Jim Sanders at Into You Tattoo

The walls – and ceiling – of Into You Tattoo in Clerkenwell are currently covered in the religion-inspired, life-portraying works of Brighton-based artist Jim Sanders to mark the closure of the parlour’s central London franchise. The body of drawings plastering the space have been created over a period of five years and feature images of faces, figures and animals acting as studies of the human behaviours and interactions in an overcrowded world.

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Image courtesy of David Toolan

Jim Sanders // Artist

“I first met Alex Binnie about eight years ago as we shared the same framer (Alex is also an artist and originally trained as a medical illustrator, I believe) – Tim Harbridge, who ran a place in Kemptown called the Fair Trade Gallery. Tim is also a very fine musician and would put on gigs in the tiny gallery space, and Alex and I came across each other at one of these and immediately hit it off.

A few years later Alex invited me to have an exhibition of my work at his Into You Tattoo shop in London and that was the first time I saw the place. I have had maybe two or three exhibitions there now and Alex has visited my house on several occasions. I think him seeing the way my house looks prompted him to ask me to create a similar installation to commemorate their last year in their Clerkenwell location.

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Image courtesy of David Toolan

I had a vague plan of how I wanted to decorate the shop and my actual physical starting point was using the A0 photocopies of Alex’s woodblock print portraits of shop tattooists past and present. Alex had provided me with them a few weeks in advance of starting the installation and I had altered them by staining them with tea and cutting them in half vertically and mixing up the faces to create strange distorted characters. I pasted these onto the walls at a certain height all around the shop to create focal points and from there I let it grow pretty much organically. For example, a box of old polaroids taken in the shop 20 years ago served to make a fine frame around these portraits.

The starting point on the wall by the stairs (which had the largest drop) was three A0 photocopies of the full figure of Blue; the heavily tattooed receptionist. I wanted her to be like the God Shiva with many arms emerging, a towering presence to be seen when you entered through the door of the shop. The arms were taken from photographs of the other current tattooists.

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Image courtesy of David Toolan

I also knew that I wanted to cover the wall facing the door, separating the front of shop with the tattooing area with masks and faces, echoing the installation I created at Le Lieu Unique in Nantes.

The installation took one week to complete. I would start work at noon every day when the shop opened and would stay until about 10 or 11 at night – sometimes even one ‘o’ clock in the morning. I wanted the walls to be covered as with the skin; with nothing left untouched, and reflecting the same themes of imagery, mythology, astrology, symbolism, sex, and death.

The installation is there for the entire year, so I wanted to present an abundance of imagery so those frequenting the shop can keep discovering new stories hidden amongst the cacophony. I hope my work acts as a memorial to the life that has taken place at the tattoo parlour over the last 23 years. A reminder to regular visitors of what has gone on there, and maybe a sense of wonder for those encountering the place for the first time.”

Alex Binnie // Into You Manager

“I’ve had my shop in Clerkenwell for almost 23 years now. It’s a big space; too big almost. For a while we had different art shows in the front of the shop, but it got to be a drag organising it. I thought – let’s let Jim do something big and fun, and completely different to anything else in any other tattoo shop. I knew he could work big and fast, and he was up to the job.

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Image courtesy of David Toolan

I asked Jim to create something in his unique style, using raw materials I would provide. We got together some images from all of us at the shop and I let him run with it. One of the main elements is blow ups of some of the woodcut portraits I’ve done of some of the guys that work in the shop. I mainly left the creativity up to Jim though.

The customers like it for sure. Tattoo shops have started to have a bit of a generic look, and I wanted to mix it up a little. It’s gone down well.”

If you would like to see Jim’s work at Into You, you can visit the shop at 144 St John’s Street, London, EC1v 4UA, Monday – Saturday 12 – 7pm. Click here to visit the shop’s website.


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