Culture » Visual Arts

Bill Folk’s painting and tattoos draw inspiration from veterans, Japan and ‘80s speed metal


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  • Bill Folk
Artist Bill Folk is perhaps known less for his work on canvas than for his tattoo work — he’s currently at Heebee Jeebees Custom Tattoo — but with his unique style, it’s hard to separate the two. Growing up in Pennsylvania, he saw a lot of traditional American (think eagles, anchors and nautical stars in the style of Sailor Jerry or Ed Hardy) tattoos on veterans, and the raw simplicity of the style fascinated him. When he picked up a tattoo machine for himself, there was an adjustment period.

“You can’t necessarily do what you do on paper or on the page on the skin,” he says. And those constraints bled into his canvas work. He says most of his recent work could be inked on a person with minimal adjustment.

Folk grew up drawing and painting, part of a family he describes as mostly artistic, save for his father. He’s taken a smattering of university art classes over the years, but he’s never earned a degree.

“For me it was more about learning the little painting stuff, honing your skill, not necessarily about the little piece of paper at the end,” he says. In both his tattoo work and his paintings, he draws inspiration from Japanese tattoos as well, though he doesn’t stick to traditional imagery.

“I’m not a Japanese person,” he explains. “They grew up in that culture, seeing those images all around them... I’m an American tattooer, so I have my own influences.” He fuses pop culture, fantasy imagery and, lately, inspiration drawn from ’80s heavy metal magazines using Japanese approaches to foreground, background and composition.

“My mind’s always going a mile a minute — I’m always looking at things and getting inspiration,” he says. And for that, the Springs is perfect for him. He calls the city a cultural melting pot for tattoos — the large transplant population, especially traveling soldiers, brings in regional tattoo imagery and styles from across the country, meaning there’s always new inspiration at hand.

“We’re in a landlocked state, so we don’t see a lot of flowing, moving water pieces,” he says. “We get ’em here, but they’re likely on people who aren’t from here.”


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