BYO Break In: Mark Nara Tattoo
By Vicki Fletcher @VickiFletcher88 / vickijanefletcher.com - Photography MR OWL.
“Every shape has its own power. Every form makes energy patterns. A circle bends the energies from its area inside and out, back onto itself, round and round, and creates a spiral.”
This quote, by Chea Hetaka, a Brazilian Indian from the West Amazon basin, is the first thing that visitors to Mark Nara’s website see. And it perfectly captures the art he creates, the emotion he transfers when he tattoos, the connection he feels with the body he is working on. Mark is, at just 26 years of age, a talented tattoo artist with a calm wisdom he seems to spread to whoever he is working with. Meeting him is like going to see an old friend who immediately makes you feel at ease.
When we do meet him, it’s in an unassuming warehouse in the bayside suburb of Botany, behind a door with just a carving of a lighthouse. This is Lighthouse Tattoo, a unique studio founded by accomplished artists Nathan Puata and Alex Rusty. Slipping through the heavy door we emerge in a large, luminous room, the walls covered in a curated mix of framed and unframed artists’ drawings, paintings and photographs. A large mural of an ancient Japanese Hannya, or wisdom mask is spread across the far wall, looking over the artists as they work around the room. Mark is busy working on a friend, carving an immense patterned skull, spread across the back to the far reaches of the shoulders and down the top half of his arms. “This one will take over 20 hours, probably even more,” he says, standing back and assessing the patterns outline.
It may sound like a long time to the unaware reader, but to Mark, the process is the most natural part of his work.
“Its very much a transfer of energy between two people. The client has to really trust you. With pieces like this you build a really strong relationship with your client because you become a part of each other’s lives - he’s coming in so regularly. You don’t go and get a big tattoo and walk out with it finished. It’s not a whimsical decision. A lot of people who don’t have a tattoo don’t get it. It’s the whole process of getting tattooed that becomes a part of your life.
Working on people, knowing that I’m transferring energy onto them, that’s what makes it so unique, that interaction.”
In a society where tattoos have become so common, so aesthetic, so momentary, Mark is focusing his energy on tradition, process and spirit in his work. Following a trip backpacking from Colombia to Mexico earlier in the year, Mark has channeled his energy into discovering and following traditional tattoo rituals from various cultures.
“A lot of the stuff I’m doing now was influenced by that trip. I’m picking up a lot of patterns. Not just the actual patterns, but the whole process. In terms of respecting the whole process of tattooing, you see it’s more sacred, ritualistic. Being very aware of what I’m doing and not just heading into the commercial tattooing; getting back to the roots of it.”
“You know every indigenous culture in the world has tattoo art. On every continent in every culture they have tattooing or mark making of some type, if it’s painting or scarring.”
Dedicated and driven, Mark has been studying the varying approaches to tattooing across cultures from India to South America, Japan to the Pacific Islands.
“I’m looking into a lot of indigenous cultures, at a lot of more traditional style of mark making, and even looking at weaving, tapestry, pottery and carving, seeing which patterns in different cultures are used for what, how they use them, and seeing the crossover of patterns in cultures.”
To the untrained eye, tattoos may appear similar, indifferent in tone, emotion or process; but Mark explains that the approach can be very different.
“There is a lot more tradition and respect, for example in Islander cultures, Japanese tattooing culture, than contemporary tattooing. Now people just come and pay to get it. Whereas in Japan people would go there to give gifts to the artists, there was a respect, there’s not too much say in what you’re getting. In ancient Islander cultures you’re very much given patterns from your ancestry and it’s a right of passage, there’s a lot of intention in the tattoo. It’s not just like ‘oh I’m going to get a cool snake because Justin Bieber got it’.
When asked if it has become a sort of obsession for him, Mark lets out a quiet laugh. “Yeah definitely. You know it might not be why I got into it, but it’s probably one of the best things about tattooing that I’m most grateful for is that it’s such a good lifestyle. You can travel and meet good people. Keep discovering, do what you love all the time.”
So what was it that made Mark pick up a tattoo gun in the first place?
“It’s a funny thing because it’s a medium that I didn’t have a lot of interest in when I was growing up; and then I think it was the connection of tattooing for someone, it’s a very honest art form. If you paint, if you’re doing graphic design, it’s material that gets resold, you create for a brand that someone’s going to make all this money off. Tattooing though, you’re doing something for the client, and it goes with them when they go. It’s a very personal, sacred type of mark you know?”
Mark joined an old biker shop as a fresh-faced apprentice right out of high school. He wasn’t allowed to tattoo, and his boss called him Pumpkin head.
“You’re their little bitch, you just clean up, get their lunch, set up for the day. You don’t get paid. But that’s the way you get a foot in.”
Then one day he took some equipment home and did his first tattoo on his brother in his parents’ living room.
“I’d been an apprentice for maybe a year or a year and a half. So I was working for this bad dude, and he ended up getting put in jail. Because he needed extra people to make money, he was like ‘I’m inside now, you can tattoo. But you’ve got to get a tattoo first.’ I didn’t have anything. Anyway, I wanted to do my first tattoo before I got a tattoo. That was my thinking. I wanted to get the year I started tattooing as my first one, but I had to do a tattoo to get it. So I snuck some gear home and set up at my parents’ house. My mum was watching, I was making her super nervous, she was like ‘do you know what you’re doing?’, and I was like ‘Shut up mum, I’m trying to concentrate’. My brother is lying down on this bed stoned, like ‘just go for it bro’.”
That was six years ago; and it’s been a pretty good journey since. There is one moment, though, that stands out for Mark. Unsurprisingly it comes from his trip through Central America.
“On my last holiday I tattooed in so many places. I went from Columbia to Mexico just backpacking. I took my machine and just tattooed along the way, people I met just to get by, trade with friends. But the best tattoo was when we were sailing from Colombia to Panama. We were on this big catamaran and it turned out the captain was a tattooist as well. So he let me set up and tattoo. I was in these tropical islands, called the San Blas Islands and we just beached the catamaran and I set up on the deck, sat on an Esky, just tattooing, looking out at these palm trees. That was the best office ever.”
Itching to go again, Mark says he’d love to work three months and travel for three. “You get stuck though, I’ve stayed a bit longer this time. But I’m going next year, travelling in Australia for a few months.”
Ready for even more inspiration, patterns, and meeting new experiences, it is obvious there is a pattern of energy forming here, a circle of work and inspiration, round and round, creating a spiral. Now it’s easy to see how that potent quote on his website is a kind of dictation of Mark’s ardent life and work.
See more of what Mark’s talent can do at www.themarkofnara.com
And head to www.lighthousetattoo.com.au for more info on the studio.