In Ermenegildo Zegna’s latest ‘Defining Moments’ film, tattoo artists Joseph Siow and Bobo McGrylls wax lyrical about their craft.
It’s a sultry day in Haji Lane, the hipster centre that is home to small independent fashion retailers, quirky cafes, and one tattoo studio called Visual Orgasm. Despite the heat, the studio’s founder, Joseph Siow, manages to look cool and unﬂ appable as he slips on a stylish jacket and takes a stroll through his hood. He is on a shoot for Ermenegildo Zegna’s new “Deﬁning Moments” ﬁlm, which features conversations between successful self-taught tattoo artist who had earned a name for himself for his free-hand work, although, at that point, he was unable to take McGrylls under his wing. Nonetheless, they stayed in touch through the years, and, when McGrylls started building custommade tattoo machines to accommodate an individual artist’s strokes and techniques, he reached out to Siow for feedback. Through this process, they began working together on a customised tattoo machine, eventually individuals who are making waves in their striking up a friendship based on the mutual ﬁ eld. In this case, Siow’s co-star is none other than his friend and colleague at Visual Orgasm, Bobo McGrylls.
Both men met more than a decade ago, when McGrylls ﬁrst approached Siow for an apprenticeship. The latter was a exchange of ideas and a shared passion for tattoos and art. Last year, McGrylls officially joined the studio as a tattoo machine maker and tattoo artist.
One of the core experiences that bonds both men is how they each started out in very different ﬁelds, before eventually ﬁnding their sanctuary in the tattoo studio. McGrylls was working as an engineer in the oilﬁeld when he started building custom-made tattoo machines. “I’ve always wanted a job that would accommodate the way I look with my tattoos,” he says, as the camera focuses on his tattoo-covered biceps and forearms.
Siow, on the other hand, was a graduate from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts when he ﬁrst tried to cut his teeth in the world of advertising. It wasn’t long before he got disenchanted with following clients’ orders and realised that it was tattooing that really allowed him to exercise his creativity. He ended up committing to a lifetime in the trade. “I got some visible tattoos on my arm and on my neck to keep me rooted to the craft,” he reminisces. “With tattoos all over, I can’t go on to any other job.”
Not that any other career would be as rewarding, given the emotional dividends of working in this ﬁeld. Getting a tattoo is a momentous affair, as it often represents something deeply profound to the customer. To both men, being able to listen to their customers’ personal stories and helping to tell them through the indelible etching of art on their skin is what makes the job worth doing.
“Tattooing is a very intimate process between the client and the artist,” Siow explains. “Whenever clients open up to you and tell you about the story behind the tattoos they want, you feel privileged to be in this position, to mark them for life so that they will remember this moment.”
The passion for tattoos and art that both share is a single-minded one. It is all that Siow can talk about; their relationship is solidly built upon the exchange of opinions, ideas, and learning from each other in the name of progress.
And so it has come to pass that the two men are honouring their craft on a hot afternoon, standing against a mural not far from their studio. A tattoo might not have been the best form of art to capture this moment, but, luckily for us, there’s ﬁlm.
For both veteran tattoo artist Joseph Siow (top) and his colleague Bobo McGrylls (left) who got his start as a maker of tattooing machines, satisfaction comes from being able to help immortalise clients’ personal stories on their skin.