Prick: Tattooist Henry Hate
Tattooist and artist Henry Hate is a dichotomy of sorts: butch and camp, funny yet spiky, street and successful, Shoreditch meets Notting Hill – an American Brit, a rock ‘n’ roll family man.
‘TO be honest I’m an old fart now. I don’t really go out, I’m 41. I’m not rock ‘n’ roll anymore. I still think part of me is. A nice night out for me would be copious amounts of drinks and an amazing meal, like at Julie’s in Holland Park, with my partner. I love having dinner with friends and drinking.’
Hate recently launched the world’s first ice tattoo at the Tate Modern in a creative partnership with Nissan’s Cube car launch. Prick, his Old Street tattoo parlour, has seen the likes of Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty and Boy George swing in for some skin ink.
‘Amy Winehouse actually walked in of her own accord and I was here by myself. And as I was finishing one tattoo she was sitting at the desk ripping out pages of a pin-up book. And I respond to any kind of visual, and my fuse is very short. I remember thinking I have that exact same book and it appeared that she was destroying my book. And I said: “bitch I hope you’re not ripping pictures out of my fucking book, because you’ll pay for it”. And she said: “no no I brought this in”. And I was like, OK. I realised who she was, and then I had to try to back pedal and try to accommodate her.’
Where did the name Henry Hate come from?
‘It was a number of factors. My mum used to say that I was a very angry child. And it wasn’t that I was angry, I was very determined. And secondly, I wasn’t snotty but I was quite snide. I had a twisted sense of humour and I laughed at the most inappropriate things, I said the wrong things all the time, I could spoil a moment in zero to 60, and when I gave gifts to people I used to sign them “love you, hate Henry”.
‘After a while I just thought, in order to truly hate something you actually have to understand it. And I think that with the antithesis of someone like Courtney Love, she’s this kind of Yoko Ono for the new millennium, but at the same time her behaviour doesn’t help in many ways, but I think that more people seem to be passionate when they say the word “hate”. And I think that there’s definitely a fine line between Henry Love and Henry Hate, but Henry Hate rolls off the tongue much easier than Henry Love.
‘My parents weren’t very happy about using that as my professional name, and they still don’t like saying it.’
So you’re from California?
‘I was born and raised in Orange County, exactly 41 years ago. Then I spent a lot of my formative years in Hollywood and in between I joined the army. I went to art school in Georgia. I spent most of my twenties in Los Angeles and then I moved here. To be honest it was July 5, 1998, so I’m going to be here 12 years. I think I’ve earned my London wings.’
What made you leave sunny California for our fine city?
‘There are several reasons really. I was closer to Europe. This was one place where I wouldn’t need to learn a different language. I’d be the foreigner. Because in Los Angeles you do meet many foreigners, yet the ones I knew in Los Angeles they were very much in love with Europe, but there was something about the glitz of Los Angeles that intrigued them so much. And I grew bored.
‘So I received a postcard from a friend saying that London was amazing and, long story short, I thought I should do something before I turned 30 to just risk it all and put myself in a foreign environment and see what happens, because if I don’t I’m going to miss that window of opportunity. So I came to London and I never looked back.
‘My friends were like “go there, come back”, and I was like “no, that’s too safe. I’d rather go there, see what happens and then if I fail I can come back. If I don’t, even better”. So, that was it.’
So when did your shop, Prick, open?
‘The shop came about virtually seven years ago. I was working in Soho at a place called Diamond Jacks [tattoo studio]. It had a long history of rock ‘n’ roll: the Sex Pistols, the Stray Cats kind of clientele. Another tattooist from a shop said “they’re looking for someone at this place go there”. I was only supposed to be there temporarily and for some reason I ended up being there for four years.
‘The work I was doing kind of drove a wedge between the owner of the shop and myself. It happened unintentionally because it seemed as if I was the owner, on print, of the shop, more than he was. And I think that he resented it. I mean I left of my own volition, and took some time out and I thought “what am I going to do, should I go back to Los Angeles or should I open a shop?” And I put everything I had into this, and seven years later the door’s still open. Touch wood.’
Where do you currently live in London?
‘I live in Notting Hill, west London, with my partner and my dog. I was actually living here in Shoreditch, and we did the dating and seeing each other for about a year, and we did one night here, and like all couples when you start to head towards the co-habitation period, you think “which would be the easiest, who doesn’t mind actually travelling?”
‘West London’s pretty cool, it’s quieter and I think that also, because I’ve spent a very concentrated time in Soho, there’s so much hubble going on around you that Notting Hill’s quiet streets were just a nice change. Even here [in Shoreditch] with the sirens and stuff, it’s still nice to just hear absolutely nothing, see more trees and a park and just silence. It is nicer.’
Did Amy Winehouse already have tattoos when she first came to visit you?
‘She had about three, but she wanted the significant one for her Nan – the long, red pin-up on her arm. And I called my partner and I said “I’m going to be here late tonight”, so we sat here for about two-and-a-half to three hours going over the design, and she was very intent on what she actually wanted. She’s very direct like that, and I think that’s one of the reasons we get on. I don’t challenge her. I won’t kiss her ass, because I can say no, but she likes what she likes and it’s quite refreshing. She’s a lovely girl.’
Tell us about some of your other clients?
‘Boy George is lovely. That led to me tattooing members of his own family. As a tattooist that is one of the best honours someone can give you – that they trust you enough to tattoo not only them, but members of their family. So I got a shirt from his T-shirt collection.
‘Pete Doherty’s a really good tipper. Very friendly, well-mannered. I don’t really have anything bad to say about any of them. I think that because tattooing is so intimate I see them differently, and none of them ever actually expected a free tattoo from me, just because they’re famous. They all pay, they’re all treated the same. I have told a few people that because of my scheduling I cannot drop someone in lieu of them because of their status. If by chance I have a cancellation and the planetary alignment is in place, and they want to come in, I will do it.’
Who are your creative influences?
‘Tattoo-wise I really love Kore Flatmo. He draws off Japanese styles, but it’s very contemporary. I love Richard Prince. I respond a lot to visuals. I liked Warhol when I was a kid. The whole integration of the music, the art scene. It just enveloped everything and got people to be free thinking and start poetry, and it just encompassed art of any kind.’
What would you recommend everyone in London do at least once?
‘My favourite section of London is the view from Kensington Palace to the Serpentine – that stretch of lake. I like sitting there and watching my dog run around and chase squirrels because I actually forget I’m in the city, and I can sit there and find a tree, sleep under the shade. I try to take it easy as much as possible right now. But a good night out is just me, my partner and the dog.’
First published on The London Word, February 2010.
© Abbey Stirling