Rich Phipson is a Durban born creative entrepreneur who relocated to Hong Kong where he bought Star Crossed Tattoo, one of the most highly-regarded tattoo parlours in the Asian city-state, from respected UK tattoo artist Julia Seizure who established the shop in 2006 in the face of much prejudice against tattooed females – and the tattoo industry in general at the time.
Rich runs Star Crossed Tattoo together with fellow South African Ross Turpin and credits a huge part of his growing success to the solid team that he has surrounded himself with over the years.
A graduate from the Design School at the Durban University of Technology, Rich is also an avid photographer who worked in advertising during the the early years of his career. We caught up with the busy Durbanite to find out what the future holds and whether we’ll be seeing him working back in South Africa any time soon.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do?
I’m a Durban artist living in Hong Kong and I problem-solve.
How did you first become interested in tattooing and photography?
When I was young my friends and I wanted to take photos of us skating and my dad’s camera was the only one we could get our hands on. My wife’s a photographer, and she pushed me to challenge my photography. It’s all personal though. With no clients or rules. As for tattooing, it wasn’t until I started getting tattooed that I became interested in tattooing. And only once I started to tattoo did I realise how much commitment it required.
How much work experience did you have before you decided it was the right time to buy your own studio?
I had been tattooing for 2 years when we decided to relocate. It was definitely a jump into the deep end.
What would you say was your biggest challenge?
The initial biggest challenge for us was visas and government issues. We never could’ve expected the amount of effort, perseverance and money we needed. Man, we came with no money.
What shapes the way you approach your creativity as a business?
The people we employ is a massive factor, the ones you spend your time around most need to be those that contribute positively towards the business. We make an effort to be involved in projects with other local creatives that are outside of the industry. And at work we try to communicate and bounce ideas around emphasizing team work and focus on a relaxed welcoming environment.
What do you enjoy most about working outside of South Africa in comparison to being based in SA?
No great comparison, just enjoying being in an international hub. Oh, and no one wants to trade a puppy for a tattoo here.
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
With regards to your work, how would you describe your style or aesthetic, and how has this developed over the years?
Detailed and illustrative storytelling. It’s a constant process between what works better as a tattoo and trying to produce something unique and long lasting.
With tattooing, would you say the subject or individual matters? For example, is it appropriate to ask “Who would you like to tattoo” or is the industry driven by other factors?
Clients are the best and worst thing about my day, so there definitely is an ideal clientèle. I want to tattoo people who want to be tattooed by me.
Does the environment you find yourself in influence your work in a way that you are consciously aware of?
In the shop I’m surrounded by like-minded people. We encourage and push each other. And getting to spend a lot more time around international artists has had a large effect on my work as well.
How important do you find self-initiated projects in your current environment?
They’re essential to keeping your head above the water. Whether it’s tattoo related, like pushing yourself into fresh ideas or whether it’s doing projects that take your mind into a different creative space. It all builds toward what you’re capable of.
Any chance we’ll see you opening up a shop locally any time soon?
Yeah. I’d love to create a space back in SA. Not sure if it’d be a tattoo shop though. There’re great places for tattooing there already.
Any advice for anyone who would like to follow your career path?
I studied design at DUT under guidance that has effected me till today. To study with like-minded people who are excited about what they do is the best start. Whether you pursue that direction or not. Stay teachable. The minute you think you’ve got it is when you’ve lost it.