Spider Sinclair owns Two Hands Tattoo and Flash City in Auckland. Unlike most tribal tattoos that come out of New Zealand, Spider’s work takes from the American biker-era, straying from bold colouring to delicate, fine lines. From outlining to shading, he uses a single needle. Last year Spider spent eight months on a motorbike and rode 11,134 miles around the U.S. He did 246 tattoos along the way. We’ve been fans of his for years and thought it was time to collaborate.
Photographs: Olivia Jaffe
Interview and words: Taylah Kleid
Recently, you finished another big trip riding around the US. Can you map it out for us?
I started the trip with a month in LA, then moved on to stop and work in and around San Francisco, Portland and Seattle before riding east through Montana and Idaho. I worked in Boise, then back to LA to meet my girl at Born Free. After that I flew to New York and tattooed out there for a couple months. When I got back to LA, I jumped back on my bike to New Mexico and Colorado, followed by Austin, Tucson and back to LA.
That’s a lot! Besides damn tiring, how was it?
It was sick. Some of the best roads I've ridden are in Montana. It's so beautiful up there. I made new friends all over the country, did some of the best tattoos of my career and I didn't crash or die. I had this weird premonition before I went, that the trip was doomed. So many bikers in my circle of friends and acquaintances were killed and injured last summer so I was fucking relieved to make it back to LA unscathed.
For sure. It’s not the first long ride you’ve done, what inspired or made this one happen?
The last trip just felt unfinished. I spent four months on my bike the year before, rode from LA to NY, through the South and back to the West Coast. I pushed way past homesickness on that trip and by the end I would crave the feeling of waking up and having to remember where I was. I really wanted to go up north and see the big sky country, mountains, giant trees and wilderness, so I went back to finish what I started.
What do you ride?
I ride a 2001 Harley Davidson Dyna Low Rider. I picked her up in Little Rock Arkansas in 2015 after I blew a head gasket on another bike. I've set her up for both high speed interstate touring and inner city lane splitting. She's taken me safely through 27 states and 15,000 miles; through torrential rain, hail, snow, dust storms, heat waves, LA traffic and everything else I've thrown at her with fuck all complaints and no breakdowns. She's a keeper.
Where was your favourite stop along the way?
New York is always my favourite. I've been going to East River Tattoo for so long now it's like a second home. New York has this energy that I can't get anywhere else. It’s inspired me as far back as I can remember. I used to hang pictures of of the Manhattan skyline on my bedroom window when I was 8-years-old and pretend that was my view. That city inspires so much of what I do.
Does the travel take toll on any of your relationships?
It's tough being away from my fiancé for months at a time. At one point last year we hadn't seen each other for almost three months. Sometimes she is able to travel with me. In 2015 she rode from NY to LA with me but she’s also insanely busy with her own career. But that’s what makes it work. We are both so focused on making our art that we can spend time apart without going too crazy. And then we genuinely appreciate the time that we can spend together. She’s been my girl for six years and we never take our time together for granted. I think that's pretty rare.
We assume Instagram played a helping hand in making aspects of the trip possible?
Instagram is what makes all this shit possible. It's the best portfolio a tattooer could ever have. I used to have a little photo album on the front desk of Two Hands. That's how you could view my work. Now anyone in the world can have that photo album in their pockets. If you'd tried to tell me that 10 years ago, I wouldn't have been able to comprehend it.
So what’s your relationship with the internet like?
I love the internet but I hate technology. Or technology hates me. Computers and iPhones seem to know when I'm using them and become as complicated as possible. I'm trying to simplify my life by reducing the number of devices I use. Right now I'm down to just my iPhone and I only use Instagram.
We’ve spoken about America a lot but you grew up in New Zealand. What’s it like there now?
I grew up in central Auckland in the 80's and 90s. Like most inner cities it was way different then and has been transformed from one thing into another. My memories of Auckland inform my aesthetic a lot, the types of tattoos I would see as a kid, the old red light districts, sex workers, glue sniffers, gangs and fashion at the time.
I hear that same story all over the world. That's actually one thing I like about LA. The gentrification is slower. You’ll still find derelict streets and abandoned buildings within minutes from Broadway. And free parking! That's pretty rare amongst the western world’s major cities.
Let’s talk about Flash City. You can’t book an appointment, you just rock up and choose something off the wall. How did that plan come about?
I think it just popped into my head when I was in New York one time. I wanted to try something different, like the industry had moved from flash to custom work and I just wanted to bring back a little bit of the way it used to be.
And Bert Krak opened the store with you...
Yeah it was only meant to be a one-year pop up but it went so well that Flash City just had her 4th birthday this year.
You’ve also spoken before about the traditional Western, Sailor Jerry style that we see a lot of now, was something you were made fun of for when you started tattooing.
In the late 90s, in NZ, many people saw traditional western as kind of a joke. Like silly, naively designed antiquated tough stamps. Which was exactly what I liked about them and why I kept it going.
What is it about knowing something came from somewhere that drives you?
That’s hard to explain. I think it's my Dad’s influence. He's a real history buff and I was really good at history, especially art history, in high school. My art teacher told me that I think in a way that puts events in chronological order. Actions and reactions. Everything is influenced by what came before it, and new movements are really just reactions to what was presently popular. So for me, something that comes from heritage or draws from the past, or reacts against the present has more substance.
You dubbed 2016 as the year of the rose. Do you know how many you tattooed throughout that year?
I lost track. It was a lot!
Roses aside, you’ve got a tough style. Has there been any shifts in the amount of women who come to you for your work and are you ever surprised by that?
I want my tattoos to look tough. I want them to scare people. I'm not surprised that I'm tattooing equal numbers of men and women. Girls wanna be bad asses too, ya know?
Tell us a bit about what’s behind the Crawling Death collaboration.
I've worn Crawling Death for years, I pretty much always have one on my head. And I tattooed F.T.W on CJ years ago so I'm stoked to be doing this collab. Our aesthetics work perfectly together.
Interview and words: Taylah Kleid
Photographs: Olivia Jaffe