Joe George

July 13, 2022

Joe George (b.1992) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, NY working in painting, 3D modeling, and tattooing, among other mediums. His work predominantly uses texture and context to modify the surfaces of objects, bodies, and meshes. Since receiving a BFA from Pratt Institute in 2015, he has worked to view and interpret these as increasingly interchangeable.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

My real name is Joe George, I’m a painter in 2022.

How did you get into tattooing?

I never anticipated I would be a tattooer, it’s something I really fell into. I was coming out of a period of being really private and obsessive with my work, and I found it so refreshing and fun to start a piece, finish it, get paid, and share it all in one sitting. I have my friends to thank for getting off the ground; I got a lot of trust from many friends early on to try different techniques and ambitious pieces. It was 2018 and I immediately made plans to quit my full-time job as a printmaker, which I was able to do less than a year after starting.

Star Tattoo from 2022 by Joe George

Why do you think it is that barbed wire became so popular in tattooing within the past few years?

It’s very pictorial, and it inevitably looks tough. It can work as a wrap-around or gap-filler, and can delineate space really well on a body. It can be rendered in 3D chrome trompe l’oeil with drop shadow, or drawn on flat with a sharpie (I have the latter). I think it’s classic and will age gracefully on lots of different kinds of people with many styles of tattoos. It’s necessary and funny to dump on trends, especially ones on Instagram, the current tattoo ones being ‘spiky’ and/or ‘ornate’ (I also have both), but I think there’s something to them; a reason a lot of people feel similarly at a certain time, and that’s really fascinating to me. Tattooing remains exciting because it’s really restless with its trends, but the trend is inked permanently, making it immediately relatively timeless and part of our visual history.

What is the significance of the use of logos in your work?

When I was a little kid I always went to the grocery store with my mom and was absolutely struck by the vibrant colors and mysterious shapes of logos and package design. It’s a glyphic language of memory for me. I think a logo can be symbolic of a time in someone’s life or of a particular ideology. It’s also always a little funny to me to confidently use something incorrectly without permission. All that said though, I would like to live in an unbranded world, and I think logos have less and less place in my work because of this.

Crayola tattoo from 2022 by Joe George.

Can you talk about your series of objects painted with acrylics? 

It’s something I’ve been doing on and off since 2015. Painting over something verbatim feels like what I imagine knitting feels like; severely time consuming and relatively mindless, thus meditative. I’m not interested in adding to that series now but I might come back to it. I’m always happy with how different each one turns out. They are arduous and long but the result is something that sits very uncomfortably in space and it feels worth it. They also make a lot of people smile and laugh which is super important to me in anything I do.

Acrylic on Amazon Box. by Joe George.

Do you feel that you have to maintain a persona when working on instagram and social media?

Yeah I actually do, however self imposed that might be. I don’t feel inhibited like that anywhere else online or in my daily life. There’s something *off* about Instagram in particular and everybody knows it. I’m thankful for the support I get on the platform, but the only way I can stay sane and confident on there is to use it like DeviantArt and largely ignore the ‘social’ aspect altogether. I use it for ~business~ so I suppose that influences my behavior on it and prevents me from getting personal. It’s a lot more fun and chaotic to anonymously post work on a relevant subreddit and see what the world has to say.

Do you consider your tattooing and non-tattooing work to all be one practice?

Yeah, I really consider everything I do one practice, a practice of seeing and dissociating. I let every medium I work in inform the other. Tattooing happens to be the most consistent way I can make money from my practice in a way that feels completely uncompromised. It has freed up all my time and made it so I never have to ‘work’ again.

3D printed Xbox Controller Case by Joe George

What do you collect?

I guess at this point everything I collect is digital, which is kind of scary because if you’re not careful and organized you could lose it. I have hundreds of gigabytes of images alone. I have days where I’ll collect hundreds of images in a folder and maybe never look back at them. I think selecting, associating from, and selecting again is integral to my visual processing of sometimes vague ideas. Recently I’ve been collecting countless images I’ve made from hyper specific prompts using Midjourney.

Any music recommendations?

Studio music: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma ‘Tracing Back the Radiance’. He makes some of the slowest music I’ve ever heard. It’s so slow that you can immediately find yourself exactly in the moment.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of James Ferraro and Holly Herndon lately.

Acrylic painting by Joe George.

What insights have you gained from the relationships you have formed with your clients?

About half of my clients now are visiting from out of town. It was pretty humbling to finally (recently) wrap my head around the idea that people I don’t know would want to spend their limited time in NYC to get a piece from me. It fills me with warm amazement.

What do you have planned for this Summer?

Me and my partner Zayn (@inzaynjohnny) are gonna go to Montreal, I’ve never been to Canada and there are a lot of tattooers I admire there.

Interview conducted and edited by Sam Dybeck and Milo Christie.