Interview with New Model Army: Justin Sullivan on the Tattoo Art of Joolz Denby: By Allan MacInnis

Oct 12, 2008

Watching the New Model Army in Seattle this spring, I noticed something I hadn't seen before: lead singer/ guitarist Justin Sullivan has tattoos - a few of them. Sullivan’s partner Joolz Denby - punk poet, novelist, the cover artist behind the New Model Army’s LPs and the primary force behind the band’s iconography - has a long history with tattoos. Sullivan normally shies away from talking about his relationship with Joolz in interviews - he’s a wisely private man when it comes to the press - but he was more than willing to share some information on the topic of tattoos.

Joolz’s website includes both fiction and poetry from the author and a “tattoo design boutique” showcasing her work: http://www.joolz-denby.co.uk/. The majority of my interview with Justin appeared in Razorcake #46.

Allan: Let me ask about tattoos, as something you and Joolz have got in common...
Justin: Well... I have tattoos, which I really love, but I’m not heavily tattooed. Which Joolz is. She’s also a tattooist these days. I think there are two or three reasons for that. She told me once that when she was a little girl, she read an adventure book which she’s never been able to find again, about a little girl that was shipwrecked in the South Seas, and was taken to an island and tattooed by the natives and given the status of a true island tribal native, in a very romantic, Kiplingesque sort of way. Secondly, she grew up in Portsmouth, which is a naval town, so the front of Portsmouth was filled with tattoo parlors, where all the sailors would get tattooed. These two things fuelled her imagination as a young girl, and she became fascinated with it at a very early age; but also I think, as an artist, she was interested in the possibilities. She had about the first or second Celtic armband ever done. In about 1979, she met a Welsh tattooist called Mickey Sharpz, who has since retired, but was a very influential tattooist in the rebirth of tattooing which has happened in the last twenty-five years. She had his first Celtic tattoo, and so on. She’s a bit of a trailblazer in that whole world.
Allan: I remember seeing her on TV here in the 1980s, on a cable access TV show called Soundproof. She read some of her poems and showed a black rose on her ankle - there was a famous Vancouver tattoo artist called the Dutchman who she wanted a tattoo by, though she tells me now she never got one...   
Justin: I don’t think she had any in Vancouver. I can’t remember. She certainly had a very famous Samoan do a tribal piece on her when she was in New Zealand.
Allan: Oh, really?
Justin: She has a lot of tattoos collected from different artists.
Allan: Has she done any of your tattoos?
Justin: Yeah, she has - she’s done a fish on my foot, a hand tattoo on my foot, which, I have to tell you, was immensely painful, but I actually really love it. Rather like I love all Joolz’ artwork, which - not unlike our music - is very organic. It’s never quite graphically perfect, you know what I mean? She doesn’t have that thing as an artist about graphics; she’s quite into a sort of “tribalistic iconography” style of art. And the other thing is, she’s always - rather like the band - looking to do something new. When she started to do Celtic artwork in the middle of the ‘80s, it was all quite new, y’know what I mean?. There had been this big Celtic revival at the end of the 19th nineteenth century in Victoriana, but since then it had been not very fashionable. It had a lot to do with her that it became very fashionable in the mid-1980’s - the Thunder and Consolation cover and so on. When that wave broke, and it became really big in the ‘90s, she suddenly moved on to doing very different things. As a tattooist, as an artist, you know... when something she’s done becomes kind of mainstream, she’s already moved on to something else. “Done that, move on.”
Allan: I wonder about the Red Sky Coven albums that you and Joolz have done together. I’ve never seen any here.
Justin: They’re not released. We just kind of sell them at the shows, though we haven’t done a show as Red Sky Coven for about five years now. And we do them on the internet. It’s a kind of cult within a cult. But it’s based on the fact that myself and Joolz and Rev and Brett have been best friends for twenty-five years.

Thankful Bits

Razorcake.org is supported and made possible, in part, by grants from the following organizations.
Any findings, opinions, or conclusions contained herein are not necessarily those of our grantors.
crossmenu