When it comes to tattooing, Iain Mullen‘s way of doing things is all about expression—literally as well as figuratively. Color defines him even when working in black and grey; there’s a shade for every occasion. Content-wise, Iain is flexible when it comes to actual design, but all his work is linked by a common, almost spiritual thread that ranges from Far Asian symbology to a poignant American nostalgia. While some artists distinguish themselves through technique or a particular cultural expertise, Mullen does it by giving us access to a true spectrum of expression and emotion, with equal doses of sarcastic and severe.
Traditional American-style tattoos often give off the impression of odes: they glorify and immortalize, their outlaw past rationalizes bold line work and tell-tale imagery. Mullen takes the principles of the American Traditional style and makes them a fundamental part of his own creative vision, though it takes him way past what is expected of the genre. A large number of his figures, for example, are mythical, or based on folklore and the yin yang forces eternally at play in these mythologies. Some even comes a tribal element, warrior-like, stretching the boundaries of that label too to give each piece room to breathe on its own. I also noticed a Japanese-like approach to space in Mullen’s work, especially in his larger tattoos, which incorporate that uncanny ability to synchronize natural imagery with the slightest particularities of the body.
There’s a chest piece in Mullen’s portfolio that does a good job representing what he’s all about: the piece is a medley featuring an owl caught mid-flight, an elaborate elephant head, and a seemingly American Indian-inspired faerie, all in the midst of dozens of exaggerated twinkles. It should come off kitschy in that American way, but instead conveys a perfect, large-scale disharmony. Mullen’s smaller pieces are just as telling of his detail-oriented eye—a blue-eyed wolf snarling down a pale shoulder, a pirouetting devil, a butterfly who’s wings turn into a panther’s snout if you look long enough—and show that his pieces have soul. This spirit, paired with the bubbly cocktail of techniques and styles, is what gives Mullen his charm as an artist.
Mullen currently works out of Sanctum Tattoo in Stockholm, which he co-owns with Joel Soos.