Masters of Ink is a Konbini original introducing you to a whole spectrum of tattoo artists from all over the world. Custom designers specializing in every style from modern dotwork to traditional Americana tattoos – tune in for something new every week!
For some years now, Instagram has been a huge platform for promoting aspiring tattoo talents. Among the many artists buzzing on social media, Lee, a non-binary trans person known as rat666tat, is definitely catching interest with their creative socially and politically committed art.
For Lee, tattooing started very privately. The second year of art school was a pretty rough time for them, so the artist spent a lot of time alone drawing in their room. Lee tells Konbini:
"When I was having a hard day, I would tattoo myself and it would help. In a way, it was very much an act of self-care. Kind of like getting a haircut, giving myself a new tattoo made me feel better about myself.
A lot of people that I tattoo have expressed similar feelings about the process, especially around times of change or personal loss."
Lee's work doesn't follow many tattoo norms, favoring inspiration from outsider artists with unconventional styles, such as Henry Darger.
Playful and spontaneous, Lee either does colored linework or stick and poke blackwork, depending on the request. They also enjoy taking pop culture references and 'gay-ifying' them. Lee states: "I love making tattoos that look like art anyone can enjoy."
Lee's career started with doing stick and poke pop-ups at zine fairs. Zines are playing an important role in their decision to become a tattooer, both in the artistic and committed level.
"Zines speak to my interest in gender and identity politics: I like when art serves to inform or communicate the experience of a community. I want my tattoos to do that too.
I’d love to look back on years of tattooing and see the community of artists and queer folk I've met reflected in it."
The will of the artist is to give a voice and to carve out a space for women, LGBTQ and POC in an industry where they seem neglected and, sometimes, uncomfortable.
Lee has had mixed experiences getting tattooed in shops themselves. The artist admits hearing many stories of non-consensual tattoo experiences that have happened to female-identifying customers: "It makes me angry and inspires me to be better than that and to listen to people."
These values are reflected in their tattoos, especially the outwardly political pieces. After Trump's inauguration last January, Lee started doing "fuck the patriarchy" tattoos and people have been requesting them ever since.
As they explain, "mainstream tattooing often has a sort of aggressive macho vibe about it and I think a lot of tattooers want to change that now." But if Lee is a feminist, for them, "that is just another way of saying that I believe in equality for all, it doesn't mean I hate men."
However, it’s not always very well received. Lee's anti-patriarchal and contemporary tattoos are often criticized by old-school members of the tattoo community. Yet, the artist is proud to be pushing boundaries and making the industry more inclusive. Lee rejoices:
"Not only is the style and content of tattoos becoming more inclusive but having a space that feels safer for folks to get tattooed in is softening the notion of tattoos as an ultra-masculine experience.
Tattooing is so personal, it makes sense to put effort into making people feel respected. And also,it can always be used as a conduit for expressing those values because it gives people the chance to interact on a level that they otherwise would not."
Follow Lee on Instagram and see more of their work below: