Interview with tattoo artist CAIN – Things&Ink
Tattooist and artist CAIN creates tattoos at Sick Rose Tattoo Parlour in Shanghai, China about his journey into the tattoo industry, his unique style and how he’s pushing the boundaries of tattooing…
How long have you been tattooing and how did you get started in the industry? In 2014, I embarked on a journey that would shape my artistic career. It was the year that I first learned the art of tattooing in Xinjiang. However, it took a couple of years of experimenting and exploration before my unique style began to take shape in 2016.
At that time, I was working at a contemporary art company. Although I enjoyed the work, I felt constrained in my ability to express myself fully. So, I made the bold decision to resign and embark on a new path – one where I could fully embrace my passion for tattooing and express contemporary art in my own way.
It was a challenging journey, but I was determined to develop a style that would embody the contemporary art aesthetic that I had been striving for. I spent countless hours experimenting with different styles, techniques, and approaches, seeking to perfect the balance of artistry and technical skill that would become the hallmark of my work.
Over time, my style slowly emerged – characterised by intricate designs, bold lines, and a striking use of colour. It was a style that I felt truly reflected my artistic vision and embodied the contemporary art principles that I hold dear.
Since then, I have been committed to refining my craft and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of tattooing. Each new piece is an opportunity to create something beautiful and meaningful, a testament to the power of art to inspire and transform.
What inspired you to become an artist? Do you have a background in art? My upbringing and experiences have undoubtedly played a significant role in shaping the person I am today. Born in Xinjiang, the same region where my ancestors and parents also came from, I was raised in a place with a rich cultural heritage and a complex history that has had a profound impact on my outlook on life. I did not receive any formal art training, but I loved art when I was young.
At the age of 17, I left home and went to Shanghai, where I had to learn to rely on myself without any help from my family. This experience taught me many things and made me more independent, which has been invaluable to me as I continue to pursue my artistic journey.
As a deeply thoughtful and introspective person, I have always had a lot to express, and being able to do so through my art has been a great source of joy and fulfillment for me.
My work reflects my personal experiences and thoughts in a deeply personal way, and I see art as not just a means of self-expression, but also a way of exploring the human experience and connecting with the world around me. In this way, my upbringing, experiences, and artistic expression are all interconnected, forming a tapestry of who I am as an artist and as a person.
How would you describe your style? The most well-known aspect of my work is undoubtedly my personal tattooing style, which I call “Postgulag”. Inspired by the Gulag labour camps of the Soviet era, this style incorporates modern painting and tattooing techniques to express resistance against thought control. The overall image is characterised by pure black, without any excessive ornamentation.
I began to focus on the Gulag style of tattooing because I felt angry, desperate, and frustrated about the many social phenomena and injustices. I had a lot to express, and after experimenting with different techniques, I created the Postgulag style that I have been committed to ever since.
In essence, Postgulag is a subversion of the classic “Gulag” tattoo style, infused with my own understanding of resistance, and creating a powerful and ironic aesthetic system using only black ink.
What draws me most to tattooing is its unique expression and the “canvas” that it provides, which encompasses not only painting but so much more.
What inspires your designs? My work is deeply rooted in my personal experiences, and the memories I have accumulated over time often inspire me to think more deeply and reflect on the world around me. This process of reflection and introspection is what motivates me to create and express myself through my art.
Does your heritage influence your art? Although my cultural background has undoubtedly influenced my work, I am very deliberate and selective about how I incorporate it into my art. I strive to discard elements that are outdated or unhelpful and keep only what is good and beneficial to me, my art, and my message.
As an artist, it is essential to remain mindful of the cultural traditions that shape us, but it is equally important to find ways to evolve and adapt these traditions in a way that is meaningful and relevant to our individual artistic visions. For me, this means drawing on my cultural heritage while still staying true to my own creative impulses and ideas.
Can you tell us about the process behind your tattoos? When clients make an appointment, they have the option of choosing from a selection of pre-drawn designs that I have created. This approach is a popular choice for those who want a quick and easy way to choose a design without the need for a consultation.
However, for clients who have a more specific idea in mind, I offer a consultation to discuss their preferences and understand what they are looking for in a tattoo design. This personalised approach allows me to incorporate the client’s ideas and preferences into a custom design that is unique to them.
During the consultation, I work closely with the client to ensure that their design is something they will be proud of and enjoy for years to come. This process can take more time, but it is well worth the investment to create a design that truly reflects the client’s personality and vision.
Ultimately, the decision to choose from pre-drawn designs or to have a custom design created is up to the client, and I am always happy to work with them to create a tattoo that they will love.
What do you like to tattoo and what would you like to do more of? I personally find the process of tattooing to be an incredibly powerful experience. Injecting ink into the skin is not only a form of visual art but also a sensory and emotional one. Although it can be painful, the act of tattooing creates a bond between the artist and the person receiving the tattoo.
This bond goes beyond just the physical sensation and taps into the deeper, more spiritual aspects of human experience.
For me, the ritualistic nature of tattooing is what sets it apart from other forms of art. It’s like etching an idea or artwork directly into the soul of the person receiving it, leaving a permanent mark that has a deeper significance. The idea that a tattoo is not just an image or design but a connection between people is what draws me to this art form.
However, as much as I love the personal aspect of tattooing, I also feel a strong desire to share my artistic vision with a broader audience. I believe that my ideas and impressions have the potential to resonate with others, and I want to continue pushing the boundaries of my art to connect with a wider audience.
That’s why I am committed to creating more art and exhibitions in the future. I want to showcase my skills as a tattoo artist but also express my thoughts and emotions in a way that can connect with people on a deeper level. I believe that tattooing is a way to create a connection between people, to share ideas and emotions in a way that transcends language and cultural barriers.
How do you see your art evolving in the future? For me, tattooing, art pieces, and exhibitions are all just different ways to express my complete aesthetic system. I have a strong desire to communicate a coherent set of ideas and emotions that reflect my personal vision of beauty.
Although tattooing is the foundation of my entire aesthetic system, I don’t limit myself to this one form of expression. I see tattooing as just one of many ways to express my artistic ideas and to connect with people.
My work is all about communication, about sharing my experiences with others and creating something that resonates with people.
I believe that art is not just about creating something that is aesthetically pleasing, but it’s about channeling my thoughts and emotions into something that has meaning and can speak to the human condition.
By focusing on conveying what I want to express, I trust that the rest will fall into place with the guidance of a higher power. For me, the creative process is about creating something that transcends the boundaries of language, culture, and time, and speaks to something universally understood.
What was your first tattoo and do you still like it? My first tattoo was on my chest, an image of a person hanging upside down on a cross. Coming from a Christian household, my mother was furious when she found out. She thought I had gotten a tattoo of Jesus. But after I explained the meaning behind the tattoo, she understood.
The person hanging upside down is a representation of myself. I know I am not worthy of being compared to Jesus who was nailed to the cross. But like Saint Peter, I know the path that I need to follow, and it is a path that I am committed to following.
Tattooing is a deeply personal experience, and for me, this first tattoo was a way of expressing my own beliefs and convictions. It’s a reminder of the path I have chosen and the journey that lies ahead.
Every time I look at my first tattoo, I am reminded of the journey that I have been on and the challenges that lie ahead. It’s a symbol of my own personal beliefs, and it reminds me of the importance of staying true to myself and my convictions.
Through my tattoos, I hope to continue expressing my thoughts and beliefs in a way that is both personal and meaningful. For me, each tattoo is a statement of who I am and what I stand for.
Where’s been your favourite place to travel and tattoo? At the moment, I don’t have a favourite place because there are still so many places I haven’t been to yet. My dream is to travel to every corner of the world and bring my artwork to people everywhere.
I believe that art has the power to connect people from different cultures and backgrounds, and I want to use my work to bridge those divides. There’s something special about being able to share my ideas and emotions with people from all over the world, and I want to experience that feeling for myself.
As an artist, I am always looking for new inspiration and ideas, and traveling is a great way to find them. Every new place I go to offers something different and unique, and I love incorporating those experiences into my work.
I hope that by sharing my work with people around the world, I can help to promote understanding and appreciation of different cultures and perspectives. For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than being able to connect with people through my art and to share a moment of understanding and connection.
So, do you have any travels or guest spots planned? I am planning to begin my world travel project in 2023, and I am hoping to make the United States my home base for this endeavour.
The United States is a country that has always fascinated me. It’s a place with a rich history and a vibrant cultural scene. As an artist, I am drawn to the diversity and creativity that can be found in American cities, from the bustling streets of New York to the laid-back vibes of Los Angeles.
I am excited about the prospect of using the United States as a starting point for my travels. It’s a country that offers so much in terms of inspiration and artistic opportunity, and I am eager to explore everything it has to offer.
Of course, there is still much planning and preparation that needs to be done before I can embark on this journey. But I am excited about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and I am confident that this experience will help me to grow both as an artist and as a person.
I believe that traveling the world is one of the best ways to gain a new perspective and to connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds. I am looking forward to this adventure, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
What’s the tattoo scene like where you are? I, along with a few like-minded friends, have pooled our resources to create a shared workspace called Sick Rose (@sickrosetattooparlour). My friends specialise in the American traditional (Old School) style of tattooing.
It’s been a great experience to work together with people who share my passion for tattooing and art. We are all dedicated to creating high-quality work and pushing each other to new heights of creativity.
In our studio, we share ideas and techniques, offer feedback on each other’s work, and collaborate on projects whenever possible. It’s a supportive and inspiring environment, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.
I’m excited to see what the future holds for Sick Rose and for our individual careers as tattoo artists. I know that by working together and supporting each other, we can achieve great things and continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in tattoo art.
What do you do when you’re not tattooing/drawing? In my quiet moments, I like to listen to music and read books. Good music helps me to relax, while books allow me to learn new things and generate new ideas. Among the writers who have had the deepest impact on me are Byron and Hesse. When the weather is good, I enjoy going to the boxing gym or taking a walk in nature.
What moment in your career are you most proud of? There may not be any one moment when I am most proud, as achieving success is a gradual process and each period may hold different surprises. In the past, when I released a piece of work and received recognition from many talented artists who shared and praised it or when I was interviewed by domestic or foreign media outlets, I would feel a sense of pride.
However, now I am perhaps more focused on creating work that resonates with me and directly connects with the emotions of my clients, or reflects the feelings of those who are carrying it.
Make sure to follow @no.cain for more awesome blackwork tattoos, travel plans and art.