What Do My Tattoos Mean?

September 26, 2017

I’m not asking because I’m befuddled — I’m just writing it all down in one place so I can point people to this post when they interrogate me about them at the bar.

Just kidding! I’m not even a heavily tattooed person — at Fast Horse, that honor belongs to developer Joe Rstom and chief creative officer Dave Damman, both of whom sport full sleeves — but anytime I wear short sleeves or go swimming, I’ll have to answer a few questions about my ink choices. For want of anything better to write this month, I’ll give you a tour of my ink. You’re going to see some body hair, so deal with it.

“The Grid”
When I got it: 
November 2010, I think?
Pain level: Minimal. Lots of meat on that forearm.
Artist: Mike Grant, Saint Sabrina’s

Ignore all those feathers for now. In my junior year of high school, I took an AP English course with one of those life-changing teachers who rewires your brain instead of stuffing it with facts. My teacher, Ms. Lyon, thought it was better to expose students to critical thinking and oppositional viewpoints than ask you to learn parts of speech and read “The Crucible,” so one day she popped in a DVD of Godfrey Reggio’s non-narrative documentary “Koyaanisqatsi” and turned off the lights. The documentary is famous for its filmmaking leaps, but equally renowned is its original soundtrack by composer Philip Glass. A group of my buddies in the class and I were captivated, and we agreed that if we ever got matching friendship tattoos, it’d be a grid, to represent one of the centerpiece compositions of the soundtrack. To date, I am the only member of the friend group to have this tattoo.

F*** THIS!
When I got it: October 2013
Pain level: Minimal, but psychologically trying
Artist: Alex Gaterud, unlicensed back-alley practitioner

I only have one photo of this tattoo that I’m not going to post here*, but shortly after buying my dump of a house and living on the floor of my basement I went through a tiny bit of panic and went over to my best friend’s apartment for a stick-and-poke session. Did I give myself a tattoo over my heart that said “F*** THIS!”, complete with exclamation point? Sure did! Fun fact: Stick-and-pokes are not especially pleasant to give yourself. For a couple years, I managed to avoid swimming or otherwise having my shirt off around my parents, but I eventually got this one covered up after a swimming-mandatory family vacation came up. They still don’t know I have/had it — hi, mom!

*Photo available upon request. Email me.

When I got it: October 2014
Pain level: Minimal. Lots of meat on that ol’ gam.
Artist: Jerome Vorndran, Steady

As you can see, I did a lot of growing up between super-earnest classical-music-derived tattoos and a rainy October night when, once again, my best friend and I went out to get some impulse ink. We had half an hour to come up with ideas and get to the shop before they closed. So why a Dorito?

Years earlier, my coworkers at First Avenue and I wanted to get a tattoo gun for the office, but our boss rightly put the kibosh on that. She said, “What’s wrong with you idiots? What would you even give each other? If I was going to get a tattoo, it’d have to be something really meaningful, like something I had loved my entire life… like a Dorito.”

So, with the mental image of a Dorito tattoo stuck in my craw, we showed up at the shop. I told the artist I wanted one (1) nacho cheese Dorito, he printed a photo off of Google and 10 minutes later he was doing the line work. When I stood up off the table, he pointed out my leg to the other artist working that night. Without hesitating, she said, “Oh, cool! Pizza!”

When I got it: August 2015
Pain level: Fine, but needles and clavicles are not fun!
Artist: Jerome Vorndran, Steady

I won’t post a picture of this one because it involves a lot of errant chest hairs and I don’t really want to bring #freethenipple into the Fast Horse blog, but take a listen to the Bill Callahan song above — one of my favorites — and pay attention to the first line: “The leafless tree looked like a brain…”

Once I realized the clock was ticking on getting my profane stick-and-poke covered up, I cast wildly about for ideas for a chest tattoo. Bill Callahan is a rich storyteller, and the images in this song grabbed me from the first time I heard it. So now I have a big gnarled tree on the left side of my chest. There’s not much more to it than that.

A post shared by Matt “Poohki” Ward (@poohkioner) on

Golden Eagle
When I got it: September 2017
Pain level: Having just worked 140 hours across 10 days, the pain during our single-sitting four-hour session was actually pretty muted
Artist: Matt “Poohki” Ward, BlackEnd Tattoo Ateliér

Once I was mowing the lawn at my parents’ house and something blocked out the sun above me. I looked up and saw a golden eagle, massive and proud, gliding 10 feet above my head. It was an arresting, take-your-breath-away moment, and I asked myself, “Is this eagle going to snatch one of the dogs?” After ascertaining the dogs’ safety, I filed the golden eagle away as great tattoo fodder.

After talking with coworker Joe about his tattoos, I got hooked on the idea of going to an artist with a half-formed idea and letting him or her finish it off. You wind up sporting a one-of-a-kind artwork that you developed collaboratively, rather than pointing to some flash or a printout of a Dorito and saying “gimme that.” I had just visited the Guillermo Del Toro exhibit at Mia, so my head was full of expressionist paintings and “Fantasia” concept sketches.

Joe recommended I visit Poohki at BlackEnd, and all I brought to the consultation were photos of swooping eagles and examples of dark ’50s Disney art. “Show the movement and violence of the eagle with the feeling of ‘A Night on Bald Mountain,’ while also artistically killing one of the rabbits infesting my yard” was my creative direction, and the result is an amazing work that I’m still gushing over.

Now that it’s almost healed, I’m already thinking about the next one. Isn’t that the way it goes?