Frankie Caraccioli, known professionally as “Death Cloak,” is a California artist who, in a good 15 years of tattooing, has managed to build a small brand around his work, while evolving his style to include a full deck of iconic imagery. He’s best known and even sought out for his interpretive grim reaper tattoos; custom designs that stick to a basic two or three color structure, compositionally polished so that they boast a graphic design quality. They’re like a logo that changes face depending on whom it’s there to serve, and also act a way into the artist’s visual conscience- his preferences and tendencies.
Receiving a tattoo like that, after seeing the many others that have been given along the same framework, borders on becoming the result of the masses answering the call of a product. In Death Cloak’s case though, I think that his creative practice as a whole surpasses the specifics of the reaper as an item of appeal and allows it to thrive as a symbol of his personal taste in humor even while being customized to fit his customers. His hand doesn’t lose its presence either, and there’s something like a physical weight to his work, coming through in the shading, the thick linework and choice color blocking.
While looking at his online portfolio, I found myself taken by some of the visuals as usual, but sometimes the rendering spoke even louder- the way the tattoo might curve with the skin, or how a halo or highlight would creep out from under the focal point of a piece. Death Cloak’s color sense doesn’t hurt either- his duotones treat the flesh like its own shade of ink, and when he does expand past the reds and the blacks to include other colors, its with regard to the same subtle harmony that you would get from a black and grey piece. Going back to the actual subject matter he works with, it’s traditionally American before anything else- the small additions he throws in are what pushes them forward in time and scope. I’m thinking of one of his pieces featuring the grim reaper holding a noose, with a little slice of paradise reflected in the space where the rope would tighten. The rendering is as dark and heavy as you’d expect, but that little signature detail, recognizable and particular with its palm tree and setting sun, gives the piece a balance that you could take as far into metaphorical territory as you wish. There’s a whispered narrative running through Death Cloak’s work, dealing with living and dying and whatever you choose to put in the blank in between, but the tattoos themselves exist on all levels, from the particles resting on skin they are on the surface to the mortal reflection on permanence that a tattoo becomes through symbolism.
You can find Death Cloak, probably in shades and not too far from the coast in Costa Mesa, California, where he works out of Port City Tattoo and on the Open Road Tattoo Tour with the rest of his buddies .
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// Film Photography by Frankie Caraccioli