Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tattoo Artist Interview: JONATHAN ZUCHOWSKI by Dave Wolff

Interview with tattoo artist JONATHAN ZUCHOWSKI

How long has your Facebook community page The Fantasy Art of Jonathan “The Animal” Zuchowski been active? It lists your interests as art, tattooing, storytelling, painting. psychology. theology, chess, astrology, horror stories, horror movies and acting.
It was actually started by an admirer of my work. A young lady by the name of Litio Broie from Madrid, Spain, back in June of 2010. Litio was nice enough to put the site together for me. I have no idea how Facebook works half the time. And the other half, I'm reposting for animals, or trying to piss people off. And yep, all that stuff listed is what I'm into. Oh and I probably forgot to include: working out and playing racquetball. Hey, I'm a Virgo. I like to keep stimulated. 

What kind of fantasy art do you design? Is there a specific subject or time period you are basing your work on?
Really it varies. I just call it "Fantasy Art" but it includes sci-fi, horror, religious mythology, and social parodies. There is no particular ANYTHING. The stuff I paint is the shit that goes on in my head. If I analyze it, it usually turns out to be issues I've had through life. As for time periods- yes everything happens at some point in time. When I paint, I am trying to capture an entire story in one frozen moment of time. That's why I put a ton of details into everything. Keep in mind I picked up the brush after a ten year hiatus. I had come out of two heart surgeries. And was in a state of suicidal depression (this is pretty common with heart patients). I found an old canvas and some paints one day, and started painting. Eight hours later I still hadn't finished the painting and was exhausted from all the focusing. I then realized that the whole time I was directing my attention to my painting, I had forgotten how much my life sucked! So for the next ten years, every painting I did was one more time I didn't commit suicide. I also noticed that for whatever reason I was no longer painting in the impressionistic style but I was working more detailed and was attempting "realism" So basically I was trying to paint fantasy "realistically."

How do you define social parody, and how do you express it through your artwork?
I am making fun of society and its values. In various pieces I often use my characters to make commentary on our world... In "Christmas Eve" I am using the ghost of a forgotten child looking forlornly at the world of the living, who are in celebration. His tombstone says he will always be remembered. But in actuality he is forgotten. In "Christmas Eve Somewhere Else" the ghosts of a homeless girl and her dead infant are still begging, while a lone passerby is too busy to even care or even notice her. The frozen, dead bodies of her and her child are only a few feet away. In "Fallen Angel, The Condemned" a parody of the Pieta is the focus. A badly beaten angel, cradling the dead body of another angel are the focus. Three figures of the church (who resemble the Three Stooges) are standing by as one beats her with a cross while holding her on a leash. In the background another angel has had its wings cut off, and is being tortured while being chained to a cross. Obviously a commentary on religion. These are just a few examples. So interpret them as you will. Everybody sees something different in the same painting.

I have often covered how people use professed religious belief as a weapon. And those pieces you described seem to be a reflection of such people. How much has this mindset been gaining popularity, from what you read in the news?
I would say that mindset isn't GAINING popularity. It's been in force since humans developed the concept of divine beings! There has always been a charlatan out there willing to make empty promises. And there have always been people dumb enough to believe them. If you follow history, there have been periods where various religions called the shots in their neck of the world. Religion and politics are the SAME thing- just another means to control the simple-minded, and weak-willed. What's the difference between a priest and a politician? NOTHING! They both make empty promises to gain your trust. Then when they know they have it, they fuck you over, and make you believe you're being rewarded! They work around the idea of keeping people OUT. And pretending that by joining their particular group, that you are doing the right thing.

