Joe Munroe, young gun of the tattoo industry talks to Julia Denni about his career and his quest of freedom through tattooing.
As soon as you cross the door, the smell of incense catches your nose. Then, the mechanical buzz of the needles whistles in your ears like crickets, each of them with their very own signature sound. Their songs echo one another. All the equipment replicates that of a dentist office, the chairs, the disposable needles and tubes, the gloves and the sterilization autoclave. Smiles and jokes warm up the space and the atmosphere is light and relaxed. People in this room are all here for the same reason, their passion for tattoos. A wide monochrome geometrical design, which comes to complete a lotus flower, is appearing on the arm of a client. His latest addition is added to a collection of different designs enveloping his arms. This one is going to join the names of his children written in Chinese characters on his left arm.
Joe Munroe is twenty-four and runs his own private workshop, hidden on a quiet residential block in Poole, Dorset, at the back of a bungalow, with two other tattoo artists Emma Garrad and Justin Morris.
Munroe is self-taught. Aged 16 when he acquired his first tattoo, he quickly started tattooing shanks of pig flesh as well as his own legs before his dad said he could have a go on him. At school, he had always been good in art subjects, describing himself as a “creative child”, but he wasn’t an academic. The prospect of ending up on a building site pushed him to follow his passion. After getting a small amount of tattoo supplies from a friend, he managed to get an apprenticeship in a small shop. Few years later, his art was sharpened and he had bought the bungalow where his studio is now located. Munroe doesn’t do “walk-in tattoos” anymore as he has built an impressive base of clients and can now pick and choose the pieces he wants to create.
A lot of his inspirations originate from spiritual interest and other philosophies. Xed le Head, a renowned tattoo artist from London, helped him to develop as an artist and designed the main part of the artwork on Munroe’s face. As part of a growing process, Munroe gave up using colors on his body, going from cartoony design to more earthy, spiritual patterns. He describes his face as “unplanned” and went with the flow.
“Tattoos have changed the way I perceive the world and others being the result of who I am as well as influential”, says Munroe.
Emma Garrad, one of the artists working in Munroe’s studio confesses, “Every time I get a tattoo that I’m happy with, I get closer to who I am, closer to myself. The more tattoos I get the more confident I become.” Munroe joins her on this thought adding that “you open-up and you’re projecting more of your self, more honestly than what people initially see, it’s a way of wearing your heart on your sleeve, almost quite literally”. By “decorating yourself” as he likes saying, “you can overstep the barrier of physical appearance”.
“If you start expressing yourself in a certain way that you enjoy it, you want to keep on doing it”.
“The myth around the addiction to the pain is a delusion,” he concedes. “Everyone has a little tattoo here and there now, there is certain level where it is acceptable but when you’re getting into proper tattoo, I mean heavy tattoo, it still hold a certain stigma and when you transcend that barrier, you have the realization that it doesn’t actually change anything, it is just a picture, just a decoration, the same as your t-shirt”.
“When it becomes part of the pop culture, it applies obligations, ideas of coolness and standards and what society expects of you which ruins the whole idea of freedom.”
"You destroy the “essence” of self expression, people then start to withdraw from what they like to do or what they feel they should do and start going down the avenue of what society expects them to do which in terms totally goes against everything I view tattooing would be.”
“There is no right, there is no wrong. It’s a matter of opinion.” As any other art forms, tattoo art is subjective. Munroe is currently working for clear backs on which he will be reproducing four canvases he has painted. Each person will become part of a larger piece creating a series of four movable canvases.