Interviewed By Renae Bryant
I first saw the art of Justice Howard in the mid ‘90s. I distinctly remember the experience. I was in San Francisco, on tour, popping into an erotic arts gallery/store. I remember just being mesmerized by Justice Howard’s photography. It instantly made me feel excited and empowered. I was hooked. When I heard that she was doing an exhibit/benefit showing for the charity Children of the Night, which helps runaways, I couldn’t get there fast enough. The only regret I had that night was that I didn’t get to meet Justice Howard. The feeling was fleeting, as life would have it. A week later, walking around Ink Slingers LA, a photographer approached me about my tattoos. That photographer took some photos of my tattoos, then handed me her card. Holy shit! I had just met Justice Howard. This chance meeting would lead to over ten years of friendship. It is my pleasure to introduce you to or perhaps just help you learn more about the hyper talented, incredibly creative, Justice Howard.
OTR: You have earned the right to boast about your work. Who are some of the models you have photographed?
Justice: I always say others should do the boasting for you but if you insist....here’s a small list: MARILYN MANSON, DAVE NAVARRO, WAYLON JENNINGS, BLUE MAN GROUP, BILLY IDOL, EXENE CERVENKA, DICK DALE, ERIC BURDON, FIREBALL MINISTRY, PHIL VARONE, SIEGFREID & ROY, SYBIL DANNING, SEKA.... and the list goes on and on and on but that’s just a few I can think of right now.
OTR: Who has been your favorite model to work with and why?
Justice: Lately I’ve had a ball working with MIA TYLER , (Aerosmiths daughter) so at this point in time I’d say it’s her. She has such a wild streak coupled with a sharp creative edge that it’s always fun to shoot her and I always get amazing images with her, they even ended up in my calendar this year. SO yah, I’d say her because we bonded on a creative level and she’s a super girl.
OTR: When did you know that you wanted to become a professional photographer?
Justice: Well for the record I never started out to become one. I started out just having fun taking shots of my gorgeous girlfriends who were always "stunners". I’d say to one of them, "hey lets go out today and shoot some pics of you at this great location" and then you know wherever the location was we’d go and take some shots. I was really just doing it for fun for the creative element of things back then . I never really had any agendas to become anything at all back then. Then people started seeing the slides , cause back then we shot film, you know, and they were wowed by the images. So it was really at everyone else’s insistence that I got started in photography and not by any parameters of my own.
OTR: One of the many things I love about your photos is that you don’t use what people would consider “classic models.” It’s like you were doing “Suicide Girls” before they were doing it. How do you decide who you want to take photos of?
Justice: Well its always something that gets my creative juices going. That can be a person, a prop, or a location or even a vehicle. I love people who have a wild streak in them and a little bit of outlaw. That always works for me. I don’t like the vanilla or the pedestrian. Those have never worked for me. And yes I was shooting SUICIDE GIRLS in like 1997 I just never called it that. But my models were always a bit wilder than most of the regular shots you’d see. Another thing is that I always shoot my women as powerful entities. There’s one shooter who always has his models tied up or ball gagged and subjugated and I hate that. My models are always mini-Wonderwomen in positions of power and presence.
OTR: In that same vein, you are doing amazing work with your Diva Dolls creation. Please tell the readers about this project.
Justice: THE DIVA DOLLS is an event usually once a month or once every two months. I came up with this when I’d get over 50 emails a week all from girls who said "Gee I really want to work with you " so what I did was to drop my price making it very doable for any girl who wants to get shots from me. It’s $350 and includes hair and makeup and 5 retouched images and I have corsets and clothing and shoes and locations. So for that price you get all of this stuff and amazing photos that you now own and can use at will. Tons of the DIVA DOLLS end up getting published and in my yearly calendar and lots of places. 3 have gotten cover shots both here and in Europe and one girl that had never ever modeled before got the MOTORGIRLS calendar cover . It’s a great opportunity for anyone who wants to be a model or just get some great shots of themselves.
OTR: What have been some of the high points of your art so far?
Justice: Well I was just published in Esquire magazine and that’s pretty super. I also have my own bar in Washington DC. I don’t own the bar itself but all of my art is in the bar so it’s my own "art bar" and the bar is called THE TATTOO BAR its on 1413 K ST in Washington DC and they have my art blown up into gigantic proportions and behind light boxes so that’s pretty slammin’ right there. Myself and HR Geiger are the only artists that have their own art bars, so that’s kinda cool. I spoke to Elvira on the phone for an hour the other night and she and I are gearing up to do something pretty rad so I’m pretty stoked with that!! I was the person who took the last photos of Waylon Jennings and shooting him was pretty sweet, we bonded. Speaking to George Hurrell when I called him on the phone, yeah there’s been a few great moments to be sure.
OTR: When you do an exhibit, you don’t fuck around. It is an event. Tell our readers about some of your most memorable exhibits, or what they can expect from them.
Justice: Well my last 4 events have all gotten closed down by the cops. People apparently know that I don’t fuck around and that it will be an event yes, I guess the word is out!!! One of the last events, a show called TOYS KILL was closed down by the cops and the gallery owner was ticketed due to overcapacity. The show itself was super we had burlesque dancers, (Victoria Vengeance, Natalie Minx, and the Fearleaders) we had free vodka, free goodie bags, a DJ, damn it was just a slammin show. One show I had a while back had the belly dancer to the King of Siam dancing to NIN songs so I always have something else going on with the art, not just art, you know! At that same show I had a photo of a pair of fishnetted legs blown up like 12 feet high and you entered the art show by walking through these gorgeous legs. But yeah , its never just an art show there’s always lots of other stuff going on. One show in downtown LA I had with crime writer John Gilmore and the show was called SHARP EDGES so all of the art was stuck to the wall of the show with these gnarly knives. People loved it!!!
OTR: One thing that I love is when artists make affordable versions of their work for the everyday guy and gal. I know you do this. How can people, who want to own Justice Howard photographs, buy these?
Justice: They can buy a smaller version of a print. My large prints are generally pretty pricey and some are sold in very low numbers of 10 which are also pricey because there’s only 10 of them in existence. If someone wants to buy something of mine that they like can always get with me and make me an offer at any time. I can get them a smaller version on less pricey stock for a much better price.
OTR: You don’t make a big deal about it, but I would love for you to tell us about some of the charities that you’ve loaned your talents to and fundraised for.
Justice: Well basically my charity is CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT . I have gone down and taught the kids photography and I have photographed them for their graduation photos too. I had one show that made a lot of money for them and then about a year ago my boyfriend and I did a thing called ROCKN ROLL Bingo and we made some money for them then too which was good because of us they were able to pay their people that month . I really believe in COTN as I know DR LOIS LEE and what she’s about and I’ve spoken to a lot of these kids and I know it’s a worthwhile charity. It’s also Hugh Heffner’s charity. I was on the streets and homeless once myself so that’s why this charity has my heart.
OTR: We are here on this planet to share our talents, share/find our humanity, and make the world a better place. What wisdom are you willing to share, with our readers, that you have gained on your journey so far?
Justice: 3 things:
- BE really careful about who you LET and who you KEEP in you r life. The best advice was given t o me by a psychologist who was a friend at the time and he said "If anyone in your life is making you unhappy get rid of them"....and not long after that I began to clean house and I did just that. I got rid of everyone who was making me unhappy ....and after I did that I never felt happier or more at peace. IT takes a lot of guts to get the job done but it has great rewards after those efforts.
- There’s a saying that’s very old and very Asian and it goes like this....IF YOU STAY HUMBLE YOU WILL REMAIN ENTIRE. And I live by this. One thing I hate the most is people who have their head up their ass. There’s no reason for it.
- LEARN YOUR CRAFT. In any kind of career. If you want to be a mechanic learn how to use a screwdriver. If you want to be a doctor learn how to use a scalpel and if you want to be a photographer learn how to use a camera.
OTR: Everyone who gets interviewed by OTR will have at least one “political” question to answer, so here is yours. What is your take on 1) Schwarzenegger, 2) the ban on gay marriage in California, and 3) Obama?
Justice: I think you should be able to marry whomever the hell you want.
OTR: Thank you so much for taking time to answer all of these questions. Where can our readers currently find your art?
Justice: one, my website....on myspace....in European mags...in US mags......and particularly in an upcoming show geared for 2010 at Verve Gallery on gallery row in Los Angeles in a show I’m doing that will have a "Rock n Roll Outlaw" flair to it . I’ve already shot Lou Ferrigno, Mia Tyler, Seka, Fireball Ministry, Phil Varone and my boyfriend Neil Turbin for this exhibition. This will be a great show and no doubt this one will get closed down too ...so come early!!! LOL
Interviewed By Renae Bryant
I met Billy Barnett in the early 90’s, when he played bass in the band, Paranoid Pam. He was known then as an artist, sculpture and painter…as well as a musician. I suppose you could call him a consummate artist. We first featured Billy and his art in the second issue of On the Rag ‘Zine (print edition). Billy was just starting to apprentice at a tattoo shop. Almost a decade and a half of tattoos later, Billy is creating amazing art both on cloth canvas and the body canvas. What follows is my conversation with Billy as he tattooed Jared (all or nothing hc bass player). For the sake of full disclosure, Billy Barnett has done all of my tattoos. It is my pleasure to share his art with the world.
OTR: This is scary, but the last time I interviewed you was right as you were starting your career as a tattoo artist. When I interviewed you then, it was as an artist only. You started out apprenticing in the Inland Empire in the early 90’s. The move to Encinitas was extremely successful for you. Catch our readers up with your history in the tattoo world.
