Creative London: Dominique Holmes – Artist, Tattooer & Writer

Dominique Holmes (c) Leonora Saunders

Dominique Holmes is a London-based artist, tattooer, designer and writer, known for her distinct artwork and pushing boundaries in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Having grown up just outside of London, Dominique spent a few years in Manchester and Brighton before returning to London in 2006, “It’s really the ultimate place to be for any artist, it’s such a creative hub with so much inspiration wherever you look. There’s nowhere else like it in the world!”

“My work intersects so I would say I’m an artist who practises in different mediums. I began tattooing in 2002 whilst studying art and design at Manchester Metropolitan University, and I’ve always been driven to maintain both disciplines. Tattooing has given me a platform to display my artwork and vice versa.

Dominique’s work is very decorative and linear; “I use lines to create shape, texture and form, and I explore different ways in which I can form an image from this. I also use my position within tattooing and design to discuss and raise the profile and importance of women in my industry, which is still very male-dominated.

“My 2012 book, The Painted Lady, was the first tattoo book written for and aimed at women to be published in the UK. I design for a wide range of brands, including Diesel, Penguin Books, Levis and Snog, and produce fine art pieces which explore and comment on the concept of urban spirituality and mythological interpretations of sexuality.”

“Even as a child I knew I wanted to do something creative and push boundaries, from a young age I was drawn towards art and writing. I spent my time writing stories and creating pictures and patterns, drawing designs on my friends and myself. I only realised tattooing was a potential job when I was 15 and got my first tattoo – back then it wasn’t accessible or respectable, and definitely wasn’t seen as a career. I was a very bright child and was expected to go down an academic path and become a lawyer or a historian or academic, but my dream was always to be an artist.

“Whilst studying art and design I managed to get a job at a Tattoo Studio in south Manchester. I worked there for three years, earning an ‘apprentice wage’, trying to continue my studies, and working evenings and weekends at an Off License; it was quite a struggle, but then it was the only way into the industry. I got involved with a group of queer feminist artists in Manchester and worked with them on some amazing creative projects which spurred me on to continue with my art even after I left university to focus on my career in 2003.

“After three years at the studio, I got offered a job in a studio in Brighton, where I would be the only full-time tattooer in a busy studio. It was a huge step up for me as I had to learn very quickly about running a studio and working freelance. I worked at a couple of studios before being asked to work at The Family Business Tattoo in Clerkenwell, in 2006. At the time the studio was at the forefront of creative, artistic tattooing, bringing together tattooing and fine art, design and artistry.

“In my eight years at TFB I developed my style to the distinctive aesthetic it is today, and reconnected with my art roots, working on more art projects including group exhibitions across the UK and US, and a joint solo show with artist Scott Paterson in 2013, and building up my design portfolio from embarking on high profile collaborations with brands including Penguin Books, Benson & Hedges and Bill Amberg, and published my first book.

“In 2015 I left and set up a private studio where I could split my time between my art and tattooing, and began working on regular collaborations with Diesel, Snog, and Sauvelle Vodka as part of their Studio Sauvelle. I now spend three days a week tattooing and dedicate the rest of my time to other creative ventures.

“I’m currently working on a collaboration with artist/sculptor Ktee, creating large scale relief sculptures based on my artwork, and a series of smaller sculptures which will be exhibited worldwide. I am also working on design collaborations with Levis and The Nomad Barber, and a photographic project with Leonora Saunders, exploring and highlighting Women who have played a part in the evolution of tattooing and whose stories have never been told.

“When it comes to the tools of the trade I’m a real creature of habit. I’ve used the same tattoo machines for almost a decade – I have to ‘service’ them regularly and replace parts when they wear down but they’re an extension of me so I feel a real attachment to them! I’m also a nerd about my art equipment, I love discovering new pens, inks, paints and chatting with other artists about materials. But it’s very basic. Good paper, good ink… that’s all that matters.”

Given the option, Dominique chose two links to her work, “On a personal level, this tattoo [above] I created for a client, Sarah, who had undergone a mastectomy following a breast cancer diagnosis. As part of her recovery she hadn’t wanted to try and conceal what she’d been through, but rather do something to mark the acceptance and celebration of the life she now had. She had no tattoos before this, but having this tattoo has given her a boost in self-confidence and acceptance. Knowing my work can have such an impact on an individual is very humbling and rewarding.

“Creatively, my current collaboration with Ktee [below] is based on a series I’ve created based on how snakes and serpents have been portrayed though mythology and history in terms of female empowerment and sexuality. I’m very excited to see this project though and feel it could be my most important work to date.”

“One of the highlights of my career was my exhibition with Scott Paterson, another was the trip to Istanbul with four fellow creatives for the design project I was commissioned to undertake for Benson & Hedges. Five days in the most inspiring city in the world, culminating in working in an incredible artist space on a one-off piece for the company was hugely inspirational beyond that one job. But probably the greatest highlight has been opening my private studio and being able to take my work to the next level.

“I have huge admiration for the women in tattooing who have taken massive strides to move the industry forward and break away from the misogynistic world we inhabit. Nikole Lowe, Kanae, Alexis Camburn and Claudia de Sabe have taken huge strides forward.”

As for what’s coming next, “My collaboration with Ktee is the most exciting thing I’m working on right now, I’m looking forward to showing our work across the world and launching in London, and being able to bring more attention to women’s rights/LGBTQ rights through my artworks.”

Dominique will be exhibiting some of her work alongside Marian Stanchev and Lia Bira for Works on Paper at The Brick Lane Gallery, 18th-30th October.

Dominique Holmes’ Top 5 London

Wanstead Flats (c) Dave Marley

To Eat: Meson don Felipe in Waterloo is my absolute favourite place to eat in London. Authentic Spanish tapas and great wine, a chilled environment and live flamenco guitar; their carajillo and crema catalana are perfect!

To Drink: As reluctant as I am to give away my secret gem in London – Found in Shoreditch is my ultimate spot for drinks. I’ve never had a bad night there, the drinks are always great, the service is top quality, the vibe of the place is equal parts hipster, chilled, and sexy.

To Party: The Glory is my favourite place to party. Guaranteed fabulous and super queer. Second to that is The Moth Club; their theme nights (Madonna/David Bowie vs Freddie Mercury/Prince/80s pop) are like nothing else!

To Walk: I live right next to the Wanstead Flats and most days I walk my dog there for an hour or two. It’s incredibly beautiful and feels like you’re not even in London any more. Some days I find myself walking all the way up to Epping Forest without seeing another person. It’s the perfect way to escape.

To Shop: I hate shopping, I basically have five apps which I use and if I can’t find what I want there I assume it doesn’t exist and give up. But the one place I will happily browse/shop for pleasure is Liberty. When it gets a bit much I just retreat to the Diptyque concession and it’s all fine.

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