Dark Art and Craft invades the West Coast in but sixteen days with an art exhibition for the fifth-ever Midnite Communion.
The one-day event is packed with music, vendors and an art installation featuring dark artists from all over the world. One of which is New England painter, illustrator, and tattooer, Josh McAlear. He humored us with some responses to some questions about his work, horror movies, metal, and the changing digital landscape and its impact on both tattooing and illustration.
What does Dark Art mean to you?
To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of the label "Dark Art", but at the same time its a pretty self-explanatory title and seems to make describing appropriate types of imagery a lot easier. My work, of course, falls into that category but its more just because that's what comes out of me than me having a purposeful goal of making something "dark".
When did you know you were intended to be an artist? How were you able to make this your profession?
I think by the age 10 or 11 I really hit an obsession with making art. At that age, I hadn't yet fallen into the over thinking habit that plagues adulthood and always just felt that art was what I had to and wanted to do. I do remember suddenly wondering late into high school "how exactly am I going to make a living as an artist?", like the thought had never crossed my mind before. I was very fortunate for a number of reasons as well as never giving up or letting my passion for making things burn out even trough my darkest days. I landed an apprenticeship as a tattooer when I was 26 and eventually was able to go down the illustration path in my spare time.
What are five to ten of your greatest artistic influences? Do these pertain specifically to one medium or multimedia?
When I started tattooing I did mostly traditional stuff, but eventually realized that was just what I thought I should be doing, it really wasn't me. I wanted to be known for something different, something that was specifically my style. Eventually, I found a method of having my tattoo style and my illustration style mix together without either one looking overly trite. By that I mean: I can't stand it when a tattooer does an illustration for something like say an album cover and it just looks like a tattooer trying to do an illustration, rather than an illustrator DOING an illustration. So, when I do a tattoo I try to make it look like something that respects the history of tattooing and I try likewise with illustration and its history, but I try to make both styles similar so both feel like me, to me.
My biggest influences have stayed pretty similar over the years, old skateboard and metal illustrators like Pushead of course, as well as medieval woodcuts, turn of the century illustrators, terrifying movies, evil music, etc.
Things are changing in tattooing with the rise of digital media. Tell us how social media has affected you, both for better or worse, and how it has influenced your work and your perspective of the industry.
Yah, its crazy, I started tattooing in 2001/2 so that was prime myspace time. That all was kinda weird just because social media was a pretty new thing but Instagram is like a whole world of its own in comparison. People are really selling their whole lifestyle to clients rather than just their tattoos, at least in a lot of cases. I understand the appeal that offers but its still super weird.
Regardless its obviously a really good tool when it comes to seeing what people respond to in your work. At the end of the day things will always be constantly changing and you can either lament about it all day or just adapt to whats out of your control. When something like tattooing gets its balls cut off and is completely emasculated by whats now looked at as "fashion" it is pretty repulsive though.
Aside from that Facebook is dreadful. I try to steer clear of peoples reactive opinions and close-minded political views whether they lean right or left, and thats most of what Facebook seems to be.
When you're not creating, what could someone find you doing - well - within reason for the internet.
When I'm not tattooing, drawing or painting I do have a very underground record label called Yersinia Pestis but activity with that is really infrequent. I do a lot of the layouts for that so I suppose that falls under the creating category as well. Other than that I enjoy traveling here and there, doing guest spots, watching movies...
Give us five accounts everyone reading this should be following right now on Instagram:
What is your advice for artists reading this, and even for people who want to tattoo?
"Never let em see you sweat".
How does media inform your creative process, and selection of subject matter? Do people interpret your subject matter differently based on medium?
Good question. It effects it drastically, not just with painting and tattooing but even with different types of painting mediums. My brain has to work in the parameters of what I know about a medium for me to formulate what the possibilities are for a piece. I love tattooing but I've always felt like the possibilities are far more limited than with other forms of art. At least for me. When I do a painting in either acrylics or oils I always feel like my results are limited because I need to learn more about painting not because of the medium itself. Still though, with a painting, I can try so many different things that it really opens up my mind to new subject matter, depth, detail etc than tattooing. Its hard to compare how people respond to the different things I put out there in this instance. I obviously tattoo the most and get a decent response but when I post a painting it feels like a rarer thing that completely different so that usually will get a really good response.
