I have 14 tattoos now. Sorry, mum. The last one I did last night with my brother and skilled artist Aaron Walsh. This was the third piece of art I’ve been fortunate enough to receive from this true friend after we did two earlier beautiful pieces at the Sai Baba Hotel in Pushkar when we were both staying there in December.
Just two days before working with Aaron last night, I’d spent the best part of the last two weeks working with another friend on a purely organic and unique 25 hour arm piece. I laid out on the porch of my room at Kudle Beach beside the ocean and Oliver poked every single piece of ink individually onto my arm forever.
With Aaron the work was spontaneous and simple but incredibly important for me in terms of the significance of the symbols and the word they represent.
It was something I had wanted to do for years and now all of that is infinitely more special because he was the one who inked it in. In spite of the importance of what was being set into my skin, we couldn’t help but laugh our way through most of the whole session because that’s what happens when two really good friends just hang out. In his small hot room, with me lying under the pink mosquito net, my hand stretched out to be held by his, Aaron rocking the head light, and us both wearing very little clothing, there was definitely a strong Village People vibe being given off; at least until a pair of angels turned up with a couple of cold beers. It was fun and later we all went out together and got pissed.
With Oliver it was an almost mythical experience.
Oliver doesn’t have a single tattoo on his body, but he is a pure artist and was trained by some serious tattoo masters at the time we both met in the Himalayas six summers ago. When our paths finally crossed again here, we talked a little about what we wanted to get out of the experience then I let him draw free hand onto my skin in white paint the design that we would later turn into the tattoo. I told him nothing about what I needed in terms of philosophy or style and just let him get on with it. I put pure trust in his ability to create and to connect with me as a friend.
The result is an incredible monument to the effort he put into it and the time we spent together just going with the flow while under the shade of the coconut trees we worked away as the waves crashed against the rock less than ten metres away. Friends came and went at various points of the day to drink and smoke with us. People we didn’t even know properly would offer to bring us cushions, or food and drink from the restaurant. It was an incredible experience and on at least four almost other worldly occasions time literally stopped for us both. It was amazing and before he headed off up the road again, on a 36 hour train journey to Orissa, we hugged it all out.
Every one of my tattoos tells its own tale.
For my first piece I blacked out onto the floor mid-session after smoking a joint in the car before we went up to the studio. The magnificent cover job over that same piece was done by the hand of the best and most beautiful of all Barcelona tattoo artists, Soledad Aznar. The Goa pieces. My Sisyphus. Buddha facing down one of the Hungry Ghosts. My ripped off heart from Andy Warhol to mark the most intense and insane relationship I ever had in Rio de Janeiro one summer. They warned us to stay far apart but I flew to her anyway and It was worth every second. The same eternal seconds that tell my grandmother who brought me up, and who I could not get back in time to touch and talk to one last time before she passed, that the words written in her native Irish tongue on my wrist lift me up and carry me on her strength and love every single day.
My tattoos are a road map that remind where I came from, where i’ve been, who I was with, what I did, and where I need to keep heading towards. These feelings are heavy for me right now because I wear coconut oil as I write this and the ink on my arms is still to dry out, but it is also equally true that I believe tattoos can be random, fun, and sometimes just plain silly.
A crazy French friend of mine here told me about how one night he had to sleep in a car. He was bored, had a tattoo gun, some ink, and decided to randomly hook up the machine to the cigarette lighter and drunkenly etch Made In France to the bottom of his foot, just because he felt like it. A beautiful Israeli angel I know has a weird little space ship tattooed onto the base of her spine. She did it in El Borne in Barcelona and doesn’t even remember where exactly she went to get it done, or even why she did it.
And that is the thing about tattoos.
You get them impulsively on the road when travelling and realising that you are in the midst of an incredibly special moment that needs etching onto your skin forever. Or it can be a piece painstakingly designed and doubted over for years by your own hand until on the exact right moment when the stars align it is finally and uniquely delivered to your body. Or they are words or symbols, irrelevant to others, that you know need to resonate on your outside because you feel the same thing a hundred times as strong in the depth of your soul. And then there is simply happenstance. The heart-stopping beauty of an image you see in a temple or a gallery. Or the flower blossom you watched fall from a tree and land at your feet in Japan. Six simple words from a song you hear sung in a language not your own on a beach in Paradise. The best, magical moments, thoughts, or ideals of your life you know you must be reminded of daily for the rest of it.
It’s no coincidence that 13 of my 14 tattoos have been made on the road. There is something about the transient nature of travelling or living in a place not of your birth that reminds us that our days are forever passing too quickly and that one way or another we should always be looking to leave our mark. A tattoo announces that sentiment to the world for the rest of your life, but the journey never ends.