I first came across GZY two years ago when, through his work at Ink’d Tattoo Barnsley, based in the Thomas Whitworth Forum. He had a very destinctive and unique style that I saw develop over the years, with his work now appearing on poster and t-shirts all over Europe. I wanted to find out a little more about how he got to where he is now and where he goes from here.
So how did the name GZY come about, and what’s your real name?
Back in the days, some friends used to call me Jesus. Don’t even ask my why, ha! Over time Jesus was transformed into Geezy and later GZY, my three letter tag name. My real name? Well… I don’t even think my mom uses it now. For you curious ones, I’ll just say it’s like a famous cartoon character’s name.
Do you remember when you first got into art and what inspired you?
The majority of art interviews start with ‘oh, art is my life’ but I don’t really remember when it all started. I know some kids can spends hours with theirs crayons and pencils but I was the naughty one, throwing my pencils at other kids. Later some people noticed my gumption and tried to direct me but I wasn’t bothered. It was a hard task to try to make me doing something and I didn’t like doing what other people wanted me to do. I’d do the opposite just to spite them.
I remember always being more of an observer than a doer. My life is like one big research project. There are many people I watch for ages and they still amaze me time after time. But for all my inspirations, I blame rock’n’roll and the street. Freedom and liberation, untouched by social doctrines.
At 16, I become a roadie for a band called Her. Musically, the band was really good and the guys were also involved in some art movements. It was great inspiration for me at the time. These were the first people who tried to motivate me through acceptance and faith, rather than telling me off. I felt that they really believed in me. They inspired and they taught.
Around that time, the internet was full of post-9/11 Macromedia Flash Animations. I know it’s not very nice subject matter but the animations influenced me so much. I found out quickly the capabilities of this software. This was the first time I really started to design. Me and Her’s vocalist were animating bands websites. These sites were interactive and were taking a viewer into a different place. Sometimes our crazy ideas couldn’t be even be suppored by the slow internet back then. Later we did some music videos too. Everything was D.I.Y. and rock’n roll back in those days. Because of the way I worked and the look of my designs, people tried to steer me in the direction of architecture but I knew better.
What’s your background and training? Did you go to college/uni? Have you had any support through enterprise programmes etc?
When I was young, I attempted some evening art classes, but I either got kicked off or I left because it was boring. I’m very self taught. I moved over here nine years ago. A lack of previous academic education was the main reason why all of my applications for big universities have been rejected. Then I was given a last chance at University Campus Barnsley, where I am studying now.
My glass is half-full but there is a full jug next to it. You just need to find a way of filling the glass. Even thought my tutors are very helpful and friendly, I’m not really satisfied by the level of the education there. There are many internal issues. To be honest, I wanted to leave after first year. The bright side of it, is my Printmaking tutor. He is a real gold mine of knowledge.
Many people will know you as a tattoo artist first and foremost. Most of what you post online tends to be your own designs and you often look for people to act as your canvas for those designs. You have a very distinct style. Can you tell me about that style and also, I was wondering if you could tell me about the balance you might have between your own designs, working with clients to create a design for them, or just your basic ‘flash’ stuff.
I’m influenced by so many artists in so many genres. I’m very anxious and feverish too. One day you ask me for a design but it doesn’t mean I’ll do the same design in the same way the day after. I try to not stick to rules or patterns. When I design things, I try to apply to them an influence that has foundations in the moment. That’s why I say I don’t have a definitive style.
Tattooing it’s a very broad subject characterized by various images, techniques and applied processes, and I am always learning and acquiring new skills. I think I still haven’t done enough to know which way I want to go next and I’m still searching. Today, there is no limit in tattooing. However, there is a limit in the customer’s acceptance.
In Europe, designing tattoos using mixed media is pretty normal. It’s happened for years. Germany and France are massive inspiration for me, not only in tattooing but also in almost every art style. The majority of my own tattoos come from there. Most of my prints sell there too and that makes me very happy. I’m always try to spend time showing my clients different options; different ways of doing things. Sometimes if I have the time, I’ll do their design in two ways. The way I see it and the way client wants to get it done. Unfortunately, the majority of times client is a winner. I have some regular customers who are trusting of me though and come back for my own designs, but It doesn’t happen often yet. Again, the response is bigger abroad.