Music (specifically metal) seems to be a large part of who you are and your creative projects. Talk about the role of music and how it has shaped your artwork.
Music is a huge inspiration for me, the funny thing is I didn't realize it until recently but its always been the case. I think thats why doing album art is so appealing to me, its like conjuring a visual for of the ideas and feelings created by music. I like a lot of weird types of music but I do mostly listen to metal. If you boil it down metal is about power, if you think otherwise I really think you have the wrong idea about it and its probably not for you. I want to illicit the same feeling of power with my art, hopefully that comes through.
How did you get into illustrating album artwork?
I really always wanted to do it. Pushead like I said was a really big inspiration, when I was a pre teen I tried to copy a lot of album artwork. I lived with some friends in college and right after that had a few bands, one was called Year of Our lord, I did a bunch or stuff for them. Right after school I wasn't really sure how to contact bands or anyone else who might want the kind of art I was doing so I used to make flyers for fake shows and put them all over town. It sounds stupid but I tried to make the art on the flyers the main focus in hopes that the word would spread and it would lead to more exposure. So that didn't really happen but once myspace came around I just started messaging bands and offering to do stuff for free. Eventually, people started seeing more of my stuff and that really got the ball rolling. A few of the first bands I worked with were Midnight, Nunslaughter, Toxic Holocaust. I've just kept at it since then though not with as much vigor, tattooing keeps me pretty busy and I don't like to spread myself to thin when it comes to art.
Another cool thing about you is your wealth of obscure horror movie knowledge. How does horror inform your work, what are five movies everyone has to see, and what are your thoughts about contemporary horror?
I started getting really into horror movies after seeing Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Faces of Death the same night when I was in 7th grade. A tale I've told a few times. Texas Chainsaw appealed to me very deeply, it was visceral, raw, absolutely not polished and horrifying. Apparently, thats just what I like, ha. I've gone through phases of deep obsession with horror movies and I've definitely given a lot of thought to why they appeal to me so much. It's hard to say why but I think anything that's away from mainstream culture is appealing to me. Bizarre, Surreal and again horrifying is what I like and in the back of my head I know those things don't fly in "normal" society. Freaking out the squares. I think that's reflected in my art at times, I definitely want it to mess with people a bit. Nothing is dangerous these days, everyone is overly concerned with not offending anyone. I see that as a step backwards for society and will do nothing but create weakness.
I have nothing against contemporary horror its just rare that a newer horror movie gets me as excited as something like Texas Chainsaw would.
1) Texas Chainsaw Massacre (duh) 1974
2) Exorcist III 1990
3) At Midnight I'll Take your Soul 1964
4) Boxers Omen 1983
5) Nosferatu 1979
A lot of what you market under the moniker of Josh McAlear is very clearly inspired by realm of hell. Can you speak more to that and what sorts of imagery and concepts inspire your tattoo form?
I think for me it goes back to the freaking out the squares thing. I want to be on the side of what scares the shit out of mainstream culture. The Adversary of normalcy, the mundane, all that is "safe" in visual art and tattooing trends. Its not something I set out to do on purpose its just how I've always felt and what I've identified with. Plus thanks to medieval times theres a lot of hell related art to be inspired by.
What could you do all day, every day, subject matter wise for tattooing. How about some of your least favorite concepts?
I really like doing medieval demons, skeletons as they were depicted in black death artwork, art nouveau style stuff. I love all that and I love doing it big, I enjoy doing all sizes of tattoos but full back or front pieces are what I really love doing the most. The bigger the better, full body stuff is obviously welcome!
What do you want people to come away from this article knowing about you?
Hopefully, after reading all this people will realize I'm really passionate about creating art and maybe I'd be a right fit to work with them on a tattoo or illustration project. I'm also working on a series of cohesive paintings over the next year or so and would like to show them in various galleries if and when the time is right. I've never done a series of paintings just for art sake and I wouldn't have been able to until this point in my life. I'm excited about that, stay tuned to social media for some more on that.
Check out some of Josh's work both at Ars Memoria until November 7th and at Midnite Communion's "From Ash to Flame" November 17th. The show will then move over to Dark Art Emporium from November 20th to December 4th.
Keep up with Josh on Instagram through the following accounts: