“my focus is solely kept on artwork, tattooing and my connection to my clients and everything else just fades into the background."
We headed to North London to meet tattoo artist Rakhee Shah and owner of Xotica Tattoo studio established in 2000, The award winning artist has gained herself a reputation as one of the best in the field of Abstract Realism and you can see why, each piece of artwork packed full of detail and bold use of colour. We get an insight into how she started in the industry and how she found that signature style.
So tell us who is Rakhee and when and how did you get into tattooing?
Who am I? Haha, good question! I’ve asked myself this a lot recently especially with all the recent time off, it’s given me an opportunity to self-reflect like no other time I’ve ever experienced. I guess the only conclusion I came to is that when I’m not working I’m pretty lost and uncomfortable and pretty crap to be around - haha, but foremost I’m a mum and that’s what fuels every moment. After uni I quickly realised that a career in arts was almost impossible, especially back when the internet wasn’t really a thing. I started working in a street tattoo studio doing body piercings and managing. It was run by bikers, walls lined with cherry creek flash which we would buy every month from a guy who would do the rounds to every other tattoo studio. It was essentially a foot in the door (which quite frankly at that time, in that scene, with those people was near on impossible) to getting into tattooing which was never my intention at first. I asked for over a year for an apprenticeship just to be told it’s never gonna happen, but I kept pushing and eventually I was given a hestitant ok. Stuck in a tiny room soldering and sterilising needles and the occasional tip or pig skin thrown my way. I would say I was mainly self taught as those involved with teaching me ended up either leaving or passing the buck. I was very much thrown in the deep in initially with very little guidance so learning was very much a ‘do as you work’ type deal. I went to conventions, bought DVDs, magazines, anything I could get hold of just to learn the basics like how to use a magnum or build a machine. The journey of learning has been continuous but lacking a good apprenticeship it does add on years of figuring stuff out on your own as during the first few years I was essentially by myself in studios run by non artists who weren’t that bothered about the tattoo scene just their percentage. However if I could turn back the clock I’m not sure I would change much. I’m incredibly grateful I got given the opportunity to be part of an incredible industry , yes a bit more guidance and teaching would have saved time but inadvertently it taught me determination and persistence in a profession I kept falling in love with every few years.
What advice would you offer someone considering the industry as a career? And what would you say to young creatives trying to find their style or voice?
My advice would be to be realistic about the industry as a whole. Tattooing has very little to do with ‘how well you can draw’ - yes that’s important obviously but a lot of apprentices aren’t prepared for the variety of skills needed to be successful. Your ability to self-manage, people skills, being modest and humble, allowing yourself to always learn and grow, sacrificing time, loved ones and sometimes your health, the ability to take criticism and fit into to different environments. All this as well as self promotion is a big part of the job. In the beginning don’t be focused on ‘your style’ .... the more time you spend on a variety of styles the more tools/experience you will have in your bag to then make broader decisions. I have a huge amount of respect for artists who can approach every style with basic confidence.
Your portraits are so vibrant and definitely have a signature how would you describe your style?
I guess I would describe my style as abstract realism. I love combining the skills I have learnt over the years and drawing from different styles while still maintaining a solid/vibrant piece.
Have you always had this style or has it evolved over time?
I was a walk-in artist for many years. I did everything, every style that walked through the door and I’m super grateful for that. I then focused a few more years doing realism which hugely helped my career but gave me very little satisfaction. It was only after having my boy I started focusing on my own style and niche, mind you it took over 8 years to get there, lots of blood, sweat and tears but it was worth it. I try not to over think my job too much or the industry. Most days I’m just zoned in on my clients and work and try not to make too much of an association with tattooing as a broader picture. I started in this industry very soon after finishing Uni, so in many ways it’s all I’ve known, it’s my personality and my life, it’s so normal for me that in some ways I’ve disassociated with the glamour of it. It’s not a negative in anyway, just that I’m very introverted when it comes to the creative/artistic side of things that the rest I try to treat as a business, my focus is solely kept on artwork, tattooing and my connection to my clients and everything else just fades into the background.
What do tattoos and tattooing mean to you?
I try not to over think my job too much or the industry. Most days I’m just zoned in on my clients and work and try not to make too much of an association with tattooing as a broader picture. I started in this industry very soon after finishing Uni, so in many ways it’s all I’ve known, it’s my personality and my life, it’s so normal for me that in some ways I’ve disassociated with the glamour of it. It’s not a negative in anyway, just that I’m very introverted when it comes to the creative/artistic side of things that the rest I try to treat as a business, my focus is solely kept on artwork, tattooing and my connection to my clients and everything else just fades into the background.
Are there any artists or things in everyday life you draw inspiration from?
I love physical art in all it forms, from a architectural building, a graffiti tag, colours in a photo, composition of a magazine cover.... I get very passionate about passionate people - haha. There’s nothing more uplifting and inspiring than seeing someone who is great at what they do, especially when they are creating something. That’s where I draw most my inspiration.
What’s the hardest thing you have to deal with in the industry?
Tattooing itself has given me the most incredible satisfaction I could have ever dreamt of, truly it has and continues to do so even more today than ever. It’s been mainly down to the years of amazing clients that have trusted me and let me do what I love for which I’m truly grateful. The industry however at times has been cruel, unfair, incredibly cut throat, and sadly continues to in some ways. Being a female POC in this industry has been a challenge in so many different settings especially in a still very white male dominated industry. It’s taken all that more effort to be seen than is fair but this is definitely a huge topic worth it’s own article - haha.
Here at The Hobo Journal we love to travel (hence the name) where’s the best place you have ever been to and why?
Ahhh that’s a tough one. I’ve been so so lucky to have travelled so much with this career that I wouldn’t know where to start. Travelling is such a big passion of mine that I’ve taken every opportunity I could. From Miami beaches to the stunning mountains of Austria. If I had to choose one it would be Germany, Dresden, not necessarily for the place, but for the experience I had, the artists I met and the hospitality of the studio owners. Hopefully when the world goes back to normal I can add a few more places to the list.
More images below from Danny Woodstock Photographer