As I walked towards the bright pink piercing shop sign labeled “Punktured”, I was very aware that I had never in my life met someone entirely covered in black tattoos. I walk up to the busy shop entrance and instantly spotted Eli. He’s not hard to miss. He notices me and comes outside. He’s friendly. Surprisingly, the first thing that stood out to me was how tall he was. We shook hands and start chatting.
Quite quickly, we found ourselves talking about social media and the pitfalls of the digital era. We went to a local cafe to have a quiet seat, away from the perplexed public eyes. It became clear quite quickly that although strong in appearance, with the blacked out eyes, huge stretched nostrils and entire full face tattooed black, he didn’t seem any more bizarre than the next tattooed or non-tattooed human. That’s not to say he’s not bizarre. We ́re all a little fucked up. After 20 minutes talking we began the interview.
What first got you interested in tattooing and body modification?
I kind of think 50% of it was laid out for me already, it chose me, and 50% pure obsession. Once I found something cool, I wanted to find out everything about it, and how far I could take it.
Was there a moment in your younger years when you noticed someone heavily tattooed or modified which made an impression?
Yes! When I was about 13, I was on the train going to Camden with my mum. I’ll never forget it- I saw this girl. At the time I was like “Oh my god!” you know, full-face tattoos, big long dreads, big fake boobs, big new rocks on, you know, it was the nineties. I sat opposite of her on the train with my jaw wide open, and I thought to myself “I want to be with someone like that when I grow up”. That was my first introduction into that.
Take us through your tattoo journey, and when you started your blackout transformation.
I started getting tattooed at 17, all traditional, cheesy, basic tattoos, which have been reworked and reworked over time. I started blacking myself out at about 20, 21 years old.
Once you started blacking out, did you have an idea of how far you were going to take it?
Yeah, I’ll be honest, I did know I was going to go full face, full body. Even the second I got my first piece of black work on my wrist, I knew this would be the start of something massive.
How did you feel once you knew you were going to black out your actual face?
It was very emotional. The people around you are never going to be the same again. It’s not just you who transforms but also those of the lives around you.
So you were aware of this before and during the transformation process?
Yeah, like your parents, your dog, anyone that has to put up with you on a daily basis will be changed, as the person they know has completely changed. I don’t think it was really hard for people to take back then, because I had a shit ton of piercings on my face anyway. People knew my plans for my face anyway, so it wasn’t that hard for me to transition into it. I just found it harder at the beginning meeting people for the first time. That was a bit difficult because you forget you have it until you look in the mirror. hahaha.
Was there a moment when you looked in the mirror and you thought excitedly ‘I actually did it’?
Yeah, I got my lower jaw done first, up to my lips, in one session. You wake up in the morning completely fine and look in the mirror to brush your teeth and go “ahhh, my face is tattooed! hahaha I love it, I absolutely love it”
Did you get any unexpected reactions from friends or family?
All the time yeah, even now. Even years later friends say “I can’t believe you fucking done it, man, you must be nuts” and I just kind of let it go straight in one ear and out the other.
What people don’t realize is that the tattoo changes you over time. The older you get the more grateful you become of wearing it and being able to put up with this for a long time.
Also, the pain changes you, because it’s horrendous, but also the tattoo changes you over time. You look back and realize “you’re a strong motherfucker”. You look back on having a full face and think “fucking hellll you went all out”. You know what I mean.
Do you think having your face tattooed has the strongest impact on your appearance to other people?
No. I think it’s the eyes that people are most shocked at. They kind of see the eyes before the face. Once they see the eyes they’re like “ah he’s got contacts in” and then their like “is that a tattoo?” So I don’t think its necessarily the face straight away, I think its the eyes.
We will speak more about your eyes later in the interview, but for now, I must ask. Through your transformation, do you feel like you’re becoming yourself, or would you say you’re evolving into who you want to be?
I would say, it’s completely out of my control. Before you do it you think you’re going to be this really self-confident, ideal image of yourself when you get your face and neck done. And then over time it just naturally blossoms into this other person that you didn’t know was there. And you’re like, actually I’m so humble.
Basically what it is, is, look what I’ve survived. There is no art to black work. there is art doing it, getting it done, but after its done, there no art to it, in my opinion. There’s no beauty in my opinion to it at all. Its just one thing, one thing, saying, look what I survived. That’s basically what it is.
