Grace Neutral and Viceland


 (This is an abridged version, the full piece will be published in next month's INKED)

From the illegal underground tattooists of South Korea to Brazilian women challenging social stereotypes, Grace Neutral’s productions with VICE offer an edifying shift away from the usual fetishizing of tattoos by using them as a conduit to highlight the often contentious social and political realms of each wearer.

Ahead of VICELAND’s 2017 series, Needles and Pins, Grace chats with me about her experiences in front of the lens and what it’s like to be an ambassador for contemporary tattoo culture.

Photo courtesy of VICELAND

Photo courtesy of VICELAND

Hi Grace. So, you were tattooing at Good Times and then suddenly you’re a media personality at VICE media. Can you tell me how that happened?

Well, I was lucky enough to be approached by i-D a few years' back to write an alternative Christmas speech about beauty which received a great response.

i-D then made a film about me and my outlook on tattooing which also went down really well. It was after my i-D series 'Beyond Beauty' that VICE asked me to work with them.

And how has that journey been for you thus far?

I started making films with VICE at the start of 2016 and we wrapped up the first series of Needles and Pins by the end of the year! It has been one amazing year, that's for sure!



Let’s talk about the shows. It’s so refreshing to have someone from the tattoo community represent contemporary tattoo culture in an intelligent and socially and politically charged manner, unlike other mainstream shows that often debase the art form. What are you hoping to achieve with these shows?

Basically, what I wanted to achieve with these shows was super simple: I wanted to tell a true story about tattooing, and offer people a proper insight into how the art form came to be the big industry it is today.

I also wanted share some of the cultures and techniques that helped evolve the art. Just like you say, mainstream shows on tattoos seem to only fetishize and poke fun at tattooing. I got sick of this -  and decided I'd have to do it myself ;)

What is the extent of your role in these stories, is it limited to presenter or are you actively searching out stories and utilizing your knowledge and networks gained while tattooing? There must be so much involved!

I am not a TV presenter; it has never been a goal of mine. I simply got offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about my craft.

Being in front of the camera and guiding the audience through my adventures was definitely something I had to learn, but because I am so passionate about tattooing it was natural for me to quickly form relationships with a lot of the people we filmed.

For me it's all about finding the stories. I was very involved in the development and making of the show; For example, I knew and suggested some of the contributors you see in Needles and Pins.

Photo courtesy of VICELAND

Photo courtesy of VICELAND

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt, whether about yourself or anything else, over the course of the shows?

I have learnt so much from every single place I have visited. But the one common theme that strikes me is that that tattooing is such an amazing way to build friendships and communities. I feel so lucky to be part of the global tattoo family.

Most memorable moment for you?

The most memorable moment filming the series was riding around LA on quad bikes with Venice Bad Boys ;)



Most interesting thing you’ve discovered about tattoo culture?

In one episode of Needles and Pins we go to New Zealand to learn about Maori tattooing and Maori culture - and this was the most interesting discovery for me. The Maori people are so beautiful - and its history is so intertwined with tattooing, nature and magic; it was hard not to fall in love there. It is definitely a place I will return to continue my tattoo journey and education.

Has the show received any criticisms?

To be honest, I haven't heard any bad comments about the show.

Obviously there has been the odd internet troll calling me a 'freak' because of the way I look, but I have heard it all before and I'm very good at shielding myself from any negativity comments.

All the feedback about the show has, so far, been really positive - and I'm over the moon about that!

Photo courtesy of VICELAND

Photo courtesy of VICELAND

If you could do a tattoo show about anything or anyone, what would it be?

The one I just made for VICELAND!

Would you agree that the normalization of tattoos – great for reducing stigma and allowing autonomy over one’s body – has also created a new ‘beauty’ industry / ideal? Tattoos becoming less about expressing spirit and individuality and more about acquisition: the purchase of social capital and of ‘beauty.’

Yes for sure, I think the majority of tattoo artists (well, at least the ones I know and work with) understand how sacred it is to tattoo; the energy you share with that person is so beautiful, and sometimes, even life changing.

It's been something that I have been conscious of for a long time - and I love that more and more people (not just tattooers, but also the people who get tattooed) are realising this as well.

And lastly, what have you got planned for 2017?

2017 is all about tattooing, travel and having a fucking good time while I do it!