Talking with Brody Polinsky about his place in contemporary queer tattooing

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Brody Polinsky is a tattooer who creates beautifully bold patterned tattoos from his private studio in Berlin. This week he finished his guest spot at Sang Bleu London. You may know him as CLEAN AND SOBER TATTOO, his alias which explains his own ten years of sobriety but he’s also creating waves with his queer tattoo space in Berlin. I met with him to discuss his work and life and how he’s making his own stake in the remarkably narrow world of tattooing. Brody Polinsky

 

Reba: I can see that you have a photo of ManWoman as your screensaver on your phone, why do you like ManWoman?Brody: It’s because he’s also Canadian, ha ha no. I think how he took back the swastika was pretty amazing; he just did it in this remote weird town in Canada and he was publishing books about it.He was published in Modern Primitives too I think. Those guys have been really reclaiming the swastika through tattooing since the mid 90s, which is when I got into tattoos, seeing Alex Binnie doing these big black tattoos was amazing I wanted that.How did you find out about people like Alex Binnie being a kid in Canada? 

I found out about those guys from convention posters at my friends studio when i was 15. I hung out desperately trying to soak up tattooing not trying to annoy anyone. They knew the Leu family from conventions, I sat and looked through all the books and magazines available back then, they had them all.

I always skateboarded, essentially I did whatever my oldest cousin was into – drugs, booze, smoking, stealing, tattoos, it’s a small town, it was the nineties, it was all tribal tattoos then, and it was mostly bikers who tattooed, no other situations really. However my friend Dave Knight was learning to tattoo under Danny Gordy, the original guy pushing custom tattooing in Edmonton.  It is an oil town so there’s a bit of money, some people didn’t want just flash off the wall. I was exposed to custom tattooing inspiring the process of permanency. I was blown away by Philip Leu who apprenticed Maxime. Alex was doing amazing black tattoos then as well, on what was the London gay community.

This is what I wanted to talk to you about, why is tattooing still predominantly full of cis gendered white straight men considering that tattooing was and maybe is still a bit considered ‘subcultural’? 

I think it is because our industry is still hyper masculinized and the clientele most comfortable to engage in this intimate process are generally straight identified folks. They don’t need to be concerned about their lifestyle insecurities and the potential uncomfortable situations.

We need more outwardly queer spaces for tattooing that push past just word of mouth. The fear of being an out queer identified tattooer is hard to break free of. There are some tattooers that are known in the community for being gay which is a big step in the right direction.

How did you come about making this queer space?

Gratefully a 1 week guest spot turned into a 2 year residency at AKA in Berlin. I finally walked into a tattoo shop and felt comfortable in my skin, not just in tattooing but also in my life.  I then opened up my private studio in Berlin this May by following my intuition. A queer space isn’t about sexual preference it’s about creating a community radically. Everyone is welcome here and able to be comfortable in their own skin, free to explore possibilities for change.

How are people reacting to the queer space?

Really good, its heart warming to hear even one positive reaction. Even at AKA I didn’t reach my true audience because I wasn’t brutally honest publicly. Queer folks, leather folks, s&m folks, musicians, skateboarders, clean and sober folks, cyclists, vegetarians,  motorcyclists – when they come together I know it will be working. I have always felt uncomfortable in spaces of my sincere interest and that is a day to day struggle for queer people still today.

How do people know about the queer space?

My non specific cultural pattern work has been connecting me with a broad spectrum of humans so far. I intend to reach my sincere personal audience with UNIV ERSE.

I started posting honestly on my social media not holding back being queer. I decided to humanize myself and show my face, feels pretty uncomfortable but fuck it!

I want tattooing to reclaim being subversive and an outsider ritual between tattooer and client. I sincerely appreciate everyone that has been tattooed by me assuring that a platform for our community is needed.

Which tattooers inspire you, not just their tattoo work but in their life?

Servadio. He comes from art,  we skate together and drink tea. He’s a punk, a squatter, a true artist,  he learned to tattoo on a mine sweeper boat. He just tattooed what he could draw well on his friends when they traded what he needed. He’s a sponge, a sincerely spontaneous tattooer and crushingly talented. He went to get tattooed by Raf in Jon Jon’s kitchen one day, they ended up trading tattoos, then Guy and Raf told Jon Jon to ask him to tattoo at AKA London, then the rest is magic. He really lets go of the process and adapts  just making a few marks with a sharpie then just gets going, so raw.

Do you think you’ll stay in Berlin?

Yeah its home, it’s the queerest place on earth. I fell in love with a really handsome French man and I have a lease on a flat which is kind of tricky to get. I haven’t felt grounded in many years but I do in Berlin, especially with the new studio now. There is great recovery available that helps to keep me together. My friend just found  a fun ramp across the street the other day so I’m staying put!

 

http://www.cleanandsobertattoo.com

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