Sunday 19 November 2017

Insider Life: with Sean Venter, tattoo artist

Sean Venter, tattoo artist and co-owner of Zulu Tattoos, Dublin

Steve Zulu at work. Photo: El Keegan.
Steve Zulu at work. Photo: El Keegan.

"First thing in the morning, it's breakfast time with my kids (Madison and Memphis.) I start work quite late in the afternoon and work until 10pm, so I get to fit my Daddy life in during the day. I think Madison will be a tattoo artist eventually; one day, I found them with marker pens drawing all over themselves.

They see tattoos as normal. When they see someone without tattoos, they're like, "he doesn't have any pictures on him". In the mornings, I take Madison to school and get a bit of sport TV time in, too. Often, I prepare a few sketches of tattoos for work.

A lot of my clients by now are regulars or have been passed my name. Often I prepare something rough for them but they give me free reign, and I work on maybe 3 or 4 people a day. It's not a blokey environment at Zulu - it's all about keeping things friendly. It's a family-oriented business as we're all family men, so no-one's got an attitude here. There are kids playing on the Buddha Bags while their mums get tattoos. People need to feel comfortable here - after all, they're about to get something permanently inked onto their body.

There's a very open range of clients here - from bankers and lawyers to the unemployed. Back in the day quite a few people would faint in the chair; in fact, it would happen all the time when I moved to Ireland. We've done quite a few famous people, so a lot of their fans would come in wanting a similar style of tattoo.

A lot of clients have become mates. The Dirty Sanchez boys are some of my best friends now, and when Lenny Kravitz is in town we see each other. Whenever Shane Lynch is about, he'll come into the studio and hang for a few hours, and maybe have a quiet beer. Coolio ended up staying in my place when he came to Ireland. Rhys Ifans is a recent client, and we've been texting each other about the rugby.

Everyone has their own personal reasons for getting a tattoo. Sometimes it's a confidence thing, and sometimes they want to get a reminder of an event in their lives. I can't stand when someone comes in and says, "what do you recommend?" or "what kind of style should I get?" I mean, how would I know? I tell people to come in with three pictures: one of something they like, one of something they really don't like, and one of something you think is okay.

I always have the 'ten years later' talk with new clients - will they still be able to live with this tattoo in ten years time? If people are unsure, I tend to talk them out of it, or make them an appointment to come back in a week when I know their mind is set on it. In this day and age, so many people are realising the potential of tattoos and get really good visual references, and that really pushes you as an artist. You get the odd complaint from someone who regrets it, but it's a one-in-a-million thing. I get lot of 'cover-up' jobs on tattoos people already have.

My grandfather was a famous tattoo artist in the '50s in South Africa and travelled all over the world. As I grew up, my mum was like, "you should do some artwork". In the '90s I went to the US, airbrushing on movie sets. I worked on Titanic and Batman Forever, but then I got a lucky break by way of an apprenticeship in a tattoo place. It was a good old-fashioned apprenticeship where I did nothing but clean the floors for a year. When the time finally rolled around to do my first tattoo, I was freaking myself out. But a couple of the guys I was hanging out with were like, "do whatever you want". It really made a difference, having easygoing customers who trust you. I went back to South Africa after that but soon got Smalltown Syndrome. 20 years ago, I came to Ireland for a long weekend and never left.

In the evenings I hang out in the back garden in Baldoyle and chill with my wife and the two dogs. I love action and fantasy movies, which goes well with the art I like. I like to draw and airbrush in the evenings. It's a different thing to tattooing; more personal. After work it helps me unwind and gets me thinking about ideas for the next piece I might do. It relaxes the head and helps me create some space in there."

Zulu Tattoo is at 26 Great Strand Street, 
Dublin 1 \\

Irish Independent

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