Originally from Saint Louis, Missouri, James Kern moved to Chicago to attend art school. During his stay in Illinois, Kern started tattooing friends and frequented local ink slingers like Guy Aitchinson, who encouraged the young tattooist to persevere.
Later, Kern answered a want ad and started working at Milios in Chicago. By 1999, his brother Tim (also a tattoo artist,) joined him to work in David Kotker’s shop. Kern relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2004 and opened his No Hope No Fear shop with Rachel Gilbert. He says she’s the perfect collaborator in this semi-private shop where custom ink is the norm; no flash is available at No Hope No Fear.
Kerns says he likes to tackle all kinds of tattoos because it keeps his work fresh and it’s a good way to keep boredom from setting in. He only takes one client each day so he can give that job his full attention.
When we asked him how he felt about winning the Chaudesaigues Award, Kern admitted to still be in shock two months after the fact. He says he wasn’t really planning on signing up for the contest, thinking that his work wasn’t good enough. Kern’s fiancée, Ashley had to convince him to sign up and was by his side for the event. A panel of four world-class tattooists and expert judges thought that Kern’s work was up to snuff as they voted top dog unanimously. “There are so many excellent artists in USA and all over the world that I never imagined I could ever win the award,” says Kern.
Winning the award created by Stéphane Chaudesaigues was particularly meaningful to Kern who had been looking up to the French tattooist since seeing his work featured in tattoo magazines; his ink had more in common with classical paintings than it had with conventional tattoos. “Winning the Chaudesaigues Award is a great honor and I was flying high for days when I found out,” says Kern. “I’ve always tried to push my work further and I like to reach out to other tattoo artists and teach them what I know at seminars, so getting recognized for all this means a great deal to me.”
Shane O’Neill, Nikko Hurtado and Stéphane Chaudesaigues presented the award to James Kern at the Best of the Midwest convention in recognition for his career, his technical prowess and his humility. Kern dedicated the trophy to his mother who bought him his very first box of crayons and always supported his artistic endeavors. “I still can’t believe I won this award,” says Kern, but it appears that the rest of the world fully understands why James Kern is the first recipient of the Chaudesaigues Award…