James Kern’s tattoo adventure started in 1994, while attending art school in Chicago.
At the time, he discovered tattooing and the work of famous tattoo artists he admired in the pages of tattoo magazines (this was before the internet). It was for him a revelation and an inspiration because magazines showcased mostly quality ink. While perusing these publications, Kern realized that skin was a very unique art medium and that it opened almost endless artistic horizons in tattooing.
Kern first practiced tattooing on some of his schoolmates in art school, while spending as much time as possible rubbing elbows with a variety of professional ink slingers. Along the way he met Guy Aitchinson who encouraged him to pursue tattooing. Kern credits Aitchinson, his kind support and his expert advice for convincing him to take a leap of faith and making tattooing his career.
Kern’s drawing abilities quickly landed him a first job, then another, until he had spent time in several studios around Chicago. He was later joined by his twin brother, Tim, also a tattoo artist in his own right. After working with Paul Booth for several years, Tim opened the ‘Tribulation Tattoo’ shop with Dan Marshall and Liorcifer, while James settled in Portland, Oregon, eventually founding ‘No Hope No Fear’ with Rachel Gilbert.
Kern has been in business for 5 years in Portland and prides himself in the fact that Rachel and him don’t really use flash in their work. When they ink smaller pieces, these are always originals or very unique, customized motifs. Both Rachel and James value the importance of having a good relation with their customers, and strive to best understand the client’s vision and whims. If James is known for masterful works filled with incredible details, he will also take on a great range of projects of varying size and complexity. He works this way so he doesn’t have to do the same thing day after day.
His technique and concentration are impressive, allowing him to execute challenging pieces that many tattooists wouldn’t dare undertaking. He’s currently at work on several back pieces featuring bold colors, some of them playing with a psychedelic theme. Kern enjoys working on a variety of projects but admits that tribal or lettering aren’t his specialty and that he would rather let other specialized artists handle these styles.
“One of my most ambitious works is the back piece I have been inking on my fiancée. It’s a very detailed Victorian-era city that’s been destroyed by a meteor shower. We started this scene two and a half years ago, before Ashley and I became engaged. But after spending so much time together we fell into each others’ arms.”
Some of the work that inspired Kern early on was by the hand of Stéphane Chaudesaigues: large pieces that looked less like conventional skin art and more like paintings. These tattoos meant a lot to Kern and helped open his eyes to a whole world of possibilities.
“Winning the Chaudesaigues Award meant so much to me because the prize is associated with an artist I’ve been idolizing for years and who has greatly influenced my work,” says Kern who wasn’t sure he was going to enter the competition in the first place. Kern never ceases to be amazed by the artistic and technical progresses that were made in the tattoo world over the last decade and though he didn’t stand a chance against other tattooists in this competition. But his fiancée Ashley insisted he should sign up for the award; she had faith in him and had no doubt that he would win the trophy.
James Kern feels honored to have been selected as the winner of the 2012 Chaudesaigues Award, a competition that’s judged by a panel of talented peers. “I was floating on a cloud for days when I found out I had won,” says Kern who couldn’t contain his emotion upon meeting Stéphane and Shane O’Neill at the Best of The Midwest convention in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in February 2012. He was particularly touched by the recognition he received for all the work he put into pushing forward his tattooing technique and as a result, his career. Kern has proved to be generous of his time too, readily giving professional advice to beginners and spreading his knowledge at tattoo seminars. He believes in the importance of sharing knowledge, passing information around, and he even authored a book on the technique of cover-ups.
Giving out the award on stage were Nikko Hurtado, Stéphane Chaudesaigues, Chris Longo and Shane O’Neill, who were eager to express their admiration for the first winner of the award. Honorary member of the Chaudesaigues Award Bob Tyrrell was also present to congratulate James Kern. Accepting the Heart of Daisies award, Kern thanked his mother for buying him his first box of colored pencils and always believing in his talent. Kern still can’t believe he has won the award and keeps the trophy in his shop as a reminder of the event.
He’s preparing his trip to Paris (an integral part of winning the award,) and is planning to spend his honeymoon in the city of lights. He also hopes to develop a client base in Europe and in France that he will visit once again in July of 2013 for the Cantal In’K the Skin tattoo gathering.