Have you been involved in local pagan communities where you live for a long time? Describe the path you have chosen.
I really don't get too involved in any specific organized pagan groups. I love the freedom of coming and going at will. There are a few pagan groups out here in Utah, but while I'm friends with some of the people in them. And respect their views. I usually don't try to belong to any particular group. As Groucho Marx once said, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as its member." As for my path? Well let’s just say I'm nihilistic in my approach. If something does not work out for me, I get rid of it, and replace it with something that I think works better. I tend to use the ideas set about by the master of horror, himself- H.P. Lovecraft. The idea of beings able to travel between the multiverse and all dimensions appeals to me. They say we create gods that reflect our personal values. For me, those are entities who have no concern over anyone else's agenda, and are not affected by the laws of physics around them. I love tormenting missionaries, and bible thumpers with extremely detailed attributes of supernatural beings who have already eaten their (for the most part - the Christian god).divine saviors. I play "my dog is bigger." They claim that their god is all powerful, then I come up with an even bigger god who has EATEN their god. And no matter how much they deny it or refuse to accept it, I tell them there is nothing they can do about it. I'll make up a bunch of "facts" to suit the situation to the point where their heads are spinning. For me it’s a psychological game. I love fucking with people. As the Addams Family motto states," We would gladly feast on those who would subdue us." Everyone, and everything has a weakness. And I just try to figure it out and have fun at their expense. I love playing mind games.

Are those games meant to be a deterrent to people who would judge and forcibly convert you?
Most definitely! I love when people think they have all the "answers"- especially when it's about something you can't prove. I know I won't change their minds. But I also know they won't be back!

Which of Lovecraft’s novels have you read several times for their impact? What about the multiverse appeals to you?
My all-time favorites are "The Dunwich Horror", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and "The Mountains Of Madness". I'm particularly fond of "The Dunwich Horror". As a child of six, the movie scared me sooo much, I almost died of a heart attack! It wasn't actually the movie itself that scared me. The movie is an "okay" horror film. But the nightmares that it conjured up when I slept are what almost did me in! I think THAT’S the turning point that got me started on Lovecraft. Sadly, I've never been able to reduplicate that level of nightmare intensity again. "Shadow over Innsmouth" - A really cool "coming of age story. With the main character learning that the monsters he was trying to escape from are really his "family. And “The Mountains of Madness" Is a fun story about ancient civilizations hidden away in unexplored areas of the world. Shoggoths are just such fun creatures! They’re basically highly intelligent "blobs". As for the "multiverse" theory... I love the whole idea of alternate possibilities and variations on a theme. Each universe somewhat resembling the next, but with enough variations, that of you go out far enough from your point of origin, you have something totally wild and insane! I also love the idea of moments in time being forever trapped in their moment. Replaying themselves constantly over and over. Much like the "past" that Scrooge visits in "A Christmas Carol" - "These are but shadows of the things that have been,' said the Ghost. `They have no consciousness of us.' Couple that with Yog-SoThoth, an inter-dimensional entity that exists in every moment of every universe of every dimension. Past, present, and future - That's just fun to think about!

What have you read about the Lovecraftian influence in the Necronomicon?
Lovecraft wrote OF a book called the Necronomicon. It never really existed, except when some guy named Simon decided to come up with his own version back in the 70's. H. R. Giger also came up with a wonderfully illustrated book he called "The Necronomicon." And occasionally you'll find someone having put together a version of it. All entertainment. Nothing to take seriously. Unless you're dealing with someone who DOES take it seriously. In which case you might have a psychopath on your hands trying to appease the dark gods in his imagination. I find that human imagination can cause more problems than the powers of nature. I also find it amusing that the rarest book in the entire world, winds up in almost every horror story these days! And somehow, even though it would have been written in ancient Aramaic, people are able to READ IT!

Why do you think there are so many people who believe there is an actual Necronomicon other than the book written by Simon?
People want something to believe in if they're not willing to believe in themselves. Sometimes they want to rebel so much against an established idea (like Christianity or Islam or Judaism) that they will want to believe in an alternate idea. People create gods and religions to suit their own values. Sometimes they claim to have visions, or hear a voice tell them what to do. I usually refer to that as schizophrenic hallucinations. You go out into a desert and fast for 40 days - your brain is gonna start firing off, and you're gonna see, and hear some weird shit! Most people believe in their respective religions because someone told them to. And through conditioning, were trained not to question it. Lots of people are afraid to think for themselves. They don't want the responsibility. And feel threatened if others are not willing to think the same way. With believing in the Necronomicon, I feel these individuals, because they lack control of their own lives, are desiring to be in control of elements out of their reach. Think about this... Do you really want to open up a gateway to a being that regards you as less than an annoying insect?

