Jonathan Shaw. There are many words different people may use to describe him. What some may see as only a shallow, brash and impetuous incendiary; actually is a true philosophical, transcendent soul. With layers of insight waiting to be peeled away.
When I decided to approach Mr. Shaw for an interview, I was filled with apprehension. Once he agreed to the initial questions, I then developed a great anxiety over what to ask him just imagining the responses I would receive. Stepping out in faith, I sent him a basic group of inquiries with instructions to answer all, or only the ones that moved him to respond. What I expected to learn about this man from his answers was not at all what I brought away from the interview. I can truly say what had begun as intimidation, turned to pure wonder and enlightenment with this man who calls Johnny Depp his soul brother.
One thing, Jonathan shared with me is the fact that when he did tattoo art, he was heavily influenced by the interaction he would share with the subject. Everyone knows that Shaw has inked some of the biggest names in Hollywood so I asked him about one of Hollywoods biggest actors, Johnny Depp’s ink. So how many of Johnny’s tattoos has Jonathan done and were Johnny’s tattoos a collaboration of their great genius together? He shared with me that he has done most of Johnny’s work and that they were always Johnny’s idea.
I just did ‘em the way he wanted ‘em done. Johnny’s an artist too, and a real good one at that, so I never questioned his taste or judgment about it the way I used to do with most people I tattooed those days, once in awhile you get somebody who knows exactly what they want and has the artistic vision and good taste to not need my two cents. Johnny was always like that. It was always a lotta, a lotta fun tattooing JD.
So, I asked the next logical question in my mind in reference to Johnny’s ink: what does the question mark that they both share mean? His answer; “That’s a good QUESTION!”
Since creativity is ignited by different things for different people, I asked him what ignites his creativity. His answer was simple: In a word, Life…Day to day life, with all its confusion, suffering, passion, anger, obsession, lust, beauty, ugliness, truth, poetry, hypocrisy, pathos, rhythm, smells, sounds, tragedy and humor. Viewing Jonathan’s life as a whole you see that he has inhabited some of the darkest and most hidden societies in culture today and in the past. Hang-outs where shady figures have colonized and loom in corners of unconventional America. Connected to this world are the demons of addiction and dysfunctional relationships. How did Jonathan pull himself up out of these depths? This inquiry I approached with uncertainty. The knowledge he had lived in that world since he was twelve, a fact that I held in the corners of my mind, made me realize how difficult it would have been for him to accomplish that first step on the road to recovery, since it was all he had ever known. Never the timid one, he paints a picture of survival and self preservation.
I think the first step for me to want to recover from all my addictions was the terrible admission that I was dying. That and the Desire to live and maybe find my way out of all that confusion and chaos and to find a WAY to live without liquor and drugs. (I went on) a crazy workaholic dry bender for almost ten years… I really got a lot of work done during those years of abstinence, built the whole FunÂ City empire, founded and managed the first quality mainstream tattoo magazine, traveled the world and leapt tall buildings in a single bound…but I was a madman, even worse than when I was on drugs. Crazy, violent, stressed, insane. Finally I crashed and burned and nearly kicked the bucket about eight years ago. Then I sobered up again. But this time I finally came to the conclusion I’d better take this whole recovery business serious, might not get another chance Johnny Depp actually took me to my first meeting that last time- not that he’s a recovering anything, just a real friend and I needed a kick in the ass to start me on my merry way again… Writing has been the most important tool in my recovery too, so I don’t take that s**t lightly. Hopefully some of the stuff I’ve been putting down may actually help somebody figure their own s**t out and wake up. Cuz at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Watching Jonathan tattoo, you notice his hands move with the fluency of a painter as he applies his brushstrokes to the canvas. Reading his newer art form writing, the same feeling of an artist’s soul glimpsing out from beyond the shroud can be seen. I asked him if he felt this in one form more than another.
Tattooing was just… easier. Less demanding on my soul and, being a natural artist, I just went with that, almost by default cuz it fit in nicely with my lifestyle, traveling around the world and all that. So it was very convenient to me as a career, a trade… and I did pretty good at it, even though somewhere deep inside I think I always knew I was just treading water till I could grow the balls to really dedicate myself to writing full time…That’s how important it is to me now.
What was it that instigated this change in profession in the timeline of his life? He describes it as more necessity than anything else.
The fact is I’ve been retired from tattooing for nearly a decade now. There’s a reason for that. Basically, I got sick of it. Sick of doing it every day.
It does seem Jonathan may look at life from an outside point of view now, removing himself mentally to see the total screen. His wisdom which may have come with age, or just experience shows as he states:
âI almost feel as if I just got sidetracked for twenty years by something else, and now I’ve finally just gotten back on track, back to doing what I’m really supposed to do. For me writing was always my first love, even during all the years I spent as a full time tattooer.
Morphing himself from one entity into another is one more item that Jonathan can check off on his list of accomplishments. His gift of self-expression has carried over into his new endeavor of writing. Not lost on mundane fiction, the blunt honesty that is a part of his personality is portrayed in his fluent storytelling. He shows his passion:
For me writing a book is like having a kid or something. You love it and nurture it and obsess over it and raise it the best you can. Then one day it just goes out into the world and does its own thing. Could turn out to be a Nobel Prize winner or a serial killer. This is just what I really love to do, express myself with language, paint pictures with words. Storytelling. Poetry…And I guess I always did love it.
His new book, Narcisa is out now in the states and is selling more rapidly than they can print it. Jonathan is in Rio working a rewrite for a major publishing house. How much better could it get? At the point where Johnny himself actually broke into a cold sweat when I read him some of the first chapter. He had to take his coat and hat off! It was pretty funny, watching him get that strong a reaction to it. There are many who are already pointing towards a screen version. How does Jonathan react to this? Certainly in his honest to himself behavior,,,,
Maybe they’ll wanna make it into a movie someday… Folks have been telling me they could easily see that. Like people In the film business, people in the know. That would be really cool! So I guess we’ll see where it all goes. That would be some big fun I think, but I don’t really care much. I just wanna hang out and keep writing my crazy little stories. Where it all goes from there, who the f**k knows…
As with most genius minds, Jonathan views life on the edge of his own eccentric perception, an understanding that only other minds like his own can truly comprehend.
It’s no wonder so many writers end up blowing their f**king brains out. All writers are insane. You gotta be. And if you’re not, you will be by the time you’ve written a book or two, believe me….Words are very powerful. And if one isn’t careful with them, they can easily pave the road to Hell.. Or Heaven. Or some terrible limbo somewhere on the outskirts of Purgatory. Whatever..
After a generation of surprises and accomplishments, Jonathan Shaw is not yet finished. The sun is rising over the mountains of his career and life. It seems he is gazing towards the horizon ready to face the dawning of a new day. The new world is open to him and the possibilities are infinite.
For more information on Jonathan Shaw check out his website www.scabvendor.com.
Interview by Guest Writer Lizzy Garcia