Archive for pop surrealism

“Fable” by Jason D’Aquino

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on July 2, 2009 by metalinkshop

Following up from our interview with Jason D’Aquino, tattoo artist, miniaturist, and one of the newest members of the Metal Ink community.

In this entry, Jason D’Aquino explains his allegorical work, “Fable.” Enjoy!

"Fable" by Jason D'Aquino


This drawing was on the larger side. It was a commissioned piece for Chi Cheng, which I drew on the back of a child’s instructional paint by number. The image is fairly loaded with meaning and symbols, hence the title.

I guess we could start with the obvious question…what does the banner say? The translation of the Latin text inside the banner is, (top) “It doesn’t matter whether or not they are real” (bottom banner) “what matters is what they mean.” This inscription referred originally to mythological creatures…the sea serpents who dwelled in the uncharted oceans (terra incognita) , the unicorns, dragons, and beasts of the forests.

The creature in the center of the drawing is one such creature, the elusive “manticore” often rendered as a lion with a human head and the tail of a scorpion (sometimes the tail terminated in a fearsome ball of spikes, but I had to forgo that detail for the sake of the birdcage). The manticore’s grin exposes several rows of sharp, angry teeth. The skeleton astride the manticore’s back wears a pointed cap…a magician perhaps, or a dunce. Not much difference really between the highly enlightened and the innocent fool. Both have access to a certain undeniable truth. The lower portion of the skeleton’s body is meant to be a distraction from the game board. She is playing a one-sided game of chess. There are only half as many squares as a typical chessboard, and only white pieces are in play–a game you cannot win. Such is life. Death always wins in the end, so maybe it’s about how you play the game. The birdcage in the lion’s tail is holding a fish. This symbol for me is about religion. The fish in the gilded cage seems ludicrous, as of course, it would suffocate and die. A fish would be far more healthy and comfortable in the deep, dark and secretive embrace of the ocean’s depths, but if it’s down there, no one can see it… This is how most treat their religious convictions. They are merely for show, so that others can see them, but true convictions (in my opinion) should be kept secret, kept safe, deep inside.

The Bee is a symbol of hard work. It is drawn to the flower at the left side of the image. (Fans of the surrealists will recognize this particular flower as a sketch by Breton’s Nadja -“the lover’s flower.”) It sprouts from a pool of blood, pouring from the manticore’s pierced heart. The flower is not real–not in any tangible sense, just as love is not real or tangible. But to toil and spend your life and effort in pursuit of an ideal or an esthetic…is that not noble? Such is art, the only thing I have ever felt was truly worth my effort, and yet to most, a complete waste of time. To each his own, I suppose.

Interview with Jason D’Aquino

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on June 26, 2009 by metalinkshop

Metal Ink welcomes Jason D’Aquino as one of the latest designers to submit tattoo-inspired artwork for our ongoing t-shirt design contest. As one of the first tattoo artists to join Metal Ink, we’d like to shine the spotlight on Jason and ask him about his craft. You can vote for Jason’s designs, “Faith” and “Beauty and Beast,” at

"Faith" by matchstickman - Vote on "Beauty and Beast" by matchstickman - Vote on

MI: First off, the standard question so we can get it out of the way: how long have you been tattooing, and how did you start?

Jason: I’ve been tattooing for about 11 years. I was offered an apprenticeship while still in high school, free of charge, but I lived with my grandparents who are traditional Italian. My grandparents said no way, you’re going to college—they were not happy about the idea. I took Visual Arts courses at SUNY and when I graduated, I went right into tattooing. I apprenticed in Kingston, New York. It just seems like tattooing to me is pretty much the only job available to someone who goes out into the world with artistic ability but doesn’t have any gallery credentials to fall back on. It’s the best way to have people come in and pay you on the spot for the trade. With the tattoo business, you’re opening your studio and people are buying daily. It’s a great opportunity for people who want to get started in the arts. Tattooing is not a fringe business. It’s an entry level job into the world of the visual arts.

MI: Who are some other artists who followed a path similar to yours?

Jason: Greg Simkins or “Craola”—he’s also a tattooist but he’s also showing in reputable spots. He’s got a huge following. The lines are becoming blurred between the tattoo artist community and the fine arts community. There’s also Vincent Castiglia. He’s also straddling the line and becoming accomplished in both.

MI: You were talking about the pop-surrealism scene. For those of us, including myself, who are unfamiliar, can tell us how it started, where it’s located?

Jason: It started on the west coast, Robert Williams and the whole California scene. It was bringing hot rod culture, tattoo culture, street art, that sort of thing all together, and it’s turned into a meld of those styles. When Robert Williams started Juxtapoz magazine it sort of solidified around that. The scene moved into New York which used to be a hard nut to crack in terms of the art scene. Now there’s a lot of pop surrealist artists who are being shown. Amanda Wachob is also another…

MI: Right, I interviewed Amanda in New York! She was working at Infinity Tattoo in Hell’s Kitchen. Interestingly, she has a similar trajectory as you do with the family not wanting her to tattoo and being an illustrator before finally going into tattooing.