Anton LaVey stated people create their gods, and should recognize themselves as such.
Civilizations create gods based on the values of that particular culture. You value poetry - you create a god of poetry. You accept death- you create a god of death. You like pizza - you create a god of pizza. You want to see yourself as a "god" - well guess what? In your own private world, YOU ARE! You do everything for your own survival and enjoyment. Your whole world is based on you. You interact with others based on how they make you feel. You have children because you either think it's a good idea… or you don't know how to have sex. (if you DID know how to have sex, you wouldn't have any accidental children!) And when it comes to "established gods" you'll notice that people always tell you what their god expects by citing their own values. That's why "Republican Jesus" doesn't want the poor to get food stamps, or medical help. As for my own personal belief (by the way, I am an ordained atheist minister) I talk about "Selfism." You can't help someone else, unless you can help yourself first. For example... You're in a hospital bed with all your limbs broken, and you're in traction. Your jaws are wired shut because that's broken too (you had a really bad day). You look out the window and see a kid about to step out into traffic, and get hit by a truck. You can't do anything to help the kid, because you can't even help yourself. And by the time a nurse comes to see what's going on with you, the kid is a smear 1/16" high by 200 yards long. So all you can do is focus on your healing. But if you were in normal health, and you saw a kid about to walk out into traffic, you could yell to him to "stop" or pull him back. Thereby helping someone else, because you are in the position to do something about it. And as an atheist minister, I preach that you should take responsibility for your own actions.

Stephen King wrote some Lovecraftian fiction including a short story called Crouch End. Are you familiar with this piece? There are also Lovecraftian elements in novels of his including Needful Things.
I haven't read "Couch End" or "Needful Things." But now that you've mentioned them I'll check them out. I am familiar with "The Mist" and "The Raft". I know King was greatly influenced by Lovecraft. But I'm not too big a fan of King's. It's not that I hate him, or dislike his work. I'm just not a fan.

What other writers do you know of who were influenced to some extent by Lovecraft?
Well of course there is August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Mike Mignola (of "Hellboy" fame), Fritz Leiber, Brian Lumly, And Harold Ramis of "Ghostbusters" fame to name a few.

In what publications have the authors you cited drawn influence from Lovecraft? How much of his influence is there?
Well in Hellboy comics, C'Thulhu and alternate dimensions get referred to quite often throughout the series. If you're looking for specific books - Robert E. Howard's work can be found in "Cthulhu The Mythos and Kindred Horrors". August Derleth's work in "The Trail of Cthulhu" Fritz Leiber can be found in "The Disciples of Cthulhu". Along with a few other writers. And I'd say judging by the titles alone- These stories are extensions and interpretations of Lovecraft's mythos! There are TONS of horror writers out there who are jumping on the "Cthulhu" bandwagon! Even an episode of South Park featured Cthulhu! I'm willing to bet ol' H.P.L. never even realized the stir he was going to make with his stories!

How much of your work did Litio Broie place on your community page? Does she regularly moderate it or is it open to anyone?
Litio has put EVERYTHING on line that I gave her to. And since then I've been doing all the posting. So if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have even tried to post anything on a separate Facebook site. She also does not "moderate" it. It's there, I post. Occasionally people leave comments. That's about the size of it. If anyone wants to hate my work. That's fine. I don't give a shit I paint for ME. Other people just happen to like some of it. I guess it's because they are relating to it in some way, shape, or form. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages for an artist promoting his work on social media?
Well first of all I find social media GREAT for promoting yourself. Years ago I had someone approach me about putting my own site up on the internet. They put together a nice website- cool graphics and all. And they charged me 160 bucks to do it. Do you know how many hits I got on that thing? ZERO! NOTHING! ZIP! ZILCH! When you do something like build a website, and you're a complete unknown, you're basically putting a microscopic piece of plankton out in the world wide web ocean, and hoping someone else sees it. Also I had no control over adding anything, or posting comments on my own work. So when he asked me if I wanted to renew with him, I told the guy don't bother. The advantages of social media are that people are going to be logging onto it almost every day. You're going to have a lot of control over what you post. And it's FREE! And because it's a "social" media, people are going to be getting "friendship" and "like my site" requests all the time. Very minimal effort to promote. Especially if you're like me, and not too obsessed with people seeing your work.

