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News / Life / Clark County Life

Tattoo artist Bradley Macom throws ceramics into the mix

29-year-old from Minnehaha took up pottery a few years ago and draws on his artistic side to create unique pots

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 6, 2024, 6:13am
8 Photos
Artist Brad Macom takes a break at his Vancouver home studio. His ceramic vessels adorned with tattoo-inspired art were showcased in a solo exhibit in West Hollywood, Calif., earlier this year.
Artist Brad Macom takes a break at his Vancouver home studio. His ceramic vessels adorned with tattoo-inspired art were showcased in a solo exhibit in West Hollywood, Calif., earlier this year. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

What does a tattoo have in common with classic Greek pottery?

The answer is 29-year-old Minnehaha resident Bradley Macom. He’s a tattoo artist at Tattoo Peace in Vancouver and an accomplished ceramicist whose pottery earned him a solo show at the Los Angeles-area gallery Raking Light. At first glance, his pieces look like Greek amphorae, ancient vessels used for storage. Look closer and you’ll see flaming skulls, dancing rats, devils, panthers, ants, dragons and bulls. The pots look millennia old but you could easily imagine the same images on a contemporary shoulder or bicep.

“When you’re tattooing, you’re really catering to the client,” Macom said. “Sometimes you need a different outlet. Pottery was a way for me to be an artist again, rather than a machine that’s just doing tattoo imagery.”

Macom took up pottery a couple years ago. He said he was drawn to the potter’s wheel in the studio space shared by Tattoo Peace artists. He decided to give pot-throwing a try but found it was “way harder” than he expected. The medium’s difficulty only made him more preoccupied with mastery, he said.

“For a year straight, I would wake up at 6 a.m., go to the shop, throw pots and come home,” Macom said. “I’m kind of obsessive when it comes to this. If I mess something up, I’ll just sit there and think about why I messed it up.”

After innumerable hours throwing, glazing and firing, Macom produced what he considers his first good pot. (“Maybe I still haven’t made my first good pot,” Macom said with a self-deprecating laugh.) When painting the pot, Macom drew from his fecund imagination, freed from anyone’s ideas or expectations except his own.

The result is an arresting mash-up of an ancient art form with Macom’s wild and wavy style. Some pots really do look like Greek artifacts while others look positively medieval. If some of it seems like comic art in the manner of culturally subversive American cartoonist R. Crumb, that’s because it is. Macom was deeply influenced by R. Crumb’s bendy lines, exaggerated features and heavy pen-and-ink shading. Macom said, a little sheepishly, that school detentions gave him plenty of opportunity to study and practice Crumb’s work.

Macom hoped to put his penchant for drawing to good use as a tattoo artist. His father’s girlfriend was a tattoo artist, he said, with a studio at home. He watched while she worked, absorbing whatever he could about the craft. As a student at Prairie High School, Macom was encouraged by his art teacher, Kristopher Chrisopulos. But before Macom could do professional tattoo work, he needed an apprenticeship.

Macom found a mentor in Kyle Oxford, owner of Tattoo Peace. But he wasn’t allowed to tattoo anyone for at least a year, he said. Instead, he painted hundreds of 11-by-14-inch “flash sheets,” or images to help clients decide on a tattoo. Macom said he supported himself with a construction job from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day then he’d shower and work at the tattoo shop until 8 p.m.

Macom also spent a lot of time poring over old books and scrolling through online archives of centuries-old art. He’s an antique collector with a penchant for old books and oddities, he said. He’s especially drawn to folk art and pre-1900 imagery and lithographs. If you want inspiration, he said, “you have to do your homework.”

“My stuff is a little more fringe, the kind of stuff that makes you think,” Macom said. “I don’t want to put stuff out there that’s common. I want people to look at it and it makes them feel a certain way.”

Macom posted photographs of his ceramic pieces on Instagram alongside his tattoo art. Someone from Raking Light gallery found his content, liked it, and invited Macom to do a solo show in West Hollywood, Calif. Macom accepted and made 27 new pots in six months, he said, but struggled not to feel like an impostor next to artists whose work he so admired. He worried about how he’d ship all his unsold pots back to Vancouver, he said. In the end, he sold all but one pot. And then he just kept making more pots. He probably now has enough for another show, he said, but he’s hesitant because he remembers how nerve-wracking the last show was.

“I spent a couple months trying not to be stressed out and a couple months being really stressed out,” Macom said. “The reason I started pottery was to not be stressed. I only do things that I want to.”

Macom appreciates that pottery is an ancient art form dating to the dawn of human civilization, he said. Shards of pottery have survived for thousands of years, shaped by hands that have long since crumbled to dust. Macom considers himself just one in a long line of artists who have inherited the secrets of their teachers, he said. And Macom may be in the early days of his artistic career, but he’s already thinking about how his work might inform future artists, creative misfits and counter-cultural visionaries. He imagines that a century from now, “a kid will walk into an antique store and see some weird piece of my pottery that no one else likes,” Macom said, and so a small piece of him will live on.

“Pottery has been entwined with our world for thousands of years, but at the end of the day you’re just playing with dirt,” Macom said. “Pottery brings you down and grounds you. It’s changed my life.”

Editor’s note: Bradley Macom is 29; an incorrect age was previously included in a headline.