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[Video] Tattoo artists Joseph Siow and Bobo McGrylls on taking the path less travelled

Visual Orgasm’s Siow and McGrylls open up about a decade of shared history, pivoting into the tattoo industry, and the stories behind the ink.

It’s a sultry day in Haji Lane, the hipster centre that is home to small independent fashion retailers, quirky cafes, and one tattoo studio called Visual Orgasm. Despite the heat, the studio’s founder, Joseph Siow, manages to look cool and unflappable as he slips on a stylish jacket and takes a stroll through his hood. He is on a shoot for Ermenegildo Zegna’s new “Defining Moments” film, which features conversations between successful individuals who are making waves in their field. In this case, Siow’s co-star is none other than his friend and colleague at Visual Orgasm, Bobo McGrylls.

Both men met more than a decade ago, when McGrylls first approached Siow for an apprenticeship. The latter was a self-taught tattoo artist who had earned a name for himself for his free-hand work, although, at that point, he was unable to take McGrylls under his wing. Nonetheless, they stayed in touch through the years, and, when McGrylls started building custom made tattoo machines to accommodate an individual artist’s strokes and techniques, he reached out to Siow for feedback. Through this process, they began working together on a customised tattoo machine, eventually striking up a friendship based on the mutual exchange of ideas and a shared passion for tattoos and art. Last year, McGrylls officially joined the studio as a tattoo machine maker and tattoo artist.

 

 

One of the core experiences that bonds both men is how they each started out in very diff erent fi elds, before eventually finding their sanctuary in the tattoo studio. McGrylls was working as an engineer in the oilfield when he started building custom-made tattoo machines. “I’ve always wanted a job that would accommodate the way I look with my tattoos,” he says, as the camera focuses on his tattoo-covered biceps and forearms.

Siow, on the other hand, was a graduate from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts when he first tried to cut his teeth in the world of advertising. It wasn’t long before he got disenchanted with following clients’ orders and realised that it was tattooing that really allowed him to exercise his creativity. He ended up committing to a lifetime in the trade. “I got some visible tattoos on my arm and on my neck to keep me rooted to the craft,” he reminisces. “With tattoos all over, I can’t go on to any other job.”

  • Joseph Siow is a self-taught tattoo artist who had earned a name for himself for his free-hand work.

Not that any other career would be as rewarding, given the emotional dividends of working in this field. Getting a tattoo is a momentous affair, as it often represents something deeply profound to the customer. To both men, being able to listen to their customers’ personal stories and helping to tell them through the indelible etching of art on their skin is what makes the job worth doing.

“Tattooing is a very intimate process between the client and the artist,” Siow explains. “Whenever clients open up to you and tell you about the story behind the tattoos they want, you feel privileged to be in this position, to mark them for life so that they will remember this moment.”

Bobo McGrylls and Joseph Siow

The passion for tattoos and art that both share is a single-minded one. It is all that Siow can talk about; their relationship is solidly built upon the exchange of opinions, ideas, and learning from each other in the name of progress.

And so it has come to pass that the two men are honouring their craft on a hot afternoon, standing against a mural not far from their studio. A tattoo might not have been the best form of art to capture this moment, but, luckily for us, there’s film.

(Related: Watch award-winning chefs Julien Royer and Kirk Westaway discuss how friendship got them to the top of their game)