Monday, 5 December 2011

Some colour to skin

Juanita Kakoty speaks to Ami James and etches out the different strokes of ‘NY Ink’ as compared to its earlier version, ‘Miami Ink’.

Colouring in Ami James, in a still from ‘NY Ink’.Celebrity tattoo artist Ami James was the frontrunner of the hit American Reality TV series, Miami Ink. He has now moved base from South Beach, Miami to New York, where he has set up shop with an all new crew. His experience in New York is the dough for a new series — NY Ink, which premiered recently on TLC.

James speaks of how NY Ink is different from Miami Ink — “The tattoos have changed a bit. The styles of tattooing right now are a little more hip. We have, luckily, this beautiful shop in the middle of SoHo, which is in the heart of the Art District of New York City; the oldest Art District. The whole vibe of being in SoHo and being around all the art and galleries makes it the Mecca for artists. It’s like being part of a quintessential New York lifestyle and its family of artists.

TLC’s NY Ink is a lot faster paced, if you ask me. Also, we have New Yorkers in every episode, which is something that we never had in Miami Ink — New Yorkers who have stumbled onto something hard and have managed to put that behind them with a commemorative tattoo. And this season is going to be even better because we’ve got this machine as well oiled as possible.”

At this point, James reveals that, when first conceived of, the reality series was to originally begin in New York.

Circumstances made Miami the choice. “Initially when Charlie Corwin, the
producer of the show, and I met, it was in New York City. At that time, I was living in New York for 14 years, pretty much back and forth. I would do summers in New York and winters in Miami. I started tattooing in New York as much as I started tattooing in Miami. I know Miami was my first apprenticeship, but going up to New York meant learning from the other artists and being around people like Chris Garver.

Initially, the show was supposed to be New York Ink before Miami Ink. This was seven years ago and there were risks. What if the show didn’t make it? There was the fear of losing all that money. Hence, it just made more sense to go down to Miami, which meant a quarter of the price and it was still a thriving city.”

Reality show

Talking about tattooing and reality TV, James reflects, “A reality show definitely gives you a form of fame. And when fame comes, certain things are lost forever, or at least for a while. And I think you lose some of the things you used to enjoy as an artist — the freedom to just go and do your own thing, the freedom to be unperturbed by your surroundings. But, on the other side, there are perks. You’re able to provide for your family, and you’re able to start businesses. You try to become more of a grounded person who looks more into the future, rather than an artist that lives day by day. So, you lose something and you gain something. I think I was lucky that I was not very young when I got in there. I started at 33. I would’ve hated to see myself as a 22-year-old with that much fame. I think it would’ve probably killed me.”

Ami James was born on April 6, 1972; he was born and raised in Israel. “When I was 12, I moved to Miami with my mother and brother. At 17, I went back to Israel and joined the army for three years as a volunteer. It wasn’t mandatory because I wasn’t living in Israel, but since all the friends I grew up with had to do their time, I felt I should probably do the same.”

James returned to Miami when he was 20 and started his tattoo career. But, he admits, his association with tattoos started in Israel while volunteering with the army.

“I was getting tattooed by a friend and when he took a break, I tried to finish my tattoo. That was my first glimpse of tattooing.”

However, he has always been an artist ever since he can remember. “I was one of those kids who couldn’t stop playing with his crayons. I drew all day. And then, that just evolved to art though I’ve never been to any art school. I never even graduated high school. I had attention deficit disorder and a pretty good learning disability at the time. It just made more sense to drop out and go into service.”

“My art has got me by my whole life.” And James got into tattooing because he was drawn to body suits as a child, has always loved martial arts and Asian imagery.
As he says, “I enjoy doing these best. That’s my thing.”

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