Who Did Your Ink? is the Straight’s weekly feature, where we ask badass Vancouverites about the talented artists, indelible stories, and, at times, questionable antics behind their most treasured tattoos.
In this special video edition, we talk to legendary tattoo artist Bart Willis.
What's your name? Bart Willis.
Who did your ink? I’ve been tattooed all over the United States, Europe, and Japan, but I have this Japanese body suit that was done by Chris Trevino in Austin, Texas.
Chris and I have been working together for 20-some-odd years, and I thought I’d be done by the time that I was 40. I’m 50 now and I’m not quite done yet. Chris is amazing. He’s the real deal, he was probably one of the first Americans to work in the Japanese style and go to Japan and study and learn.
To me, it’s like going to school to go and get tattooed by him.
Why did you choose these artists to do your tattoos? I have from all over the world, so like most tattooers, we collect ink from our travels and from people that we admire.
It’s one of the ways that we get to know people; you get to learn when you get tattooed from people you admire so I’ve been collecting them for just about 30 years.
Is there any meaning behind them? Some of them have a lot more profound meaning than others. Some of them have no meaning at all; it's just something fun and silly, even decorative.
Tattoos don’t have to have meaning. It drives me kind of bonkers, everybody obsessing that they have to have this meaning. Sometimes it’s okay just to have them for fun.
Who's your favourite local tattoo artist? I don't know a lot of the tattoers in Vancouver because my circle here has been fairly small, and tattooers aren't necessarily the most social lot amongst themselves. But I used to work with Jesse Albert Jr. Not only is he a badass tattoer, but he has a ton of integrity.
Him and Nick Wasko, the two owners Strathcona's Palace Tattoo (684 East Hastings Street)—I completely and utterly respect their art. I haven't had time to get tattooed by either of them, but it's my intention to get tattoed by them the next time our paths coincide. I send people here and they always leave happy. They're my favourite Vancouver tattooers.
Of course, there is the Dutchman too. I've never met him, but I've known about him forever. I'd say that he's the living grandfather of Vancouver tattooing, apart from Doc Forbes.
For an extended interview, watch the video below.