Dig Baton Rouge

Skin Deep

Mike Williams’ art is speed metal meets horror

Some artists like to envision their work on the walls of museums, others imagine their pieces stretched across brick walls on busy intersections. Then some, like Mike Williams, prefer to leave their art on the skin of Baton Rouge’s doctors, lawyers, LSU professors, artists, musicians, kindergarten teachers—just about anyone who is willing to give his unique style a chance.

Williams, a Baton Rouge-born tattoo artist who recently left High Resolution Tattoos to open his own studio, Leviathan, doesn’t have the inspirational origin story that we imagine when we think of artists.

“I never actually pursued (tattooing). I had my heart set on being a musician, then an architect—but college was out of the question. Tattooing presented itself as an opportunity and I haven’t looked back.”

But a few minutes after meeting him, well, it just makes sense. Everything about Williams goes against the grain: his aesthetic could be effectively summed up as “speed metal with a huge smile and a love of all things horror.”

“I started learning when I was a senior in high school and started actually tattooing about 8 months after I graduated. It’s pretty much all I’ve done my whole adult life.” He laughs, but the quality shows: looking at his portfolio, it’s hard to believe he’s ever been anything but an expert, but Williams stays humble. “Tattooing molded me as an artist. When I first started, I was really bad. I had to train my eyes to see differently than they used to.”

Williams describes his inspiration as a mix of the artists he looks up to (Paul Booth, Guy Aitchison, and Deano Cook, to name a few) and the things that molded him in his childhood (think Tales from the Crypt and The Munsters). His style is a mix of realism and the fantastical, with special attention devoted to lighting.

“I love realism. I love doing flowers and I love doing bloody, horror movie stuff, too. To me, there’s just as much beauty in death as there is in the garden.”

Regardless of his end goal, Williams’ creative process always begins with realistic reference. Sometimes inspiration comes from the colors of the sunset he saw on the way home, other times it’s photos he took while cleaning animal skulls or practicing taxidermy (some of his other hobbies) for a tattoo of a decomposing zombie.

So, what prompted Williams’ to leave the comfort of a familiar studio to open his own shop?

“I’ve been tattooing for 13 years. Working in the same place with the same people, it’s easy to get stagnant. There’s always going to be someone better than you, and the minute you decide that you’re on top, you’ve met your downfall. If you want to see how far you can go in your career and your art, you have to stay humble and you have to strive to get better.”

Mike Williams can be contacted at mikewilliamstattoos@gmail.com and can be found at Leviathan Studios at 5830 Sherwood Forest Blvd.

Photos by Sean Gasser

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