When we lay out the Featured Artist Kit Box, we reserve very little space for a biography, as we believe the artwork speaks far more deftly about the artist than we can hope to. Our goal is to neatly encapsulate a body of work and make it digestible in about two paragraphs. This is no easy feat, and we anticipate that many of these posts about our Featured Artists will pertain to just how much more about an artist we would have liked to say.
Russ Abbott is a case study of this. Much will be said about how Russ and some of his peers shepherded tattooing into the digital age. More will be said about his devotion to color theory- the Abbott Color Wheel has become a feature on many shop walls around the world. From an aesthetic standpoint, Russ’s contributions to the American Illustrative and Modern Ornamental movements will resonate for decades as future artists adopt and push back (as is inevitable in all art) against his stylistic and symbolic elements. And obviously, Abbott has a degree of technical proficiency that puts him at the top of his craft. He is truly the artist’s-artist.
It is precisely because these aspects of Russ’s career will be lauded and covered so favorably that we are not going to discuss them now.
Instead, we would like to focus on Russ’s artistic process.
When we reached out to Russ and asked him to contribute a piece of artwork to this endeavor, we gave him no guidance, no rules, no limitations. We simply asked for artistic honesty. Over the next few months, we were given the tremendous opportunity to watch first-hand Russ Abbott- the creator, thinker, experimenter, perfectionist- at work.
Within two weeks we had a first draft. Abbott, who does almost all of his work using Wacom tablets, had laid out the fundamentals of the piece and saved the file under the title “Battle Royale.” It was clear from the very earliest iterations that Russ intended for this to be a visual history of modern tattooing. It would showcase tattooing forms- traditional and neo-traditional, Irezumi, elements of illustrative. It would pay tribute to historic stenciling traditions- the venerable koi on acetate, the dragon emerging from the 3M Thermofax, designed to go on a box containing the first ever red stencil paper, all executed using digital tools on a tablet with both feet in the 21st century. And that was just the subject matter. Abbott had laid the piece out such that the constituent elements suggested the S8 logo, which we had shown him only days before.
It was visually dense, thematically exciting, a loving tribute to an art form that exists in a state of perpetual flux. This was Russ Abbott creating a piece of artwork for tattooers. It was Russ Abbott filling a time capsule with “the world up until now.” It was cerebral and demanding and symbolically full. And it looked fucking cool.
Within two weeks, we had a second draft. The eagle had new feathers. The snake had different scales. The shading was softer, suppler. He had touched every element in the image and improved it.
Another- ultimately final- draft arrived shortly thereafter. Colors and tones had shifted; no surprise for a man who has built a reputation as a foremost thinker on tattooing color theory. Line weights had changed. The piece had tightened, evolved, grown.
This iterative exercise illustrates what has made Russ one of the most respected artists of his time. His constant desire to improve and his willingness to dump huge amounts of energy to hone an image to a razor’s edge is what makes Russ Abbott the Russ Abbott we all know. It explains why he would spend hundreds of hours taking color assays on tattoo inks. It shows how he developed his technical ability. Russ is an artist who will toil to execute a task to his impossibly high standards.
It has been a delight to watch Russ Abbott work on this and many of his projects this past year. Russ, we thank you very much for your contribution to our Featured Artists program.
Russ Abbott lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He owns and tattoos out of Ink & Dagger, from which he provides digital lectures and travels. Please contact him for availability.