Being that social media has helped you promote online more than websites, how many other networks do you have accounts with? How often are you keeping up with them?
I don't have any other networks that I'm affiliated with. I've had a few offers, but they want me to pay to promote my work. And since I'm perfectly comfortable with how things are, I see no reason to.

Did your interest in art lead to an interest in tattooing? Describe your first job as a professional tattoo artist.
It actually did! For years I had people approaching me about doing some of my paintings as tattoos on them. And because I didn't have the skills to tattoo back then, the person would buy one of my prints for five dollars. And then some tattoo artist would make a couple hundred off of my stuff. What finally happened to get me started in tattooing was I had just been let go from AOL because our site was closing down, and I wasn't about to transfer to the new call-center company that was taking over (I had worked for them prior to AOL, and was well aware of how poorly they treated their employees So no way in hell was I going to work for THEM again!). A friend of mine told me about another friend who owned a tattoo parlor. He set it up for me to come in for an interview. I went in, the guy saw my work, and said "There is absolutely no reason we shouldn't apprentice you!” So with that I started my long journey into the world of tattoo. As for my first "professional" tattoo, it was a simple script style lettering job on the guy's forearm. Before that, I was doing "apprentice work", stuff like simple butterflies, roses, skulls, and lettering.

How long were you tattooing with designs advertised on tattoo shop walls before you started using your own artwork?
I was fortunate to apprentice in a shop that encouraged us to be creative with our pieces. Yes, we will have customers come in with an idea of something they've seen on the internet. And we will adapt it for them. But other than that, we have no "flash" posters on our walls. So basically it was baptism by fire. I was taught to use my creativity right off the bat. We draw and design the piece right in front of you. Everyone at our shop is an artist. You have to be able to think on your feet.

Do you still work at the tattoo shop where you were an apprentice? How much did designing tattoos on the spot help you develop as an artist?
I've stayed with the shop where I was apprenticed. We are ALL artists there. Each one of us has different strengths and opinions. I love the fact that we will pick each other apart when we see something that doesn't seem right. Our shop boss, Dave, is probably the biggest dick you could ever meet. But he would sooner screw himself over first, before fucking anyone else over. He challenges me all the time. He nitpicks on the things I paint and draw. This forces me to work harder at what I do. You don't improve if you are not challenged. I've seen guys who left our shop years ago to become independent artists. Their work is still at the same level as when the left. Am I great? I hope not!! If I become great, it's time to hang up my brushes and machines. I won't be able to grow and improve. No one EVER achieves perfection. We strive for it! And it eludes our grasp every day. And tomorrow, we wake up and try again. And by designing tattoos on the spot, it forces us to think faster. What am I going to do to make that tattoo of a skull stick out from every other tattoo of a skull I've ever done? In our shop you have to have a thick skin. We've had plenty of apprentices who quit because they couldn't handle their work being torn apart. You either improve or get the fuck out. Have my paintings improved from this? I like to think so! I definitely feel more proud of the pieces I'm producing now, when I compare them to work I did a few years ago. But I know I can always take them to that next level!

Would you consider it a feasible idea to have your own tattoo parlor at some point?
I actually was part owner of the shop for four years. It was a pain in the ass. Having to keep after everything and everyone. I don't want to do that level of responsibility again. I just like going in. Getting a chance at being creative. Closing up and going home.

What were your experiences as the co-owner of a tattoo shop like? Was it in the same area where you practice now?
As a co-owner, I was always balancing the budget. Making sure bills got paid on time. Making sure the guys were paying into the shop. Keeping the shop clean. Making sure we always had enough water, towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies calling up clients if their artist wasn't going to be available for them. Having to be aware of everyone in the shop at the same time while I was trying to concentrate on my own work. Tons of little things that all added up to longer hours, with no extra pay. And not only was it in the same area. But it was the same shop (laughs)! I've been with Frankie’s Tattoo Parlor for ten and a half years now. And the shop is eleven years old this November. Seeing as our retirement plan is, "don't plan on retiring", I plan on staying til I die.

