond Pettibon, I think. When I moved back to London, I started getting tattooed again. A few years later I heard they needed some help at Into You. Alex Binnie’s tattoos were so groundbreaking – way ahead of the curve! I’d heard he had tattooed Genisis from Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, so the shop always seemed so serious, even dangerous to me – I loved it! I had been tattooed there a few times before – mostly by Duncan X, who has long been one of my favourite tattooers and is an obvious influence on my work. I managed to blag the job and eventually started to learn to tattoo there. When the shop tragically closed last year I moved to Old Habits, Liam Sparks’ shop, to continue working it all out.
Your designs are so unique – incorporating so many disparate styles and influences, but they all somehow make sense within the context of your flash book. How do you approach composing and compiling your work?
Alister Crowley said something like “I want anything: good or bad, but strong.” I try to include anything that resonates with me when it comes to my flash. I put my flash together like my body: I’m covered in stuff that is disingenuous, sarcastic, offensive, tender, romantic, overly-honest, violent, humorous and idiotic – you need it all! I used to think tattoos were just warpaint, and they are that, but sometimes a flower can be more disarming than a wolf-head. I like to think I’m doing some détournement thing: hijacking and co-opting old images to convey a new message, but I suppose Western tattooing has always been just that.
What primarily influences what you do?
It’s hard to say. I guess I’m a cliche. I like what everyone else likes. I like to think I’m maybe looking at it in a different way – with my sense of humour. I used to be in a band, and someone once said of it “if you took out all of the in-jokes, there would be nothing left.’ I think my work is a bit like that. I’m not 100% sure everyone’s “in on it”.
You recently produced a series of ‘ACAB’ tattoos for the unemployed, free of charge. Can you tell us of the intentions behind this gesture?
Alex wanted to do a flash day closing party for the end of Into You. I’d come up with this design that was an amalgamation of the all-cops-are-bastards punk slogan and the triangle: a magical amulet from the third-century that was designed to protect you from lethal disease. I’d tattooed it a few times before, but thought it would be a good thing to give to anyone who wanted it. The idea behind the tattoo was that it would protect the wearer from imposed authority – both internal or external. We didn’t have to pay a shop cut that day so that I could tattoo for free. The unemployed thing didn’t work out. I think only one person was unemployed, but it was a great party!
Having previously worked at Into You, do you feel London as a whole – the tattoo scene; the nature of the city, has influenced your work?
For sure! I think my style of tattooing is very local. I’m lucky enough to work with some of the originators of the style – it’s from here! In the same way, tribal tattoos represent the fauna and flora of the island they originate, or how the bright sun-soaked tattoos of California reflect their environment; I think my tattoos feel local – London is grey! This city is so complicated. There’s influence from everywhere squeezed in real tight. The city’s drenched in history, but there’s always something new. I think my work is like that.
How do you see your work evolving?
It’s hard to say – I’m still so new to tattooing! I think evolution is a natural process. It’s always happening.
You can find more from Mark Judges on Instagram: