A few months ago I started a large new tattoo. To my utter delight, Jeff Gogue had agreed to tattoo me back in 2018 and over the course of almost two years, I repeatedly had to postpone my trip until it seemed like it would never happen. COVID made another cancellation seem like a sure thing until at the last moment Oregon lifted restrictions enough to allow many businesses – including tattoo shops – to reopen safely. Artists got back to work and I packed my car and hit the road.
Deciding to get tattooed in the middle of a pandemic required some mental gymnastics on my part. First was wanting to follow through on something I had agreed to do, next was needing a carefully managed break from my tiny bubble of home/kids/grocery store, and finally, it was my deep desire to get tattooed by Jeff. If I’m honest it was the third one that tipped it – I really wanted this tattoo and the experiences that go along with it.
I felt a little abashed about getting my tattoo under such dire circumstances and took all safety measures seriously. By the time I was done, I had seen fewer people than I would have at the supermarket and my hands stung from all the sanitizer. It felt surreal to travel and that in it itself was strange. Before lockdown, I was clocking over 1500 miles a week commuting relentlessly to San Francisco and I really felt like I lived in my car. Now a pleasant afternoon’s drive left me starry-eyed and exhausted from all the stimulation and I hadn’t even made it to the shop yet.
Jeff Gogue is an artist worth traveling for. I would have happily hopped on a plane to work with him but lucked out that his shop, 26 Swords is only a scenic days drive from where I live in Northern California. Jeff has been tattooing for over twenty years and has owned his shop for 15. He is wildly talented, dignified, and friendly. He is world-renowned for his painterly, baroque compositions that lay on clients’ skin like a gorgeous tapestry. His impressive work ethic has meant 7 plus hours of straight tattooing with barely a couple of water breaks and the long afternoons have flown by with amiable conversation ranging over many topics. Our pleasant chats have been interspersed with me suffering quietly while Jeff hums along to good tunes and muses over how many layers of color he wants to pack into my tired, trembling flesh.
Turning over control of your skin to an artist you trust and admire to get tattooed on such a large scale is a unique kind of recreation. If people ask me why I don’t really have a good answer other than it is a pleasure reserved for those who find pleasure in it. Getting tattooed by Jeff has been an honor and a welcome break from the grind of making my life small and contained for safety while trying to maintain my sanity. It is no minor thing to break out of your bubble right now but for me, it feels right.
Jeff and I have a bit more to go on my tattoo. Well, Jeff, really. My participation just involves me laying there and taking it so I can’t take any credit. But I am extremely pleased with the results so far. It is always such a thrill to look forward to something and then have it not only meet your expectations but exceed them. These tattoo trips have become my only travel and socializing outside of my tight little circle and I find my desire for more “away time” intersecting with my appetite for ink leading me to ask Jeff to “go a little bigger.”
I don’t know when I will fly again, sit in a crowded restaurant or a darkened movie theater. Like so many of us, I am focused on doing my best and supporting my loved ones. Not making anything worse. The future seems so surreal and hard to peg – is this what you thought this year would be like?
But I know when I’ll be back in the bright, airy spaces of 26 Swords with art and color lining the walls. I know when I’ll be stretched out under Jeff’s watchful eye having my skin embellished while I chatter away and sometimes close my eyes against the sting. I’ll take pleasure from the simple act of going for a long drive in my car, visiting a different town (albeit safely), and supporting a terrific artist. I know I am lucky to have this opportunity and the resources and headspace to pursue it. It is a pleasure reserved for me and those like me. For now, this is enough – more than enough really.