What It’s Like Living with Eyeball Tattoos
For people living with eyeball tattoos, reactions can range from "cool contacts!" to being mistaken for the devil.
There's a special kind of reaction to dudes with inked eyeballs—it's what Vancouver tattoo and body modification artist Russ Foxx calls "shock and awe." Though the (still experimental) practice of injecting pigment into the whites of people's eyes has been around for nearly a decade, it's still considered one of the last frontiers of tattooing.
Foxx himself has inked 71 individual peepers since he started four years ago. (Some prefer getting one at a time, I'm told, in case of vision complications.) He says all kinds of people ask him for eye ink, from construction workers to circus performers. VICE called up a few of them to find out what it's like to have old ladies mistake you for the devil.
Dan Malette, Toronto, Canada
Eye ink: black
VICE: When you're out on the street, what's the number one reaction you get?
Dan Malette: I normally wear glasses, so a lot of people don't notice. A lot of people ask if it's contacts—that's the number one question. It kind of bothers me actually, they'll say, "Oh I love your contacts," and I'm like, "They're not contacts!"
Some people are idiots about it, they ask prodding questions or say, "Well that must have hurt." It didn't, there was no pain whatsoever. People call me stupid, say good luck getting a job. I've never had a problem getting a job, I work in construction and do sideshow for fun. They say girls must not find me attractive—well I have a beautiful girlfriend of almost two years.
I've had old ladies give the sign of the cross, or people choosing not to sit beside me on the bus—that kind of stuff is their choice, not mine.
Do those old ladies say anything? Pray for you?
Most of them speak Italian or Portuguese, so I don't really know. I live right across the street from a church, it's actually one of the biggest churches in Toronto so there's always big Sunday processions and stuff. Many, many times, little old ladies will walk by and get startled, walk quickly, and grab their purse. I just kinda laugh and shrug it off, whatever. Toronto's a bigger city, so generally 90 percent say it's awesome.
Any other moments that stick out in your mind?
I was at a Tim Hortons once and there was a little girl looking up at me, and I could see she was a little afraid. Her mom poked her and she came up to ask me why I have all the tattoos. I told her I'm like a Christmas tree, you on't put it in your living room bare, you want to decorate it and make it look pretty and shiny.
Jay,* Victoria, Canada
Eye ink: one blue, one yellow
VICE: What's the strangest thing someone has said about your eyes?
Jay*: I've really only had one thing happen that was quite weird. I had a much larger gentlemen, probably in the 300 pound range, start following me around in a grocery store convinced that I was possessed or some sort of demon. Like any situation you just approach it with confidence and hope they don't skin you alive and wear you as a suit.
Is that standard demon protocol? Were you worried?
No, I wasn't afraid for my safety... You're going to remember the first time you see something quite different. Going out to dinner, usually somebody will ask about them. Tonight I had two construction guys and the waitress ask me questions while out with my wife and grandfather. That's pretty standard.
Burns the Dragon, Vancouver, Canada
Eye ink: purple
VICE: Hey Burns, are you really a dragon?
Burns the Dragon: I view myself, in final form, turning from head to toe into a dragon. Everything I've done is just a step toward looking like what I really feel like. I split my tongue. Recently I tattooed it purple. I have my eyes, and ears both pointed... I have horn implants. I've had kids say, "Hey mommy, look it's a dragon!" But as far as adults go it's more, "Hey, it's a demon."
What's it like having inked eyeballs in your line of work?
Sideshows and circuses are my main gig, so most people think they're pretty rad. My act is mostly pain-related things. I'll hammer a nail into my throat, or put hooks in my back. At the end of a show I might let people staple five or ten dollar bills to me. I started doing suspension as a performance... I don't do very many, but I do kids' parties, festivals, bars, burlesque shows.
I travel in a carnival sometimes. One time I was managing this Wacky Wizard midway game. Somebody looked at my eyes and asked me, "Do you work here?" I was like "Yeah, I work here." Later that day I got fired because they were family members on the board of the Calgary Stampede, I guess they said I was the devil. I had that job for four years.
That sucks. Do you have any response for the haters?
There are people who say ngative things, like "You're an idiot." If they receive a response from me, I say I enjoy my life, I get to experience a lot of fun things, all my fun's covered.
*Name changed for privacy.
Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.