California native Paul Dobleman strikes me as the rare but golden kind of tattoo artist that hones right in on the roots of a style much, much bigger than he is, with the goal of understanding the thing before taming it. His American Traditional work is, as expected, a collection of imagery so iconic that it stands on its own cultural plane, surfing on a contemporary revival that will persist as long as there are millennials in this world. With every surge in popularity, certain things are lost in translation in favor of instant gratification; in this case that gratification being the shotgun thrill of a beautiful and immediately recognizable tattoo. Any loss of intention or context can easily end up replaced by strong visual presence. What Paul does, however, is take the image out of the catalog, out of the rock n’ roll song, and into his own two hands, where it becomes not an accessory but a product of a man’s thought and his craft- and therefore not a commodity but a human effort.
His penchant for the pillars of traditional style tattooing- the woman, the skull, the rose- acts not as an answer to popular demand but as an individual desire to learn where and why an art form begins before adopting it. Paul’s portfolio is heavy on pin up portraiture, often ringed with roses and carefully placed shading, creating something very close to natural light in what is essentially a two dimensional ink drawing. Whether in profile, angled slightly upwards or downwards, the gaze of the given face is dead on, as confrontational and inviting as it might’ve been in person. Paul’s compositions can be condensed or sprawling, depending on the subject, but they do adhere to a set of boundaries based on symmetry and geometry, especially when placed among older tattoos- as bold and saturated as the imagery is, it doesn’t impose itself on the rest of the body whether it’s a heavily inked area or bare skin. Paul’s more recent work includes a full eagle and snake back piece, a sleeve that reads like an American classic, and even a Zapatista, complete with his bullets and sabre. American style work, with all its fringe connotations, allows an individual to give in to the nostalgia and leave a little room for old- fashioned romanticism, especially when the symbol of choice is big, bold, colorful, and very much there every time you look down.
This past March, Paul was part of the Open Road Tour, which took him and three other artists and friends to eleven shops across the country, doing what they do best all along the way. The best thing about art forms like tattooing is that they’re entirely portable- after all, if they can only come from within. And, in Paul’s case, what better place to bring the hero and anti- hero forces present in his imagery to life than the American highway- sometimes full of strip malls and endless chain restaurants, but sometimes as empty and remote as we all want it to be. To check out more about the Open Road Tattoo tour, and the work Paul and others did along the way, go to OpenRoadTattooTour.com and make sure you watch the video travel log for a first hand taste of the experience. Paul currently works out of Spider Murphy’s Tattoo in San Rafael, California where he sticks to the big symbols but, more importantly, sticks to his guns as a purveyor of craft, personality, and the true origins of what he has chosen to dedicate his energy to, feeding off history rather than marketability.