Do you promote Frankie’s Tattoo Parlor by spreading fliers or spreading word on the internet?
We promote Frankie's Tattoo by word of mouth. We are the best kept secret of Clearfield, Utah. People come to us because their friends and family come to us. I'm tattooing the grown up kids of some of my original customers. We also post on Facebook. Look for Frankie's Tattoo. We occasionally run specials. Each artist is an independent contractor. So if one guy is running a special, it doesn't apply to the other guys. And we all keep our prices in the same range. So there is no "bidding" about which artist will do it for less.

How many people are on the staff at Frankie’s with you? What are some designs you have inked on your customers lately?
We have six artists and one part-time piercer. Most of the stuff we do is "meat and potatoes" kinda stuff. Things like small roses, names, small kanji symbols. Stuff that we can knock out fairly quickly. Occasionally we'll do a bigger piece. Last week I did a stomach tattoo of Fenris' head with Tyr's arm in his mouth. Took three hours, and the guy says he felt like he did a thousand crunches. I've done a few zombie heads, and various sleeves. Like I always say, "The bigger tattoos get you recognition. The smaller tattoos pay the bills."

What is the strangest request for a tattoo you have gotten from one of your customers? Were you able to design what he had in mind?
I don't consider anything to be "strange." But sometimes customers really don't know what they want. You can tell by how they change their minds every two minutes. In one case, a guy changed his mind I think over fifty times in a space of two hours. I told him to just go home and think about what he really wanted. And when he was ready to come back, we'd (anyone of our guys working in the shop) take care of him. He insisted he had to have a tattoo that night! I told him that if he changed his mind one more time I was going to beat him senseless. He immediately stopped changing his mind and settled on a tattoo... Another instance was where a guy came into the shop and wanted an extremely detailed very large piece of spirals, counter spirals, the universe, a sunrise and a tribal tie in that "looked real, but not too real." on his arm. He then proceeded to tell me he was leaving to go back home that night (I think it was Georgia), and needed EVERYTHING done that night within a space of about four hours. He also wanted to know if I could do it all for $100 dollars. I informed him it might take that long just to get the piece designed, that with the size of it, and detail, we might be looking at least two or three sessions of about two hours each. And I certainly wasn't going to cheat myself by working all those hours for just a $100. He got flustered, the settled on a very nice significantly smaller tribal piece for $100. Another time I had a guy come in and show me a very detailed half sleeve. He wanted me to do his other arm in a half sleeve as well, with an equal amount of detail. I looked over the job, and gave him an estimate of about $400 to $600 (depending how long it would take. He then informed me that his half sleeve only cost him $60. I told him that he should go back to his artist who did his original sleeve, if he was looking for that type of deal. He then informed me that he couldn't, because the other artist was still in prison (which is where he had gotten his half sleeve done). Needless to say he didn't have enough money to get any work done, and left. We’re always very friendly and helpful at our shop. But when someone comes in and tells us they can get a better deal somewhere else, we tell them to go ahead. About 75% of the time they come back. 

How often are you creating new designs to offer prospective customers?
Almost every tattoo we do (even the simple ones) we try to be creative, and take to the "next level." Any tattooist can write a person's name or a row of roman numerals. The trick is figuring out what to do to make it more interesting. And since we don't use any "flash" almost every piece is a new creation.

How do you think you’ll be remembered for your work long after your career?
Seeing as my career will end when I'm dead. I guess you mean long after I'm gone.... I'm pretty sure they will say, "he was a painter who also tattooed." Both my tattooing, and my painting skills have increased significantly over the years at "Frankie's." My boss, Dave, is ALWAYS pushing us, and forcing us to rethink what we're doing. Yes, he can be a total dick when he does that. But the end result is something much better than what we started with. As for my paintings, people are going to probably say what they tell me now. "That it takes forever to see everything that's going on in his work." And that it's loaded with details. Some have told me I'm painting "scenes from movies that haven't been made yet." Or that I'm painting what's in THEIR souls. So I guess that's what they'll probably say too. I'll hope to be remembered as that guy who painted what he wanted, and didn't give a fuck about what the public wanted to see. I'm pretty sure that in a hundred years after my death, when all that's left are the paintings. That people will come up with their own stories if they ever study my work. But then again, all my work might get destroyed after I'm gone. And there will be no records of me, and what I had done. So nothing will have mattered anyway!

-Dave Wolff

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