One of the last real madmen of tattooing, Brandon Bond is a truly colorful personality. The owner and mastermind of Atlanta‘s All or Nothing empire, is a prolific artist, relentless party animal, marketing genius, hedonist but also selfless supporter of numerous charities. Together with other, now equally famous artists, Brandon was one of the inventors of "stylized portrait-based surrealism", a tattoo genre that is now taking the world by storm
Brandon Bond, the founder and proprietor of the All or Nothing tattoo studios, is quite a character, to put it mildly. Upon meeting him for the first time, you might be forgiven to regard him as a living cliché of rock n' roll tattooing lifestyle. He is quick to voice his opinions, straightforward in his approach and can be - openly said - quite brash, especially to more delicate politically correct (and European) ears. The mainstream media loves him for his being so outspoken, and, consequently, he was mentioned in "TIME" magazine several times, often in connection with celebrities getting tattooed.
His artwork, extremely colorful and expressive reality-based portraits with a decidedly psychedelic touch, contributes to fast-formed opinions about this "madman from Georgia".
Despite these prejudices, Brandon has also been a prolific artist as a tattooist, painter, and film director, discovering fresh outlets for his creativity and never-ending energy, delving into new projects on an almost daily basis. He is a great supporter of animal rights, has single-handedly produced a movie about dog abuse and helps finance numerous other charities with the means supplied by his ever-growing empire of franchises and merchandise enterprises.
When you actually spend some time with him, you also come to realize that this "loud and obnoxious American" can open his heart even further and actually be a bloody nice person. But, essentially, Brandon Bond can be called a punk-rock kid that stubbornly refuses to grow up...
Travelin' Mick has spoken at length with Brandon Bond, mastermind of All or Nothing, the Peter Pan with more than one gun:
TM: What did you do before you became a tattooist? School, job, university or prison…? ;-)
BB: I played in bands from the age of 14-21, but gave up music entirely to tattoo, because there is no half a$$ way to be a tattoo artist. I miss music every single day, however. When I finally retire, I will play guitar in New Orleans blues bands until I die, for no money at all.
TM: How did your interest in tattoos develop?
BB: I was always fascinated by tattoos. I used to draw all over myself and my little sister and the first tattoo I ever did was on myself with my dad's pocket knife It said: FTW, meaning F*ck The World.
TM: You did a formal apprenticeship, right? In hindsight, was this decision the best way for you? Or would you wish for yourself to have gone any other way?
BB: I did an apprenticeship yes, two of them in fact. Three total years, studying all aspects of the industry I still work in. This is the only way to get involved in tattooing as far as I'm concerned. To deny yourself an apprenticeship is to negate your involvement in our rich history and tradition. And to take shortcuts has never been the path of success. The only place success comes before work, in English anyways, is in the dictionary.
TM: You seem to be quite passionate about this aspect. What else are your thoughts on young people now entering tattooing?
BB: Do an apprenticeship, and do this because it is what you love and do it as best you can every time, or go do something else. Do NOT do it because you like Kat Von D, and your parents told you to get a god damned job.
TM: How did your own career develop until you could finally call yourself a "tattoo artist"?
BB: I worked in over 50 studios in America. Everything was VERY different 20 years ago, without internet and cell phones. If I wanted to see an artist‘s work, I had to actually physically drive, or fly, to where that artist lived and look at the actual physical book. I spent all my money going all over America, meeting artists, getting tattooed, asking questions, and looking at portfolios, investing in my future. Artists were extremely guarded about their secrets. I was initially attracted only to color, so I got tattooed by Joe Capobianco a lot and eventually went to Seattle to work for Aaron Bell.
My first influence was Jim Wolfe, Tattoo Zoo, Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. My teacher, mentor, and later my friend. His shop was/is a street shop, because that was really the ONLY kind of shop back then. I learned to work harder, longer, faster, and with more efficiency, how to be a "tattooist" by definition, a workhorse. Only later the term "tattoo artist" began to mean something to me.
I moved to Austin, Texas and got tattooed a lot by the great Chris Trevino, working at a shop up the street from him, because I was not good enough to work WITH him, and then I would take all the money I made over to him and learn.
TM: Can you tell me more about All or Nothing? How did it come about, and how did it develop into the empire it is now?
BB: I always wanted to start something larger and more fantastic than anything I had ever heard of. I had a plan, I was waiting for the right timing, the right city, the right magic to align. I knew that in order to create this utopia, I would have to do it alone, debt-free and by leading by example. I had to scrape and work and save enough money to open the studio, 100% independently. I remember thinking about everything that was at stake: "Here we go, I guess it's all or nothing now", and All or Nothing was born.
And, also, I was never good at holding a job! I was fired from every single job I had; dish washing, car washing, AND tattooing! Now I cannot be fired, it is awesome.
TM: What is the structure of All or Nothing? How many people work for you in total, how many artists, what do the other people do?
BB: First of all I work WITH our staff, they do not work FOR me. This is key to what we are doing. We work together. I may be the dad in the family, but we are a family nonetheless. All the way up I was working FOR someone, who did not appreciate me. I vowed to never be that type of shop owner.
To answer your question though, our family is 72 people strong, including receptionists, assistants, web guys, merchandise, etc., and they are my favorite crew of all time. We are kicking a$$. I also own a private studio, not open to the public at all, the A.N.T.I. Art Elite. You know, we are not elite. We are blue collar. We are our own labor union, fighting the power. We work hard every day, we tattoo every day.
TM: You must be incredibly busy just administrating such a large group of individuals and looking into all the money matters. But where do business and art clash?
