Hey Alex, let’s start from the very beginning! How & when did you first discover your passion for tattooing?
My first recollection of seeing a tattoo was when i was around 13 or so on the arm of my mothers cousin, I loved it immediately, was fascinated and started tattoo watching from then on. This was in the 70's, we lived in the countryside and were relatively "posh" so there weren't that many opportunities. I remember seeing them on the arms of the fairground workers who came to the nearest town. I loved it! I got my first couple of small tattoos when i was 17 and into punk rock, i wanted to be a rebel, it all started from there.
What did the early years look like for you? Did you jump into an apprenticeship with a local shop or gradually learn the tricks of the trade yourself?
I went to artschool in the early 80's, always loved tattooing, but didn't really see it as a possible career for me. After I left i played in bands and bummed around the London art/music scene for a while, and then got a job as a medical illustrator which was pretty cool. I partly got the job to fund my growing passion for getting tattooed, expensive then as now. After a little while I thought - fuck it - i can DO this, so bought some equipment (pretty shitty) and started on myself and freinds. There was no way an apprenticeship was possible, the only other tattooers in london at the time were very "old school" and they would never have taught me. So I stared from the big "art" squat i was living in, right in Central london up by the British Museum. Fun times!
You started tattooing & getting on the scene quite a while back when the industry in the UK seemed quite young. What was it do you think that really helped make your business & career a success over the years … what helped make a breakthrough for you?
All I was really was the first of the "art" guys (tattoo artists) in London. I just got in early! I never saw tattooing as a business, but as a form of expression, I was, and still am really, very idealistic. As I still say - "tattooing isn't a job, and into You isn't a business" I see it as an artform, the money/business aspect had to interest for me, all my mates were doing interesting art things - music,film, performance etc, I just saw it in that way. Somehow it took off. I was in the right place, right time, tattooing was on the up and I just rode that wave!
Today, the vast minority of people you know don’t have a tattoo/sleeve! It’s crazy to think how much that has changed even since I’ve been getting tattoos over the last ten years. With that, naturally, are way more tattooists and shops opening all over the place. Do you notice many people still pushing new styles/techniques?
People are pushing ahead with new things, but tattooing is to many just a business now. Most of the new shops opening up aren't really interested in pushing ahead, but in making money and having a nice lifestyle. But that's OK. Not everyone can be an innovator, and in any trade/industry there will be those who innovate and those who follow. My time of innovation is possibly over! after 25 years or so you can't be at the forefront all the time. I'm an old guy now and can hardly keep up with what the youngsters are doing, but there is plenty of amazing work coming out still.
I’ve been tattooed many a time by Adam Sage and Woody who both work at your Brighton shop. The work those guys are doing is fantastic! Do you have any plans to expand the empire and open another shop somewhere else?
NO! 2 shops are plenty! Into you London is in it's 21st year now, I opened the Brighton shop (with Jason Mosseri) as i live down here, i have kids, and like the more relaxed pace in Brighton, so it's just a fun thing really.
I recently came across a piece of work you did for the ‘Tattoo’ convention at the Paris Quai Branly Museum. Could you walk us through that piece of work & how was it having your work featured there? It was an awesome exhibition!
Alex Binnie piece at the Paris Musee Quai Branly 'Tattoo' Exhibition
Yes that Musee Quai Branly show is very good I agree, i hope and think we will see more shows of that standard in museums worldwide over the coming years. I just got approached to do it, and was very happy to do so. they wanted a selection of contemporary tattooers to bring the show into the present and i was lucky enough to be included. It was great and the opening party was a treat to be at. tattooing is, for better or worse, finally entering the mainstream. It could have been a disaster, but they put on a really good show.
What do you do outside of tattooing? Any other hobbies?
Alex with some of his print work
I make art, I do yoga and go hiking, I raise my kids and hang out with my lovely wife Zoe, and I still drink and party a little!
It’s gotta be one of the coolest careers you could ask for really. Any words of advice for someone thinking about getting into it?
Alex Binnie at a live Tattoo exhibition, 'Departure' 2012
Work very hard, be absolutely committed to the path, keep an eye on what other people are doing, but don't get too influenced by them. You gotta REALLY love it, have a real passion for it. Get tattooed by your heroes, travel, have fun, and just hope for the best I think now the lucky break is probably essential, that magical ingredient X, that you can't put your finger on. But without hard work and real commitment nothing is going to happen.