Ryan Mettz (left) | Jim Fortier (right)
Ryan Mettz is a Brooklyn-based tattooist and resident at Greenpoint Tattoo Co.. Mettz favors a figural approach to tattooing that is impactful and communicative in its simplicity. Traditional iconography is combined with strategic uses of color, rendering Mettz’s growing portfolio both timeless and timely.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
Ryan Mettz. I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1990.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I grew up in a small town in Western MA. There wasn’t much around to do, so if you weren’t playing sports you had to get creative. I ended up spending all of my time skating, painting, and playing music. My parents were always really supportive of me. Thinking back on, it’s crazy—my friends and I were real freaks back then and they put up with a lot of shit.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I work in Brooklyn, New York at Greenpoint Tattoo Co. Before I moved here, I was working in Western MA at HSHG Tattoo.
How long have you been tattooing?
About seven years.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and what did you initially learn how to tattoo?
I don’t really remember to be honest, but at some point between 18 and 20 I became obsessed with getting tattooed. I worked a lot and had money to spend on it. In those years, there were some periods where I’d get tattooed every week. The more time I spent around it the more interested I became, but I didn’t really think I would ever do it. I thought that I’d missed my shot to tattoo because I didn’t start learning when I was 17. Eventually that changed; I couldn’t think about doing anything else. I got super lucky and started ‘apprenticing’ at the shop where I’d been collecting tattoos.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
I wonder if anyone knows what a formal apprenticeship is. I had a couple years of tube scrubbing and shop upkeeping: I could say a lot about those years.
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I got really into printmaking during community college, woodcuts mostly. I moved a few towns over and went to a new school that I heard had a pretty sweet print shop. The year I got there it happened to be shut down. The guy placing me in classes said I could take 35mm photography, so I said fuck it I’ll try that. After a couple years of being obsessed with that, my favorite professor retired and I decided to focus on painting. I’d been painting on my own throughout my life, so I always figured that doing it in school was pointless. I was wrong about that. I had my own studio at the school and everything. For some reason, one day I decided I wasn’t going to go back. I left everything there and never went back.
Did that training help as you learned the mechanics of tattooing?
No, tattooing helped me be a better painter—or at least it forced me to approach making images in a different way.
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it? What are your influences?
I don’t know if I have a style, but I’m influenced by lots of things. Mainly, I’m interested in other painters that can convey things in the simplest ways.
Have you had or do you have plans to take on apprentices?
It would be cool to have a couple apprentices: I’d teach one how to line and one how to shade. I would have them do all my tattoos for a couple years, and if they messed any up I could have super brutal punishments like putting Tabasco in their eyes or forcing them to eat an entire raw potato with no condiments. I’d still get paid for the tattooing. Afterwards, I’d teach them each the other skill they need to complete the training.
What do you look for in a shop?
If I’m looking, I’m curious how well their flash is painted.
"It would be cool to have a couple apprentices: I’d teach one how to line and one how to shade. I would have them do all my tattoos for a couple years, and if they messed any up I could have super brutal punishments like putting Tabasco in their eyes or forcing them to eat an entire raw potato with no condiments. I’d still get paid for the tattooing. Afterwards, I’d teach them each the other skill they need to complete the training."
Is traveling important to you? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share?
A few years ago, I was really excited to travel. I had a lot of really cool experiences and met some people that shaped who I ended up becoming as a person and a tattooer. Seoul will always be the number one. The times I had there changed everything for me—it was the first place I ever guested and after that I traveled anywhere and everywhere that I was asked. For a few years, I lived in a warehouse with no walls or shower but really cheap rent. I spent most of my time traveling, and if I wasn’t going somewhere I felt uncomfortable.
The last year I frequently traveled, I took a total of 55 flights—a lot of them long distance. Whenever I came home, I’d have to fish my mattress out of a closet (if someone wasn’t already sleeping on it). It all started to get old. I was in Nepal with Wan and the rest of the Wild Rose guys when the earthquake happened—that was pretty crazy. But a lot of stuff is crazy when you’re in your early 20s and flying around the world.
These days, I’m interested in staying home in New York City. I like having time to chill out and work on other projects. Traveling all the time doesn’t really allow for exploration and growth with that stuff. I think there’s a time for it, though, and at some point maybe again. I also have a relationship and a dog that I want to be around for; traveling too much made that stuff impossible for me.
What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
The best thing about tattooing is being able to live on your own terms. The biggest challenge today is figuring out how to maintain that.
Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
Ideally tattooing would devolve. Obviously this won’t happen. The Internet has taken it and spoon fed it with fuckin’ airplane noises to everyone shopping at the mall. That’s never going away.