Tattoo you: Adam Werther talks about himself through his body art
For more than a decade, Adam Werther has been indelibly inking customers at his tattoo shop, the aptly named Adambomb Gallerie (2028 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, 414-276-2662). After graduating from MIAD with a bachelor's degree in sculpture, the Waukesha native—who attended half a dozen grade schools in different cities, "So, really, I'm from everywhere," he says—opened his own storefront, working alongside a number of artists. Now, Werther's partner-in-crime is Laurent Marin. A lifelong artist whose myriad of talents have found homes on media ranging from human skin to sketches on plywood and thrifted family photographs, Werther sat down with The A.V. Club to discuss four of his favorite pieces, his passion for artwork big and small, and having already reached the peak of his career.
Armor sleeve tattoo
"[The man who had this done] lives in a yurt in the wilderness in California. He's a snowboarder and a dirt bike rider, and he knew people here. He got a good vibe from me, came into the shop—he really liked the shop and my ideas, and our personalities clicked really well. I'm super-stoked about the outcome. You know, when you think about armor, it could be a very static thing. I was looking at all different types of armor, at the decorations and fluting and everything. I took the more fluid, decorative parts and turned them into elements of the actual armor, which comes in at the top of the design. One thing that a lot of people believe about tattoos is that they need to make sense, but the question I always respond with is, 'Why? Why does it need make to sense?' It's a tattoo; it's not literal. You can do whatever you want to do. People forget that there's that level of freedom with a tattoo. This is supposed to look like armor, but it wouldn't be very utilitarian. As a tattoo, you can push it a bit further and make it a little bit more interesting. A tattoo can also be thought of as a sculpture, because it's three-dimensional. With drawings, sculptures, tattoos, and with art in general, you want to lead a person's eye around the piece. I think this does that."
“Horror Business” tattoo
"I do a lot of work that I'm excited about, but this—I really, really love this sleeve. For instance, Nosferatu, who's in the middle, really intrigued me with the shapes and shadows, the highlights and lowlights of his face; here are all of these little things that you experience as you go along. I had so much fun with each little piece of this design. There were images that the guy wanted, all from a book. I had most of it laid out somewhat, but I realized that I couldn't really lay it out on a piece of paper that would fit on his arm, so I kind of laid it out as I was going. It's a collection all different kinds of movie posters and stills. He also wanted it to say ‘Horror Business,’ and you'd normally think, ‘Oh, I'll put it right on the outside of the arm,’ but it fit really nicely wrapping around the back of the arm. So again, it leads your eye around the piece. My running joke is that this was the pinnacle of my career, so I may as well just quit."
“Drhaon” mixed media on wood
"With this piece, the '1' is supposed to be like the '1' on a dollar bill, but the '5' is like a racing number. See the racing stripes? The shell is like a snail's, or another slow-moving creature's. In my mind, this creature designed its own shell, and its vest. Its body parts are combined and held together inside the vest, along with all the neurological connections, nerves, and muscles—basically like Mr. Potato Head, except it's all inside the vest. I like playing with textures, so this goes from something smooth to something really rough to something hairy, as well as darks and lights. When I start drawing, I don't know what I'm drawing. I just start scribbling, and things happen unbeknownst to me, subconsciously. I love happy accidents like this."
“Evenis” mixed media on wood
"Again, I didn't set out to draw this—this just happened. I don't know how I started to draw rows of human teeth; I just started sketching, and thought, ‘Whoa, this looks like rows of … human teeth!’ so I just went with it. I didn't know that I wanted to do gold leaf, or a pattern, or what, but it just popped into my head: "Ooh, jellyfish! Gold jellyfish! That would be super cool!" As I'm drawing, the story just happens, so what I got from this one is more about money—see the coins?—and consumption, because of the teeth. But it's also about not being able to consume at the same time, because its throat is too small to swallow. So greed, maybe, and the backlash from greed. I'm not sure if the tentacles are arms or legs—it's probably about surplus: too many arms and legs, too many teeth to be practical. But I like to leave a lot to the viewer; I don't have preset stories. I just make marks and try to communicate with them."