BB: They clash constantly, a war inside my head, a battle I lose. The two have not one time worked together, only against each other. I am constantly frustrated, and my artwork has suffered. This is temporary I believe. I will tattoo longer than I will be a boss. Because I love to tattoo and I hate being a boss.
TM: About your own personality... I guess you have an idea that you are not the average guy in general, and even for the tattoo scene come across as quite crass and a bit eccentric. What is your opinion about that?
BB: It is hard to stand out in a sea of freaks, debauchery, and artistic innovation without going completely off the deep end. It's my strange morph of lunacy, unpredictability, gun brandishing, profane, booze swilling guy who does tattoos. This sells magazines, and makes people watch things on TV. This attracts a certain demographic of clients and fans. But it has nothing to do with me. If you read my book "Whore", or watch my video "VICKtory to the Underdog", you see more of who I am in real life. I'm not a rock star, I'm just a street shop hustler, who worked my a$$ off and loves people and dogs.
TM: Do you think you have a character that tends to addiction or compulsive behavior?
BB - Yes. I am a compulsive workaholic. I do not do drugs, so the addiction part is different entirely. I drink a LOT, but actual drugs are far stronger than I am and I avoid them like the plague. I respect drugs because I have I have been to too many funerals. I work way too much and have a hard time sitting down for long. So, yes I am a compulsive psychopath, kinda.
TM: You do quite a bit of charity work. This might surprise some people, who have met you, but don‘t really know you. Can you elaborate what causes you support and how?
BB: We have done extensive work with abused animals, disabled war veterans, Feed the Homeless, Haiti reconstruction, fallen police officers, Mosquito Nets in Malaysia, Special Olympics, Childhood Cancer, Toys for Tots, etc.
Charity is very important to me. We have to give something back to the community to actively participate in its growth. People are looking at what we are doing now more than ever, and I want to encourage others to be a positive light shining in this dark world. Even crazy tattoo guys can do some good, but we have to work together to make a difference.
TM: How did this hyper-realistic, extremely colorful variety of tattooing develop that you and other guys started and that is now spreading across the tattoo world like wildfire?
BB: A lot of that style of tattooing started years ago when Josh Carlton, Albie Rock, Sean Herman, and I all worked at All or Nothing. Nate Beavers, Mike Demasi, Mike DeVries, they all worked with us at a certain time. I believe we all were pushing each other so much that art was forced out of all of us. It is amazing to see how it has evolved and grown. I am in no way taking credit, just saying that we were definitely involved in it, and the evolution of "stylized portrait
based surrealism", which is what I have been calling it lately.
TM: How do you find creativity in portrait work, rather than just copying reality…?
BB: To make a portrait look stylized is one of the most difficult aspects of accomplishing a unique tattoo able image from a photo. It is achieved by illustrative tattoo based applications and drawings on top of the photo, behind it and combined with a creative color selection.
TM: What kind of technical equipment do you personally use? Do you encourage or even require your co-workers to do the same?
BB: My staff uses whatever they want to, I don't care. We all have different styles and tastes. I use predominately Pulse machines, Tat-Soul furniture, Waverly Ink, Envy Needles, and H2 0cean for
TM: Do you do a lot of conventions, and how do you choose the ones you go to?
BB: By the size of the check the convention sends me to appear. Just kidding. After 15 years of going everywhere, nowadays I just attend the ones in cities I want to go see, like Amsterdam. I like seeing all of my friends from the last 20 years and meeting new friends (like you), but I hate just about everything else about it. I like to tattoo in my studio, without distractions. Besides, nowadays, the focus should not be on me, but on my guys. They deserve the credit, awards and articles. They are better than me anyways. Damn kids!
TM: Do you have lots of European clients?
BB - Actually yes I do. Our studio provides transportation to and from the airport, hotel accommodations, food, booze, or whatever anyone asks for within reason. We are always flattered by their trust.
TM: Can you see a difference in what type of work Europeans
choose to get from you as opposed to Americans?
BB - Not in my studio, but while I was in EU I noticed a lot of black-and-grey and those dots they do. I've never done a tattoo in dots yet. Fascinating, but too technical for my brain to pay attention to for that long, haha.
TM: How do you use graphic design and Photoshop software to work on the photographs of your tattoos?
BB: We only add a black background behind the body part so all the photos look cohesive, and yes, people that cheat on a computer are douche bags. That is a large misconception about our art. Our tattoos are as bright in person as they are online!
TM: How do you approach creating a tattoo?
BB: Spontaneity is the spice of life, and the fuel for art that fits the body properly. I like to create it while they are sitting next to me. The flow of the art on the body is as important as the design itself in this level of tattooing. Most of my clients just want something that looks like I did it. I pick out a couple of their favorites, and then I simply hook them up with what I pull out of my secret files of awesomeness.
TM: How do you see the relation between European and American tattoo artists developing?
BB: It is very different in Europe, but we are all cut from the same cloth. I have a lot of new friends over there now. But it would really help if it wasn't such a monumental pain in the a$$ to exchange artists in a guest spot capacity, legally. Ever since 9/11 it has been a bitch! America is a c*ck about letting people over for tattooing purposes legally, so it happens illegally a lot, which is just bad for all of us.
TM: What do you like doing that has nothing to do with tattooing?
BB: When I'm not tattooing or doing an interview like this one (laughs) I enjoy spending time with my dogs, my wife, my parents, my family of artists, swimming, riding quad bikes, shooting guns, drinking beer, not in that order (laughs).
TM: I hope I can join you in some of those activities, one day...
Thank you for your open words, Brandon!
Text and Interview: Travelin' Mick
Photos: All or Nothing
All or Nothing