We sat down with tattoo artist Tyler B Murphy to learn what the Sins of Style are and what it's like to tattoo Die Antwoord's Ninja.
With Die Antwoord's Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er spotted hanging in Los Angeles recently, interest has sparked in Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming project Chappie. The film is inspired by Blomkamp’s short, Tetra Vaal, and is co-written by Blomkamp’s wife, Terri Tachell. Media Right Capital and Sony have teamed up to finance the project, but perhaps the most anticipated aspect of the film is Blomkamp’s casting of the South African hip-hop group. With this in mind we reached out to Tyler B Murphy, the artist responsible for Ninja’s tattoos, to find out more about his shop Sins of Style and the visual aesthetic of the Zef trio.
Working by your slogan "richly finished tattoos" and offering uniquely tailored tattoos, Sins of Style has become much more than just a tattoo parlor, how did it all start and what drew you towards tattooing?
I started working at Wildfire Tattoos in 1995 initially just to make money for spray paint as I was young and wanted to paint every second of the day. I was 15 and still at school so I just worked holidays and weekends. I fetched and cleaned for years and eventually started apprenticing, then started tattooing full time in 2001. The more time I spent working in the tattoo shop, the more I could see similarities between tattooing and graffiti. It is a natural progression that many graffiti writers make. Lee Herbert, Warren Peterson and Kaptain Cade all work at Sins of Style and still paint graffiti. In 2006, I moved on to do my own thing, traveling and working at different spots until I opened Sins of Style in 2008.
What does "Sins of Style" mean?
It basically means "separation of style." There are six tattoo artists currently working in my shop and each of us specialize in different styles. We always steer the client towards the artist that will best satisfy their needs. We aim to create well-referenced, solid tattoos that fit the body well. Each tattoo is placed with consideration for both existing and future tattoos. All tattoos are created with a good understanding of the style that the client has chosen.
Is a certain medium or style more rewarding or do they offer their own dynamic experiences?
I find it is good to practice a variety of styles. Whether it is big Asian tattoos, hand-poked portraits or small first-timer pieces. It gives you the opportunity to try new things and it humbles you daily. I have started to tattoo some of the woodcut-style illustrations that I have been working on. It is important to branch out. For my next project, I feel drawn to the process of painting letters with a brush. My son’s art pseudonym is Jack Fox and he skipped using spray paint and just uses brushes. I see it as an appealing, antiquated approach to art. The same thing is happening with my skateboarding. I just started riding a Rodney Mullen freestyle board, a reissue of his 1982 shape. I have wanted to ride a freestyle board since 1992. All these things require the patience of an apprentice.
With your background in graffiti, do you practice in any other mediums? I'm thinking about those incredible prints you did of Ninja. How do you feel when switching between these mediums?
I do illustrations. I am busy with a pair of pen-on-paper pieces that are going to be screen printed and distributed by 1xRUN. Faith 47, my son’s mother put me onto them. The modern artistic processes have a simple history. I find it interesting researching how art was made centuries ago and integrating those processes into my own practice. Old woodcut prints, sign writing and hand-poked tattoos are all the predecessors to graffiti and electromagnetic tattooing. It is good to look back and see how it all started. There is an intriguing challenge in recreating antiquated processes.
Sins of Style has, through your refusal to pursue the mainstream, developed an underground following. Why do you think tattooing is so important to people?
Tattooing is not important, it is a luxury. No one needs a tattoo. If you are not drawn to it, it is not for you. Tattooing is a sort of calling. It is a way to create an illusion of consistency in your thoughts and actions. The images you get tattooed serve equally well in helping you maintain a mindset or to remind you how much you have changed. It is a kind of timeline. Often, we reach out for permanence and find change.
Why do you think permanence is so highly sought after?
In tattooing, it is ultimately about how you feel. At first glance it would seem that surface appearance is important but truthfully it is all done to achieve a desired state of mind. Permanent marks translate in thought to a consistent mindset. Tattoos are, in essence, wishes made physical.
Speaking of permanence, Die Antwoord’s visual aesthetic - in which you have played a significant role in developing through your signature hand-poked tattoo style - is well known. How did you meet Ninja and begin working with him?
I used to be in a graffiti crew with SIBOT, Ninja's DJ from an early band, and I got to know Ninja through hanging with SIBOT at shows. Over the years, he spoke about getting tattooed by me but I only ended up tattooing him after he had tattooed himself a few times at my shop. After that, he was keen on me doing a few South African prison-inspired tattoos. To date, every tattoo except for two I've done on Ninja is hand-poked. At first when I started tattooing Ninja, I was interested in making the tattoos rough like they look in prison. Later, I started pushing the style to make it neat and I started experimenting with both color and shading. This change of process became what I term “Stoeka Style.” The definition of "stoeka" is steez or big tattoo.
Having referenced South African prison imagery, do you think Ninja's tattoos have any cultural significance?
Ninja has managed to encompass so much of the hidden aesthetics that make up the real essence of South African males. His tattoos address things that most of us are either oblivious to or not proud of. Culturally, we were close to being drowned by "Americanisms" but Die Antwoord helped reveal the Zef that has always existed. Ultimately, they gave us something we can all relate to. It is these ideas that are made physical through Ninja’s tattoos.
Finally, what has drawn both you and Ninja to these South African prison-style tattoos? Why do they spark so much interest?
As a modern man, there are very few rights of passage rituals that we can indulge in. As a result, we are forced to create new ones. Artists in a city environment often choose to write their names on trains to prove their worth, just as I did. This act in turn makes you aware of its consequences; essentially, the possibility of being incarcerated. At an early age, I researched as much as I could about life behind bars. This ultimate and realistic outcome to criminal behavior had to be understood in order to be survived. Most poignantly, the poor criminal classes have organized the South African prisons in ways as secret and intricate as Free Masonry. The tattoos that these men wear are so ugly and yet so fascinating. These are the men whose bodies Ninja examined and pondered over while working out his answer to being South African.
Tyler B Murphy is the owner of Sins of Style in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD.
Blomkamp’s Chappie is in theaters March 27, 2015
This article was written by Houghton Kinsman for Highsnobiety.com
To see Ninja sporting his ink, check out his latest release with Die Antwoord - "Ugly Boy".