Recently, you seem to be actively doing more graphic design and illustration for posters, flyers, tshirts etc. Do you remember your first job and how that has developed since? Who are some of your more notable clients you’ve produced work for?
These things were always around me – design, illustration. I’m just like a candle. Sometimes burning, sometimes dimming. Sometimes I do things and it comes to me very naturally and other times I’m just not up to doing anything. Up and Downs. However, never burned out. I’ve been like this for years. I try not to fit into what people’s expectations are. I don’t hide the fact I like to choose my audience too. I really like working for specific social groups. I call it very simply, rock n roll! I’ve been hiding myself under my hoody for too long. Now it’s the time to show my face. GZY face.
Mr first designing jobs weren’t paid, supporting some friends’ bands. Friends are the worst clients. There is something specific about t-shirts and posters. There is something final about a print, wheras a painting sane still be changed, even once it is on the wall. A print is done. It’s designed, processed and printed. The second thing is prints aren’t limited to just one piece. When group of people have your prints or t shirts, it’s like starting some kind of a movement or following. My posters are still bootlegged at this stage but that is okay for me because nobody control my work but me. I’ve been spending a also promoting the bands. I hope one day my name will be more recognizable and I could do more commission work.
I should take this chance to mention a couple of guys I have worked for. They’re from Barnsley and are the coolest guys ever. They were always so thankful for everything what I’ve produced for them and I wish all clients were like this. They’re Cavorts. Make sure you buy their cds.
Being an illustrator and designer, you’ll have a broad range of influences. What kind of musicians, designers, film, art etc. have fed its way into what you do?
MUSIC – YES! All kinds of music really but I am devoted to heavy, noisy and not nice stuff. Motorhead and Suicidal Tendencies always accompany me in any state of mind. My current top 5 would be Dub Trio, Touche Amore, Deftones, Retox and Zeus!
If we are going to talk about art and design there is no way to summarize it in a short statement. I recently made my instagram account. In just two weeks time I pressed 1500 follow buttons! It’s easy to be inspired by so many people from Facebook and Instagram, but trust me, it takes up too much time. No time to make meals, watch cats and kids. Art/design, graffiti, tattoos, bands and bikes, that’s all I need. There are so many talented and inspiring people out there and sometimes it just make me want to quit, they’re that good. Even now, as you’re reading this, I’m probably staring at some images online.
I also collect art books and screen-printed t-shirts, things you can take into your hands. Something tactile. You can come back two days later and it’s still on your shelf, rather than a passing image online.
You had your first exhibition late last year. How was that for you and how did that come about?
Well, I’ve been participating in tattoo conventions for a while now but last year I started producing artworks, simply for the artistry. I worked on the first tattoo convention in Poland then two weeks later I did another one here in Doncaster where my exhibition took place. It was such a strange experience. Very emotional. I think the exhibition itself was a failure, from an audience perspective. People couldn’t really understand my images that well. They also couldn’t see the technical differences between my hand-made prints and digitally produced flyers. We live in modern society where everything is produced by machines and I’m not sure I people value the time and the effort a printmaker puts into work. However, to my surprise both events has a very positive responce from other artists. Some of the artists, big guys I’ve been following for years, were asking me for prints and t-shirts. That meant a lot to me.
You got any interesting plans lined up for the rest of 2015?
2015 is the year of changes for me. It’s already started well. I’m just finishing up at university and then the first thing on my list is moving away from Barnsley. After my graduation I may go abroad. Not for vacation though. The European tattoo scene seems to be more open and wilder, so I’d like to learn as much as I can and stay for a while. Manchester’s one of my favorite places in UK so I may drop my anchor there for a while. It’s a good spot for doing the things I do. It may sound odd but after I’ve graduated, I just want to find better ways to learn more.
And I still want to be a roadie for Motorhead!