Jason: I’ve done a lot of commercial illustration gigs. I worked in a few different illustration styles and at one point I was working for a little magazine called Winner. It’s sort of like those Scholastic publications you used to get when you were a kid, but it’s a Christian magazine, and they have messages like don’t do drugs, etc. I was doing what they asked for but finally after a couple years, the editor found my other work, my other art, my own fine arts style, that’s sort of dark and strange, and they released me.

MI: *Laughs* That must have been an awkward conversation! I read in an interview you did previously that you were influenced by your mother, who was also an artist?

Jason: When I was really young, I used to hassle her to draw this, draw that. It amazed me the way she could pull something out of thin air. It was the closest thing I’d ever seen to magic. Pencil instead of a wand but just a few flicks of the wrist and you have something out of nowhere, and it affected me. I wanted to be able to do what she was able to do. I didn’t want to be fireman, policeman like other kids.

MI: I also read that your images tend to have hidden, allegorical meanings. Where do these allegorical images come from? Something you read or saw? What are you alluding to—other works or is it a private language?

Jason: I’m taking thoughts or concepts in my head and I’m turning them into stories but a story without words where the characters and creatures represent parts of a sentence, and what they’re doing and what they’re doing to each other are the adjectives and the verbs. If you can read it, you can make sense of it, but if you can’t, it’s just a jumble of images. Some of them are more involved, some are more simple. You need to be able to translate the words into an image. You need to solidify the thoughts into images. And if someone has the key, they can understand it.

MI: I love your analogy of your work to a sentence with verbs, nouns and adjectives. What would you say is your most dense, intricate, complex piece?

Jason: I did a piece called “Fable” for Chi Cheng from Def Tones. He’s the bass player. He commissioned a piece from me and I made this large intricate drawing called “Fable,” indicating pretty straightforward that it’s a story.

MI: Which you’ve graciously offered to explain for us, detail by detail, in a guest blog entry next week! A preview:

"Fable" by Jason D'Aquino

MI: Let’s talk about how your artwork has affected your tattooing. Are your clients asking for replications of your drawings on their skin?

Jason: Yeah. I wanted to do anything that anyone wanted. I did not want to force my style on someone. I wanted to take each one as a learning experience. I didn’t want to put out a sign saying “capable of:” But now it’s gotten to a point where the clientele are recognizing my fine arts work and coming to me from that angle. Now I can say this is what I want to do and this is how I’ m going to do it. I want to realize their vision. If they come to me through my fine arts then I know that they want to see what I can do.

MI: What do you think of current explosion in tattooing?

Jason: I don’t think of it in those terms. I don’t think of it as a fad—I think the business is going to continue to evolve. It’s like Amanda Wachob: no artist that’s pushing the boundaries is going to be the most popular in their own time. That’s what it means to be an artist. Someone who pushes the boundaries, who tries new techniques in a medium, is an artist, is a pioneer. There’s a big difference between being an artist and being a tattooist. The two are not mutually exclusive but at the same time there are artists working in the tattoo field. But then there are tattooists who don’t do anything else, but as far as expanding the art form, are they contributing? Not necessarily.

What it [the explosion] has done is brought more people with an art background into the field, so the field has improved. As far as the mainstream acceptance thing, I look at shows like Miami Ink and think it’s such a huge misrepresentation of how it works: in 15 mins they have a custom drawing and then soon they have a sleeve. People don’t understand that if something is good, it takes time. Something that’s on television is not necessarily good just because it’s on television.

MI: I’m curious about the image of the smiling face superimposed on suns and clocks.

Jason: You mean the maniacally smiling face on flowers, clocks and suns? That basically is the world, laughing.

MI: *Laughs* What about “Idle hands”? Is that autobiographical?

Jason: Yes. That’s me sitting at the drafting table trying to figure out what to put down, what to do, what to make. Cause I have a struggle inside of myself, that I really want to do children’s books, something that would make people happy. I want to make something happy. But every time I sit down, something sadistic comes out. That’s the devil under the drawing table and the angel trying to stay my hand. What am I supposed to do about it?

"Idle Hands" by Jason D'Aquino

MI: What did you draw when you were a kid?

Jason: When I was little I would copy images from horror movies, sci fi movies. I won a few contests at school in art class. I was usually ruining school desks. Then I went from horror movie things to skulls to album covers. When I went to junior high, the schools were being combined with high schools, so you would wind up alphabetically next to kids who were 5-6 years older than you. They’re talking about drugs and sex and you’re sitting there with your Mickey Mouse back pack. They’d say “I want you to draw Mickey Mouse having sex with Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck smoking a joint.” I had to do it because I would get pounded if I didn’t. But it worked out pretty well, became friends with these guys and they watched out for me.

MI: *Laughs* That’s a great story! Thanks for sharing it. We’ll end on that note and look forward to your explanation of “Fable” next week.


Like artists such as Edward Gorey and writer Lemony Snickett, Jason D’Aquino’s work is clearly influenced by the darker side of childhood, focusing on the wickedly humorous, gleefully gross, and the magically macabre rather than the warm and carefree. D’Aquino’s exceptional drawings have appeared in numerous galleries and influential collections across the United States, and he also has a thriving career as a tattoo artist in New York.

You can visit his website at