First published on 6 Sep 2012. Updated on 7 Sep 2012.
His time on the hit series LA Ink alongside Kat Von D is just a blip in the span of Corey Miller’s tattooing career. Over 25 years he’s become well respected for his freehand, black and white West Coast style, and has etched the likes of James Hetfield and Jesse James – a style he'll be demonstrating at the Tattoo & Body Art Expo in November.
So it’s not entirely a surprise to learn he’s not a huge fan of reality TV and the flash-in-the-pan tattooists it launches the careers of – not when it messes with one of the world’s oldest, most sacred art forms.
“The tattoo industry is getting exploited,” he sighs. “It was underground for so long because we were keeping it true. I’m happy that the show brought tattooing into the living-rooms, but at the same time, once it came out of those boxes suddenly everyone feels they can do it. Well go watch a show about heart surgery and see if you can do that! We’re altering the perfect creation, changing someone’s body forever, so that process should be done with a huge amount of respect.”
Oh… and not mastered in two weeks then? Someone should tell telly giants TLC – responsible for the Ink series, along with Toddlers and Tiaras and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – who last year launched Tattoo School. “Rookie students, models risking their skin to first time body artists, a rebellious instructor and unconventional training… who will bear the drama of competition and survive?” goes the tagline.
So with tattooists now elevated to rock star status, is Miller getting endless requests from wannabe apprentices?
“I’ve probably got more people asking me now,” he appraises. “I definitely don’t want to keep anybody back, but I’m not a teacher. I’ve apprenticed a couple of guys over the years but it wasn’t a monetary thing – it was about them being good artists and me being willing to share what I’ve learned. That’s the bad thing: people think of the money these days. I see shows like Tattoo School and I think it’s pathetic. The people that did those shows, they were terrible. It’s the blind leading the blind!”
Miller own involvement in LA Ink could be put down to being a reasonably ambitious guy who’s proud of his work. “I did hesitate a bit,” he admits. “I was raised around guys who were very ‘keep it down’ about the tattoo industry. But a lot of the people who hate on that kind of thing want to do it more than anybody else. If you weren't doing it, they’d be doing it. Everything’s on TV these days: chefs, bike building…"
But art is, he stresses, all in the eye of the beholder. "I was very lucky to be picked, but still it’s unnerving to think people may then consider me to be the best. No, I’m not. I’m good at what I do, but it’s like nobody can say who’s the best musician out there.”
Miller’s looking forward to hitting Australia for the first time for the The Tattoo & Body Art Expo and catching up with tattooist mates like Little Mick in Brisbane and Trevor McStay from Dynamic Tattoo here in Melbourne. Having worked in shops prominent in black and white work, like Good Time Charlie’s in Anaheim, California, he’ll be happy to demonstrate that style at the Expo.
“I’m getting hundreds of emails and the promoters are picking a few people,” he says of the Australians lining up to volunteer a body part. “I’m just going to look at the content of what they want and make a choice. I love the realism of black and grey, and it heals well – it stays nice for a long time.”
If Miller could personally pick anyone, alive or dead, to ink his own skin, he’d choose the late cartoonist, poster artist and animator Greg Irons, who was also handy with a tattoo gun. The Philadelphia-born artist even worked on the Beatles’ seminal animated flick, Yellow Submarine. “I always admired him,” Miller says. “His life was cut short, but he inspired so many.”
And inspiration, of course, should be the name of the game.