The Inked Art of Geoff Horn
“Tattooing is my life. When I wake up, I draw. When I get home from the parlor I’m painting and constantly thinking about new ideas and concepts for tattoos. I didn’t really know why people opened their own shops when I was younger, but for me, I wanted to have the freedom to tattoo how I wanted without being limited,” say Geoff Horn, owner of Hole In The Sky Tattoo Parlor in West Paterson. After working in other shops for years, Geoff opened this new space in the fall of 2011, looking to spread traditional Japanese tattoo art New Jersey, inspired by his own extensive inked-life experiences.
Traveling to participate in conventions around the world, Geoff has tattooed in thirteen different countries including England, Whales, Scotland, Sweden, Netherlands, Canada, Costa Rica, Rome and across the United States. He says, “In the past two years I’ve gotten really good because I watched and learned from so many different people from all over.” Having met many different tattoo artists, Geoff has noticed the difference between new artists and those with more experience, realizing that there is a progression within the art’s practice, “First you have a year or two of fame where everyone seems to really be into what you’re doing. Then you sort of fade away into the background, and that’s when you get really good and produce tats like crazy. When I was younger, I was all about getting famous and doing as many tattoos as possible. As I traveled and as I got older, my philosophy changed. Once you get over the fame and you travel, you learn so much and focus on what you really want to do.”
Geoff was initially captivated by American style tattoos, stemming from his involvement with the hardcore music scene, a community that strongly promotes and accepts body art and modification, with his first inspiring artists being Ed Hardy and Dan Higgs. Hardy’s imagery brought Japanese themes to the American style. One of Geoff’s favorite books, Tattooing the Invisible Man by Ed Hardy, still plays a large role in Geoff’s perception of beauty in tattoos. In Geoff’s eyes, Higgs then took the mixing styles to a “weirder” level, further developing Geoff’s interest in Japanese art. “I remember in 2001, looking at Japanese art and thinking I should avoid that kind of stuff. Now that I’m older I’m really into the traditional way of Japanese tattoo art. I get really excited about doing huge back pieces and art that covers large areas of the body. The overall layout of Japanese tattoos is just beautiful.”
In his traveling, Geoff has found that although many of the Texas tattoo artists do a lot of American style tattoo art, he started admiring their work in particular, appreciating the amount of detail they add to each design. “I was really into what I thought was the really weird stuff, like an elephant with twelve eyes or something,” Geoff explains, “Now there isn’t really too much that I think is really weird.” The most interesting piece he has had to design and tattoo so far was “a rat on top of a piece of cheese on top of a slice of pizza. This guy in the Netherlands tried to throw me for a loop but I didn’t think it was that weird; Maybe to other people, but not me.”
Most recently, although his favorite themes to draw are always changing, Geoff has drawn inspiration for his own work from Japanese style tattoos, favoring the ancient style over the more contemporary American style. “There’s a reason the tradition of Japanese art has stayed the same over the last 200 years. The thing is, when learning Japanese traditional art, you have to copy exactly what the artist does to a ‘t’ and everything looks exactly the same between the artists,” he says, “But in the U.S., many artists think their ideas are getting ripped off when someone has something as simple as a similar rose or petal in something they drew. The thing is that American tattoo images are usually the same. If you think about it, with all art, nothing is ever really new.” Geoff remembers attending a Philadelphia convention and noticing that from the dozens of American style artists, it was hard to tell them apart. When it came to other kinds of tattooing styles by people from different areas of the world, Geoff says, “That’s when you could tell where the artists were getting creative and you could put a name to it.
The Japanese style didn’t come naturally to Geoff, who had to learn techniques by practicing a great deal and watching others. He says, “To be honest I will never fully grasp it all. There are so many stories and meanings behind it that I will never fully understand, mainly because I am not Japanese and I did not grow up in the culture. My first attempts were around 2007. It took so long to finish these big pieces. I went in and out of it. Around 2010 is when I started taking it serious by really pushing to finish projects and getting a much better understanding of the layout and design aspect of it.”
Though the Hole In The Sky shop gives off a Japanese vibe—sliding wooden shoji doors into the main parlor, minimal furniture, and soft colors, the Woodland Park space got it’s antiqued accents from the tattoo parlors where Geoff tattooed in Sweden. Many tattoo shops in Sweden adopt an antique look but are dimly lit, so the parlor looks more like a living space. “I like to bring the light into the shop,” says Geoff, “so it’s more comfortable than a regular tattoo shop in America stuffed with televisions and American art.”
When it came to designing the logo for the shop, friend and graphic designer, Walter Shock helped him with the image. “When I was opening I knew I wanted to cross American and Japanese tattooing together mainly because it was the styles that I do the most,” Geoff explains, “I picked an image from each aspect of tattooing that is rather recognizable. The eye is used over and over again in American designs, and the Daruma doll is a well known Japanese design.“
Years of experience and amicable attitude towards his clients has helped his clientele proliferate. He says, “returning customers trust me, so a lot of times they tell me to do whatever I want and they like it. Now I tell people I need at least a concept because I want to make sure they are really into it too. I want the clients to be sure they will be happy with their tattoo for at least ten to fifteen years.” Geoff is very appreciative of his committed staff, which is as passionate and enthusiastic about tattooing as he his, “My staff and I agree that it’s not like a job for us. From a signature in script or to a whole sleeve, we want our clients to know we care. It’s important to have a good relationship with the client, trust and treat everyone as you would like to be treated. The atmosphere is different.” And it’s this atmosphere that Geoff has honed, combined with his endless passion for the art that has created more than just a tattoo shop, but a truly distinct new locale. “With endless support from my friends and my clients for my business, everything has just sort of fallen into place.” Geoff says, “I used to think it was just dumb luck that good things happened to me, but now I think that everything happens for a reason. If you work hard and be honest with people, things usually work out.”