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Exclusive: Max Rothert draws on history, conflict and flesh

Tattoo by Max Rothert, photo by Morgan Kwok
Tattoo by Max Rothert, photo by Morgan Kwok
Tattoo by Max Rothert, photo by Morgan Kwok

Such is the nature of our time that the modern human experience is one saturated with images. This point is made redundant by the florescent teeth and indignant brows of television morality, in which the term ‘bombardment’ is overused. It is nonetheless worth considering what constant consumption does to art. A human impulse to labor over images and objects is worrisome if the time permitted the objects is becoming ever more fleeting. There are some image practices that defy this habit, and require commitment from audience as well as artist. How better to express ardor for an artist than to dedicate yourself as a canvas, and to become animate art.

Max Rothert by Morgan Kwok
Max Rothert by Morgan Kwok

‘I sculpt into the skin’ says Maximilian Rothert, acclaimed artist of Off The Map Tattoo (Easthampton, MA). ‘My process involves understanding each individual’s form, and drawing on their natural flow.’ From his early life in Florida to living in Germany, Rothert was constantly drawing, a skill that earned him a place at the Art Institute of Boston. His unique flair for macabre elegance and strong chiaroscuro was a hard pill for many tattoo studios to swallow. ‘I was laughed out of some shops’ he said, with a smile and shake of the head. It was clear that most establishments were looking for mainstream doodlers of cleavage and anchors and not the artist who would go on to create the strange beauty of ‘Zombie Mermaid’. At long last, he got his chance in Connecticut where he took on an apprenticeship.

Today he is working on a complex sleeve based on Huxley’s ‘Island’. Off The Map Tattoo is known for the creative versatility of its artists. It has long since been Rothert’s inclination to view tattooing as an art of conversation between figure and imagery. ‘I’m not imposing a flat image onto the body,’ he says, while carefully wiping the shoulder of his canvas. ‘I like my work to have a visual vibration, which requires the use of different perspectives.’ He describes how forced perspective is particularly effective in the upper part of the arm, and how the forearm lends itself well to a fish-eye or worms-eye perspective. Dark feathers begin to blossom under his hands, curling in cunning drama across the skin.

It is one of the great pleasures in life to hear a craftsperson discuss the history of their trade, and Rothert is no different in regards to the history of art. He sites the elaborate Rococo movement as one of his primary influences, and though much of his work is thematically distant from the flouncing French aristocrats, something of the detail and clustered vibrancy remains. German Rococo in particular appeals to Rothert by way of its attentive flowers and genius for ‘organic ornamentation’.

His taste is by no means limited to the 18th century, the Hudson River School, Realism and Surrealism all have their place. Each influence he lists has a strict scrutiny of composition, which serves the sculptor turned tattoo artist well. Indeed, his history of figurative art in clay and plaster is comes through in his allotment of the art. The most important objects of a piece feature are given the most prominent features of the figure.

Rothert, having recently returned from a trip to Italy, had many observations to make about the differences between tattoo culture in Europe and the United States. Italy was the place where he discovered the macchiato, and a completely different tattoo disposition. ‘They don’t have a tradition of Americana and sailor tattooing that we have, which gives it more of fine art feel’ he says.

Tattooing is a strangely devotional art form, as it involves an offering of flesh to the gift of an artist. The skill of the artist comes not only from the immediate pleasure of the work but also with its evolution through time. There are growing trends in the tattoo world that provide a great deal of immediate gratification, but are prone to ware rather badly. Rothert explains how his work is created with a great deal of care as to the aging process of skin, both in terms of depth and care. Be it for reason of commemoration, memory or pure art, Rothert and the the other artists of Off The Map are well worth your time, money and eyes.