Do you feel you’ve become more confident as a person since having the transformation?
And is it directly linked to the black work?
I think its linked to tattooing on a big scale. I don’t think it necessarily has to be black work. It could be geometry or traditional covered all over the face. It does change you for sure. The confidence goes through the roof. But we all have good days and we all have bad days. Some days you think “fucking hell I just want to go down the shops to get a pint of milk, but it’s going to turn into the worst night. Like football lads are in the shop and you think ‘do I really need to get this now? Should I wait a minute?’”
Which leads me to my next question, how do you deal with all the attention, may it be good or bad?
My missus would say that I don’t deal with it. She would say that I hide from it. But I see that as a positive thing and not “I’m scared to go to the shop” but it’s knowing the right time. That’s not to say I shouldn’t hide, I should be allowed to go down there. Yes. But when you’ve had it for so long you realize, it’s probably better to go after rush hour. hahaha. And I’m fine with that. It’s stupid to go out during school hours. Why would you do it? If you can wait, you might as well do it after.
Your girlfriend, how did she respond to the transformation? Did you meet her before or after the transformation?
Its funny actually, she came into the studio when I had the eyes done when I had the full face done. So she didn’t really know me before I had it done. She came into the shop, walked past and was absolutely fascinated. She asked me something about a piercing, and that was it. She left, and she started talking to me online. But she didn’t really know the person I was before it, even though I don’t know what that is. I don’t really see a change in my personality. But people do around me. They see me as a different person now, in a positive way, which is really nice.
She didn’t know anything before, she kind of only knows me for this, so its a shock to her when she sees pictures of me before. She’s like “fuuuck, I can’t imagine it”
I can imagine many people’s first question when asking you about your transformation would be “why?”. So, here I am asking you Eli sir. Why?
I find peace of mind most when I don’t ask myself why. If I sit there and I think ‘why am I doing this?’, I kinda go into a very dark place. And I kinda get insecure, and maybe a bit of anxiety. I kinda sit there thinking, ‘am I kinda losing it, a little bit?’ – like if I ask myself too much. If I just kinda look at it, and I think, it comes into my head a couple times a day, I don’t question it anymore.
I think you can go mad asking yourself the question ‘why?’ if there’s no fucking answer!
Hahaha, all your going to do is dig the hole, deeper and deeper. That’s why often I won’t answer strangers questions because they can quite hurt you with their questions. Like “have you ever asked yourself why have you ever questioned your own sanity?” and its like, fucking hell man, that’s a lot. And then you question yourself like, ‘maybe he/she’s right’.
And it’s funny how strangers feel they have the right to know things. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong if people ask in a respectful way.
I’ve mentioned this before in a previous interview, that I don’t think people should ask, I think people should respect. I don’t believe in that. No one goes up to a girl with big fake breasts and asks “fuck man, I have to ask, did that hurt?” But no, because you would be arrested for assault, or being weird.
Fuck man, that’s true, I never thought of it like that.
Unless their like an apprentice, and they want to know how something’s done. Other than that, don’t ask because you’ll never understand, because I don’t understand! Don’t ask me because I haven’t got a clue, that’s why I’m doing it, so I understand it!
Let’s talk body modifications. What have you had, what’s your favorite?
I’ve had lip scalpelling – big Ethiopian lip plate. I had my top lip scalpelled and punched. Finger removal, nostrils punched and stretched, and had my eyes tattooed.
With your lip plate what size was it at its largest, and how long did it take to get there?
It was 50mm over three years. I had it scalpelled to 12 and then stretched it to 25, and then cut it myself up to 28, and then stretched it to 50. I decided to take it out because England is a cold climate quite a lot of time, and it’s not something that in my opinion I can handle in a cold climate. It makes your mouth cold and dry. It’s not very convenient to have it in and open all the time. For me, the whole thing was an experiment anyway. Just to see how far I could take it. But after a few years, I realized it was just not going to work. Some people would disagree with that.
Your eyeballs! What’s the procedure and how many times have you had them tattooed? Tell us a bit about that.
So basically, its just an injection of ink into the sclera. Had them tattooed twice, one layer of black and one layer of green. The experiment was to see how much of the green would stay over the black. The black pushes the green out, I kind of wanted a neon green but black at the same time. I wasn’t surprised when this much fell out, you never know what’s going to happen but it was interesting to see.
Would I do it again?
How was the aftercare?
Aftercare for me was really bad, man. The black was fine, a piece of piss, the green was a whole other ball game. I kinda went into the green, the second layer, kind of cocky, egotistical, “yeah man I got this”, and the pain blew me away compared to the black. While getting it done and the aftercare. I didn’t know this at the time but obviously aluminized green has more of an artificial pigment in the ink to make it a neon color, whereas black is just pure carbon and quite dull. So the black hurts anyway going in but it doesn’t give you that sting because it’s not a bright color. I didn’t really think of it at the time.
The aftercare was cleaning every hour with saline solution. So I would set my alarm every hour, so I didn’t really sleep properly for 7 days. So I would set my alarm every hour to clean throughout the night and for me, I was just broken, cos I had my finger done the same time as my eyes done.
People probably think I just say this just for the sake of it, but I would honestly recommend that no one does their eyes, that’s not to big myself up. Because is it worth going blind for? No way. You lose the novelty after a while. Its the same as any tattoo.
Any side effects?
No, no, just in really hot weather ill have to put shades on. It’s uncomfortable anyway without having your eyes tattooed in that heat anyway. Just to protect them.
Do you feel a subconscious connection with people who are heavily modified?
I do when I first see them, I do but then I tell myself no, separate, not because its cool to be my one-man army, no because we really are. We are all one of a kind yet we all want to have the same personality and the same interests as each other. Your interests are completely opposite to mine, you might even have been tattooed by the same person as me, your meaning is completely different.
Is this a mindset that you had even before tattooing?
I think its a mindset that I have to protect myself from being hurt.
Even within the community that is heavily modified?
Yeah, I think so yeah, I think a lot of people out there now are egotistical, and I’ve been egotistical in the past when I was immature and didn’t really know what I was doing. I just wanted to be the best, and I hold my hands up to that. All I want people in the industry to know now is that, he’s tattooed as fuck…let’s leave him be. There’s no point questioning him. I’ll work on you and be friends and stuff.
I personally love the contrast between the transformation which gives you an appearance which attracts more attention than ever and it couldn’t be further from what you want. And you truly have done it because that’s your mission, that’s your thing, it doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just what it is.
Yeah exactly, I don’t think in the industry there is sense anymore. I dunno man, I just kinda have always felt I’m the most passionate one in the world, no one is ever as passionate about tattooing as me, which is complete bullshit, but that’s how I’ve always felt deep down. Its kind of like when I see people with heavy black work, I always think, they look fucking cool. But they don’t want to hear my opinion, I don’t want to hear their opinion. Unless they’re friendly and say like, “let’s go for a beer”. But I don’t want to listen why they got it done. I’m passed that now. I’m like cool, what you going to do after, how’s your life changed after? That’s what I’m interested in.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s thinking about drastically changing their appearance through tattoos and bod mods?
I would say, have a business plan. Have a life plan. You could call it a tattoo plan. Where you want to be at 20, how much you want to have done. 30, 40. What you’re going to do for a job. Definitely plan it out. When you will be booked in next/bookings with your artists, and how your state of health will be.
Do you think that’s an age where someone, when someone shouldn’t be contemplating, getting so heavily tattooed?
I would say no. Because if I could of, I would have done it all at 17. If I had the finances, I would have done it when I was really young I think some people are not capable of regret. It doesn’t happen to them. Where so some people its really high in them. They regret everything. Like they regret having that certain type of coffee. Do you know what I mean? So I would say get tattooed at any age. If it’s, like a need, I say do it.
Future plans for your skin?
White on black comes to mind.
But that’s getting really popular now as well, that makes me not want to do it. Cos that’s going to attract even more mainstream people. I dunno man, I quite like the idea of having a body suit of scarifications, that would be insane. But of course you cant tattoo over them. The good thing with white on black, in ten years, later when you want to get rid of it you can black it out and then put another white design on. I don’t know at the moment. I’m just concentrating on beating the world record and see whatever takes my fancy.
What’s the world record?
I think its like 8 layers. Lucky Diamond Rich.
