Minka Sicklinger, in Pen and Ink

By
Photography Lili Peper

Published June 27, 2014

ABOVE: MINKA SICKLINGER. PHOTO BY LILI PEPER

Artist Minka Sicklinger likes to refer to herself as a treasure-hunting pirate. “Everything in my life has always been about collecting treasure,” she says. With her impressive collections of taxidermy, antiques, jewelry, and vintage clothing, she’s certainly not inclined towards minimalism. “I’m not into routines, either. I like delirium. A lot of good things come out of delirium.”

Born to Dutch and German parents and having grown up in Papua New Guinea and Australia, Sicklinger is best known in the tattoo world for her finely detailed black and gray work. An entirely self-taught tattooist, she began tattooing in 2009 after the owner of New York’s East Side Ink randomly saw her work. Wild animals, mythical creatures, and ritual imagery with a tinge of Native American/Aztec aesthetics define her signature style. While Sicklinger still tattoos out of East Side Ink, she’s also been making a name for herself as a fine artist, and has been called upon by big-name brands, fashion companies, and jewelry designers to provide her unique illustration work. Here Minka Sicklinger chats about her upcoming jewelry, fashion, and film collaborations, why she’s scared to be a professional artist, and how changing artistic mediums is posing a challenge to her.

VICTORINE LAMOTHE: How did you get into tattooing?

MINKA SICKLINGER: I’d been living in Mexico City for a year and decided to move to New York without a plan. I had one suitcase and couldn’t go backwards. I didn’t know what was going to happen moving forwards. I managed to get a visa as a stylist and did that for a while, and then fell into tattooing and illustration not too long after that.

LAMOTHE: Did you always want to tattoo?

SICKLINGER: While I was always really interested in it, tattooing isn’t something I necessarily pursued. It just happened. I like the collaborative and ritualistic aspect of it. But tattooing is limiting because you’re working with someone else’s ideas and I want to explore my own as well, which is why I’m doing more art projects.

LAMOTHE: Like the film you’re working on this summer?

SICKLINGER: Yes, I’m working with the artist Lucien Shapiro, who also happens to be my boyfriend. He makes masks, vessels, and objects based on the notion of a ritual involving what he wants to manifest in his own life. He creates short films to give the objects context and acts out the rituals wearing what he’s crafted.

LAMOTHE: The film will be about nesting. Why did you choose that theme?

SICKLINGER: We both tend to surround ourselves with an explosion of objects, whether it be books, antiques, art, etc. The nest is a way to use our commonality and differences to build a place of similarity.

LAMOTHE: Do you have rituals when you’re creating art? How do you approach a project?

SICKLINGER: I literally walk around in circles for days, driving myself insane. I dream a lot about the things I’m going to draw. I like to get in the zone and stay up all night. If I have to do something, I stay up until it’s done. I’m not like, “Oh, it’s 10 o’clock and I have to go to bed.” I’m more like, “Oh shit, it’s five o’clock and I have to get a few hours of sleep before going to work.”

LAMOTHE: Did you ever think that you would end up being a professional artist?

SICKLINGER: I spent my entire life trying not to be an artist, so the answer is no!

LAMOTHE: Why’s that?

SICKLINGER: I was brought up being told that I had to have a five-year plan and that I had to make money. As a result, I was always trying to find creative pursuits that were more lucrative. And then one day I did some drawings that ended up selling. I always told myself that the day I start selling artwork is the day I have to be an artist. I couldn’t walk away from it anymore.

LAMOTHE: How did you feel about that?

SICKLINGER: Scared!

LAMOTHE: How did you begin illustrating?

SICKLINGER: I was in Mallorca, Spain, staying in a very isolated place. One day I was bored and decided to do one illustration for each of the next four days to pass the time. Those were the ones that sold and started everything.

LAMOTHE: Your work is very detailed-oriented, with fine lines. That must take an incredible amount of patience.

SICKLINGER: Yes. And I’m not a very patient person, so it makes me crazy.

LAMOTHE: Each illustration must be a challenge, then.

SICKLINGER: I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I do the thing that drives me the most insane. The things I like to collect are neurotically detailed, so obviously I’m drawn to that—that’s how I see things. That’s why painting is so much fun right now. Tattooing is very specific because there are only marks made where you put the needle into skin. My illustration is the same.

LAMOTHE: You just started working with paint and mixed media. How’s that going?

SICKLINGER: It’s a process… I’ll be doing an artist residency at Mana Contemporary in New Jersey for three months next year. Its emphasis is on artists transitioning from certain materials to others, and for me it’s going to be from paper to mixed media. I’ve been very rigid in the way that I’ve worked for the past couple of years, so it’ll be fun to play with things that are more three-dimensional, like sculpture and canvas.

LAMOTHE: You recently collaborated with Obey Clothing for its fall 2014 womenswear line. What did you do for them?

SICKLINGER: I created three illustrations that were printed on t-shirts, tank tops and sweaters, and I designed a silver and gold ring as well.

LAMOTHE: You also partnered with the jewelry designers Zoe & Morgan for a collection launching later this summer.

SICKLINGER: It’s a collection called Eye of the Tiger. The label is comprised of a brother-sister duo, and this particular theme was inspired by their travels through the Himalayas. I did a series of illustrations for them, which they carved into wax, molded, and cast into metal. They produce everything themselves, which I really appreciate. There’s a real craftsmanship to their work.

LAMOTHE: Can you elaborate on the specific designs you worked on?

SICKLINGER: Each was based on eyes and will come in the form of a ring, earrings, or pendant in silver or gold. I also did an extremely intricate eye design that’s coin-shaped and multiples of these were hung on a long necklace. It’s reminiscent of old Tibetan coin necklaces. 

LAMOTHE: Why eyes?

SICKLINGER: It was one of the symbols that Zoe & Morgan was working with. But it’s also something that I put into my work all the time. I believe they’re protective, and I like them for a lot of personal reasons.

LAMOTHE: Animals are also very prominent in your tattoos and illustrations. Are you drawn to any particular ones?

SICKLINGER: Wolves, deer, foxes, crows, panthers, tigers, and leopards.

LAMOTHE: They’re all animals of prey.

SICKLINGER: I don’t like cute things. I like things that are strong… I’m not into puppies or kittens. The proportions of predators are really interesting, and they have an energy about them that I find fascinating. I like the elegance inherent in the danger that they represent.

LAMOTHE: What other kinds of projects do you want to do in the future?

SICKLINGER: I have an illustrated book idea, and I’m starting to work on a tarot card deck. Lucien and I are beginning to work on a line of more wearable work. I’m also designing an exclusive jewelry piece for Stone and Strand for their holiday season, which will hopefully turn into an entire collection next year. I also want to work on some very large-scale illustrations, as well as in other mediums.

FOR MORE ON MINKA SICKLINGER, PLEASE VISIT THE ARTIST’S WEBSITE.