Fridays with William #1

Bridget has been visiting her tattoo artist William, which means I have also been visiting William. Each session lasts all day, sometimes till late at night. Although Bridget might see him just once or twice a year, their relationship is close in a way that you can’t approximate to any other intimate relationship.

She would be lying there for hours and they would talk about everything. City life is fragmented and does not allow us to know people at all – who has 12 hours to just talk to someone about everything and nothing much? That hardly even happens when we fall in love. No one has the time, which makes our friendship with William anachronistic and wondrous and weird.

We visit William on Fridays because Friday is the only day he works late – other days he spends with his daughter. Today I’m here again and Bridget has been on that ink bed since this morning. I’ve been meaning to write about William for weeks. But when I’m not here I never have the time!

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This Guan Gong was given to William by his old neighbour. It is over 100 years old.

Bridget was alone when she first met William. She was looking for tattoo artist after having an unpleasant experience with the first one. She showed up at his tattoo studio while he was in the middle of a job. There was a whole group of Chinese men smoking cigarettes and hanging out there. He looked at her and ignored her, but she just stood there and said quietly, “Do you not want to talk to me? (你是不是不想跟我讲话?)”

William put down his gun.

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William is a tall, tattooed man. You can tell that life has happened to him. Bridget is small with no visible tattoos at that time. She looked about 15. She told William that she wanted a lily on her head, because it represented peace.

“Bring a friend when you come. (带个朋友来.)” And that’s how I met William too.

William’s studio has no pictures of his work, no folders of tattoo designs for you to choose from. On his wall are a newspaper article about himself from 16 years ago, and this cuckoo clock. He had to remove the cuckoo clock from his house because it cuckooed every half hour and he couldn’t turn the damn thing off.

But at work the cuckoo clock is ok. The cuckoos blend in with the buzz of the tattoo gun and our music and the smell of sandalwood. It is all very spiritual and peaceful.

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William’s studio has a resident lizard that lives underneath the statue of Ganesh. When William moved from a few doors down some years back, the lizard moved too. The lizard appeared in its usual spot the day after William unpacked the altar. We always wonder what the lizard eats; it’s been living behind Ganesh for more than 4 years now, so it eats SOMETHING. William bought small cupcakes to put in front of the altar once, thinking that maybe the lizard might eat them. But the lizard didn’t think the cupcakes were food – they were more like Earth obstructing its view of Venus, so overnight it moved them to the other side of the altar.

Bridget says that the lizard has lived so long without an observable food source because William has been offering prayers to him instead of Ganesh everyday.

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Lizard real estate

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You can only see a dark shadow here, but that gap between the wall and the wooden stand is where the lizard lives.

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Tattoos are commonplace now. One here to represent a break up, one there to represent a loved one, a quote you really like some place else. Tattoos like these are a reflection of city life – completely Self-focused and unexamined. Before we can give proper consideration to one thing, we’ve already already moved on to something else.

We don’t talk to each other, so tattoos don’t talk to each other either. I wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with this if I wasn’t witness to something that is the complete opposite.

The tattoos on Bridget’s body are different. Originally, Bridget wanted her body to be covered in flowers; that’s the way she would like to be when she goes back to the ground. But the tattoos now seem to have a life of their own. They are a cohesive, ongoing body of William’s work, a reflection of an 8-year long conversation between them about art and the artistic life. I don’t think either William or Bridget has that kind of conversation with anyone but each other.

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And that is why documenting Fridays with William is important to me. It is this unspoken conversation that I want to document. Most of the time, it seems like nothing at all, because, strangely, you don’t have to talk about art when art can speak for itself.

 

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