It’s not to use tattooing to compete with someone. It’s not about “I’m the record holder, I won! I won!” It’s not about that. It’s about proving to myself that I’m a lot stronger than I think I am. It’s cheesy when I think about people competing for the best tattoo at conventions, but I need to become the most tattooed man in the world for me, to prove that the dream did make sense in the beginning when I started. When I got on that train. If I don’t do it, then its just a dream. And that’s ok. But I have to do it.
Any more plans for body modifications?
Yeah, I thought about getting some silicone implants in my forehead. But I think it’s just for shock factor. Just to shock. I don’t really want them, I just think they look fucking dark. Like when I see someone with them I think “fuuuck man, that looks dark”
How do you react to trolls or haters who just don’t get it?
I would say my reaction to it, is by not reacting. I found peace in ignoring people now. I used to think it was really disrespectful and I was a horrible person if I ignored someone. But now I find it in my right that I don’t actually have to answer any questions. Which is a massive deal to me. I used to think I couldn’t ignore it.
Let’s talk about art. When did you first discover you were an artist?
I’ve always had an interest, but never really picked up the pencil etc until I started getting into black work. I started hanging out more with people who were heavily tattooed, and there just drawing these sicks tattooed while having a coffee, and I’m like, ‘I need to start drawing’. I have so much shit up here, I need to put it out there.
So what styles of art and tattooing are you into?
I really like childlike drawings. I love like what you would find after putting a 2-year-old with crayons. I just love art like that. There’s a complete genius about not having a self-critic, the child can just go “yup, that’s fine, that ones fine”. Whereas when your an adult your kinda like “Nah, I hate that I need to change it, I’m shit, people are going to think I’m a shit artist” I like art where you can just do it, and its done, throw it at a wall and call it art. I find comfort and freedom in that. It can never be done again. I find it amazing.
Abstract, trash lines, contorted and confused lines.
Artists who have Influenced you in the tattoo/art world?
There are loads, but to say a few, Cammy Stuart, lethal black work project. Avoid Project, his works insane. Freecrewz, heavy black work. There are definitely artists out there that have shaped my imagination.
I love that I get to do something that I’ve got. I like having it and doing it. I get to tattoo my favorite thing.
Where can people see your favorite work?
I’m trying to stay away from Facebook and social media more. To try and get my audience as a concentrated amount of people. So I can serve people the best way possible. Social media you can serve everyone, but only 10% will actually care and book in. You can have 1000 likes on one photo and only have 2 people book in. I’m interested in the concentrated people amount that actually care. That’s why I started a pattern account. No one’s going to pay 10 or 50 pounds a month just to be a troll and be annoying. So Pattern is really good for that. I even email my patterns to build a connection.
Ok, quick-fire round.
Most painful bod mod?
Most painful place getting tattooed? Hardest healing area?
Cats or dogs?
Favorite film genre?
Difficult one. I want to say documentaries, does that count?
Have you got any phobias?
Meateater, vege or vegan?
Do you consider yourself spiritual?
Do you think you’ll ever stop getting tattooed?
Yes. When I have a break to think about the next project. My dream is to beat the world record, then take a year off from everything. People in the industry, people at work. Go away for a year, and think about the next gigantic project.
Describe the people in Brighton in 3 words.
Easy-going. Nosey. Friendly.
Any tattoo conventions this year?
I try and stay away from conventions because I don’t want to be influenced by other artists anymore. I feel like I have not found my niche that sets my soul on fire, so I don’t kind of want to pollute that with another genre of tattooing to make my life harder.
Have you ever contemplated making money from your new appearance?
It interests me if the message is the same. For example, if someone messaged me about being in a music video I would consider it if the meaning of the song was what I agree with.
The money isn’t enough of a motivation?
No, not at all, because I kinda see money as nothing. I’ve spent so much on sessions. Ok, there it goes, well, that was two grand gone, and all I’ve got to show for it is this massive swollen shoulder, so I don’t really see money as anything anymore.
Well, ultimately it’s a man-made concept.
Yes exactly, it’s like a token. You do this for me, I do that.
What do you say to people who think heavily modified people are damaged?
I kinda say, mostly we are. You’re probably right. haha.
What kind of music are you into?
Anything that makes me feel in a positive way.
And finally, Eli, any regrets?
I regret not doing it sooner.
Written by Heywood Taylor. Follow Heywood on Instagram
Featured image credit @jamestreeterphotography