Billy: I tattooed in Riverside, for a couple of years while still playing in the band Paranoid Pam. Then I moved to Carlsbad (north county San Diego). I’ve been tattooing in Encinitas for the past twelve years. I’m now living in Oceanside. 454 Tattoo is a great shop on the coast.
OTR: Are there any artists who inspire your tattoo work, or any artists that inspire your painting or sculpture?
Billy: There are many things and artists that inspire me. Nature is a constant source of inspiration to me. Mother Nature, she is crazy.
OTR: What are the most satisfying tattoos you’ve done?
Billy: They’re all like children I can’t pick a favorite. I like to do all kinds of stuff, from inanimate objects to realistic stuff: Asian, flowers, color, black and grey. It really depends on the piece.
OTR: You make some incredible wire sculpture. When and how did these sculptures come about?
Billy: I’ve been bending wire for a long time. I used to make wire armetures for clay models. Sometimes the wire figure just looked good on its own. My friend’s aunt had made a wire figure with wire wrapped around and around. It was cool looking, heavy but cool. On a trip home from Venice, with a friend, I acquired some wire. I made a wireman pretty similar to the ones I still make. That was in ‘91 or so and I’ve been expanding on the ideas off and on ever since.
OTR: The late 90’s saw an influx of people wanting to become tattoo artists. What advice do you have for young artists?
Billy: Advice for young artists is simple. Get a good apprenticeship, even if your mom says you’re a great artist. There are a lot of variables that make a tattoo "technically" good. A good apprenticeship will help dodge some bad ideas; the lame blown out tribal you put on your friend and have to look at now forever. I know you can buy a kit, but don’t do it man. Step away, get some artwork together, and take it to someone reputable. If you’re lucky, they’ll need an apprentice and over time will be willing to tell you these guarded trade secrets. You’ll be glad you did.
OTR: How do you feel about the tattoo reality television shows?
Billy: Like anything else, there’s the good and the bad that comes with notoriety. The once untouched world of tattooing is now in your face, on television, in fashion and every where else. Many people are eating it up. It’s nice to see people getting tattooed now, that had maybe always wanted one but just weren’t sure about the process or was turned off to it in the late ‘90s when they got some "tattitude" from some guy at a shop. The shows have answered some of those questions. Now people do there homework and come up with some cool reference for ideas. The bad side is that they see a sleeve completed in a one hour show. Not really knowing the time, commitment and pain that is involved in something like that. Also many more suppliers have sprung up. A lot of gimmicks and misinformation have sprung up too. It will be interesting to see the tattoo industry evolve. All and all, I like watching the shows. If I don’t, I fast forward through that shoot.
OTR: Have any of the skills you learned from being in a band, ever came in handy in the tattoo shop (like dealing with personalities…)?
Billy: It gave me some funny stories to relate to the musicians that I do tattoo.
OTR: Do you have any good tattoo shop stories?
Billy: There have been some funny times in the tattoo shop in the past fourteen years. Too many to sort out… Ask me while you’re in the chair getting tattooed. The names in the stories will be changed to protect the locals.
OTR: What makes 454 Tattoo such an excellent place to get tattooed?
Billy: The location is nice, on the coast, next to a great record store, Lou’s. The artwork that is coming out of the shop on a daily basis is ridiculous. The owners’rule. It’s walking distance to "Juanitas" magical Mexican food experience. You can get barked at by my dog .you can get a coffee, a facial, a new or used cd, good Mexican food, buy art and books from Ducky Waddles, get tattooed and hit by a train; all within a few blocks of each other. Did I mention the beach? Hello, its kind of the place to be.
OTR: Now that the word has gotten out that you are so talented, how far in advance do people need to book with you?
Billy: Depending on the work involved on the tattoo, anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months. The best way is to get artwork together and bring it by the shop. We can set up a consultation or appt.
OTR: What is the best and the worst part of being a tattoo artist?
Billy: The best is my great clientele and being able to be creative with colors and ideas. I also enjoy being surrounded by great artists and being challenged everyday. The worst is the opposite. I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing, where I’m at. I appreciate it, and I’m still learning.
OTR: You prefer to do original work on people, so how does that come about?
Billy: Usually with the person coming to the shop with some reference for ideas or styles and such,that they might like. After a consultation, we’ll usually set an appointment to tattoo it.
OTR: Where can people see your tattoo art, canvas art and sculpture?
Billy: Some of my wire sculpture can be viewed at www.duckywaddles.com and www.myspace.com/billyb2g. Tattoo photos can be seen at www.454tattoo.com. I hope to have my website up and runner soon: www.billybdesigns.com and of course at the shop.
OTR: You’ve exhibited art at various art shows. What are your goals now as both a tattoo artist and creative artist?
Billy: Keep learning and expanding on ideas. I’d like to get more artwork out there. Some prints, etc. coming in 2009…
OTR: Any last words?
Billy: Let yer freak flag fly…
You can contact Billy Barnett at email@example.com and (760)942-2333.