Kat Von D on Depression, Death — and Beauty

Back in my parents’ day, men with a tattoo had probably been in World War Two. The only women with tattoos, you found only at the carnival.

But times have changed and now two decades into the 21st century it seems like everybody is getting some ink.

Many are getting tats from one of the country’s best-known artists, Kat Von D. And in two interviews with her about a decade ago, I learned so much about ink, and about Kat Von D.

“People now are coming to view tattooing as an art form, so it’s a lot easier just to get tattooed for more personal reasons versus being a carny or a sailor or all of the negative stigmas that are associated with tattooing, like criminal lifestyle, things like that,”

“Well, in your own case,” I asked her, “what prompts you? I mean, your entire body is art.”

I’m heavily influenced by music,” Von D said. “I think that hanging out with a lot of punk rock kids when I was really young, being around the tattoos, I guess that subculture was pretty influential.”

Today, Kat Von D is the one who’s “pretty influential.” Her own reality TV show on TLC, “L.A. Ink,” cemented her reputation as a top artist. But it also thrust her into a harsh spotlight. She kept a journal, which eventually she turned into a bestselling book:

“I’ve always been pretty open about, like, my struggles with depression and other issues that everybody else, a lot of people have. For me it was a form of therapy to be able to write about the people that I tattoo and the stories they bring along with their tattoos.

“At the time I was just doing it because I realized I was taking a lot of these stories home with me at the end of the day, and I wasn’t letting it go. I think it didn’t help with my depression.”

But she did deal with it, as she helped many of her clients with their own demons:

“There’s definitely like, I guess, I don’t want to say like a shamanistic-like therapeutic side to tattooing, but I figured it out: I know that people just want to be heard sometimes. I know, for me, I just need somebody to listen, to feel better, you know? When people come in to get tattoos, they’re not getting tattoos because they’re bored, they’re getting tattoos because it’s a monumental thing to them, and it’s a special moment.

If you’re in an intimate setting with another person who you can, like, let go of some of these demons and share .. I’m not a therapist, so I’m not going to judge you and I’m not going to diagnose you, so I think that’s why people feel a lot more comfortable. I think it makes perfect sense.”

There is a very common theme linking many of the tattoos Kat Von D has created: death/

That’s actually one thing that I’ve always said, is that I think death is the only thing we all have in common. Whether you’ve experienced it directly or indirectly, everybody knows what it feels like to lose something that you love.

“A lot of people have a hard time talking about it. I think the more that we talk about it and understand what death is, the better we’re actually able to live life. It’s not a negative thing. It’s not a Debbie Downer, I don’t think.”

Becoming a celebrity in her own right has forced her to make her inked skin a little thicker. All kinds of gossip gets written about her:

“I think it’s pretty hard to embarrass me. I don’t ever feel uncomfortable. I think my biggest battle is not feeling defeated, or killing my spirit over other people’s negativity. Without sounding too preachy, I just feel like we live in a world where we build a lot of people up in order to break them down to make ourselves feel better, when the answer’s inside you.

You don’t have to put other people down in order to do that. I think everybody’s a beautiful person. I wish people would just kind of leave me alone when it comes to that whole thing. Some days I do better at it than others, but in the end, I think the real fans see past the bullshit. Who I’m dating or who I’m not dating, and whether I’m pregnant with alien twins or not .. I’m probably not what they thought I was about.”

By the way, full disclosure: I have no tattoos, at least none that aren’t medical-related. And no, I’m not going to tell you or show you where THEY are.

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