International Tattoo Art December 2008
Something Wicked This Way Comes
By. Rev. Chad Wells
All Or Nothing Tattoo in Smyrna Georgia is one of the most well known and talked about tattoo shops in the industry right now. The shop’s attitude is brash and abrasive and its roster of artists is top notch. The public face of All Or Nothing is all about machine guns blazing, piles of cash, tons of big boy toys and most currently a Pit Bull rescue group that has rescued over a hundred dogs, including many of the infamous Michael Vick dogs, from being euthanized. Beyond that public face is a bunch of guys with diverse interests, skills, big dreams, and bigger hearts.
Chris Vennekamp, a seasoned member of the tattoo militia at All Or Nothing Tattoo, grew up mostly in North Carolina and for a short while, upstate New York. Aised by his mother and grandmother, Vennekamp spent a lot of time with his imagination. “I lived mostly with my Mom,” he said. “I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother. The only real vivid memory I have of good ol’ Dad is being terrified, hiding behind a bush at my Grandmother’s house waiting for him to walk far enough past the house that it was cool for me to come out. My Mom told me later in life that he was trying to kidnap me. It was crazy shit. I may need therapy.”
At 35, Vennekamp is a full time tattoo artist and family man. He is also a kid a heart who is still as obsessed with toys and scary movies as he was in his formative years. “I have plans to open a toy museum one day,” he said. I have two sons and between what I had as a kid and what they have, which my wife considers to be an insane collection that’s still growing as we speak, we almost have enough to fill a small museum now.”
Vennekamp’s artistic aspirations were fueled by subjects as disparate as crocheting and zombies. “My Grandmother and Mother used to sit around and paint, sketch, or do their little crochet thing,” he said. “Their creativity and Bob Ross on public
Access TV were my first influences to pick up a pencil. My first artistic memories would probably have to be sitting with my Grandmother and sketching real fast and crazy and asking her, ‘Grams, is this anything?’ ‘No’ she’d say. I’d do that for what seemed like hours until she’d finally make something up to start humoring me. I think everybody remembers the macaroni noodle paintings.”
Vennekamp says his influences included horror icons Tom Savini and George Romero. “My mom used to take me to a lot of horror movies when I was a kid,” he said. “I was more inspired by the monsters, aliens, and transforming robots on TV and in movies than anything else because that’s all I used to draw as a kid – and it’s almost all I draw now as an adult. For a while I seemed to to do nothing but traditional art. That was before I figured out that I could put vivid, scary, or sci-fi images in the skin.
Somewhere between the PBS art instruction and his current lot as tattooist extraordinaire, Vennekamp’s teenage fantasy and horror-fueled bloodlust morphed from the screen to the mind to the page to flesh. “When I was a lot younger me and a buddy hand poked some dumb shit on one another with the largest sewing needle imaginable,” he said. “That shit hurt. The first real tattoo I did as on my friend Wayne. He wanted the kanji for ‘dragon.’ Besides knowing how to be clean and sterile, I didn’t know jack shit about a tattoo except what I had seen a couple of ol’ biker boys do on each other when I was a kid. By the time the scab fell off the only thing that remained was the outline.”
These youthful excursions into basic body marking would lay the slab for Vennekamp’s subsequent successes in the skin trade. “I had a group of friends that were looking to get tattooed at the time,” he said. “I didn’t realize it at first, but they wanted me to actually tattoo the designs I was drawing for them. I thought they were taking them down the road to the tattoo guy. So over drinks one night I told them that the only way we could make it happen was if they bought as autoclave and the whole nine yards. A few weeks later, to my surprise, they showed up at my door with all the stuff ready to go. By the time I had made it from the kanji to the last piece that night I had the basics down. I know a lot of people frown on starting tattooing this way because it’s the wrong way, but most of the people who talk the most shit started this way, too,” he said.
Soon after, Vennekamp became an apprentice at a local shop. “I had a lot to learn,” he said. “Thankfully I had the like of Mike Cole and some other cool cats around to show me the ropes.” These days, fellow tattoo artists push him to become better. “My buddies in the tattoo and art world help me to kick myself in the ass the get in high gear,” Vennekamp said. “I think the day you quit trying to push forward you should just go home.”
Vennekamp believes there isn’t anything special about what he does. He’s just another guy in the trenches trying to push out his best work. “There are so many good artists out there that I don’t think I stand out from the rest of any of them as being any better than them,. he said. “I just have a different style or approach. I do believe you can see a piece of my art and know it was mine but that’s from more of a technical aspect. I like doing a painterly style, but most of my work is very crisp and tightly detailed.”
Vennekamp shows no sign of slowing his ascent. His climb up the artistic ladder has been an interesting one, and he plans on stretching it out and savoring the future. “I see myself still tattooing for a good long time,” he said, “though probably not as heavily in the future. I’d like to do a few appointments a week and spend a lot more time painting. I’m just not always willing to stay up until 4 in the morning drawing after I’ve spent 12 to 13 hours tattooing. My days off I devote to my family at home, I won’t even answer my phone. Please leave a message.”
Contact Chris Vennekamp at: All Or Nothing Tattoo, Smyrna, GA (770) 435-9966 firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.allornothingtattoo.com, http://www.chrisvennekamp.com.