It’s 2015 and Ray “Tattooed Boy” Scarborough still has a checkbook. “If someone else drew Morrissey in King Diamond’s makeup, I’d be like, ‘Here’s my checkbook. Write any amount down.’” We’re sitting at Big Hops with a couple craft beers, mapping out Ray’s San Antonio art scene timeline: birth, puberty, photography, and then a job at a T-shirt place in 2002, where Tattooed Boy was born.
You’ve most likely seen his work around town. His résumé is nothing short of impressive. With designs gracing the pages (and most recently the covers) of the San Antonio Current; the fronts of band posters for musical acts like Morrissey, Girl in a Coma, Piñata Protest, FEA, and Teenage Bottlerocket; and the occasional episode of Conan, Tattooed Boy has earned his spot as San Antonio royalty. He’s one of the hardest-working people around, and we were lucky enough to catch him during some downtime to talk about his origins, influences, and future goals.
BarbacoApparel (BA): So, I remember already being familiar with your artwork before we met in 2006. How and when did you break into the local art scene?
Tattooed Boy (TB): I guess that’s when Tattooed Boy first started. But, before then, it was just me trying it out.
BA: Tell me about young Ray. Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
TB: No. I actually wanted to be a soccer player when I was really little and a basketball player when I got into middle school because I thought I was good. But . . . I was short, so, after I wasn't an NBA star, I [worked on being an artist]. I was into art, but I was more of a fan. I loved art but thought I could never do it.
BA: Who do you cite as major influences?
TB: I had a lot of creative influences. At [Holmes High School], Ms. Singerton, the journalism teacher, brought out my creative side. She made me take photography and made me the photo editor of the yearbook. My friend [Ruby, who was the photo editor of the newspaper] and I grew up together and took pictures everywhere. We were those people who went to weird places and took pictures of our shoes and whatever else was emo at the time.
My friend Robert, who was in a punk band called Dieboy, used to make his own fliers. . . . It was all really punk rock stuff . . . ransom notes, photocopies. It was so simple! I loved the whole process of making a flier, like the ones at Hogwild. And I thought, “Oh! This is how they make them!” It was my introduction to layout.
But then I just wanted to make fliers for bands—that’s all I wanted to do. I was influenced by artists who made fliers. All of a sudden, I was adding elements of my photography. . . . Later on, I was like, “Man, I want to manipulate an image.”
BA: So the name Tattooed Boy . . .
TB: During that time [late '90s, early '00s], there was a big boom of people who were making their own clothing lines, and I worked at a T-shirt shop. I thought I could make a little logo and sell [T-shirts] from my clothing line. But I didn’t know what to call it, so I called it “Tattooed Boy” because I was listening to the Smiths song, “What She Said.”
BA: I was wondering when the Smiths were going to make it into the interview.
TB: That’s where Tattooed Boy came from! There’s a lyric in there, “It took a tattooed boy from Birkenhead to really open her eyes.” I had one tattoo at that time, and I was like, “Wow! That could be me!”
We sold a lot of shirts! We went to tattoo conventions and did really well. I had the idea of sponsoring people—bands—giving them shirts. Like Girl in a Coma—we gave shirts to them before they were big. Dieboy at the time. Various bands that I liked. And after that I wanted to learn how to do what my artist was doing, but by myself. I was still influenced by the flier-making aspect of it. But by 2002-2003, everyone had their own clothing line, like you do now.
BA: Hey! We’re from 2014!
TB: I stopped because of BarbacoApparel. Ha! At that time it was like everyone had it, and the market was getting saturated. I admit there were a lot of people who were doing better than me, so I thought “Eh. That was a good run.” Around 2003-2004, I stopped making shirts. All of a sudden, I started making more fliers for bands using Illustrator, and taught myself how to do it. After I learned how to use Illustrator, I would take band’s pictures and draw them. At that time I knew more people in the scene, so I would do their fliers and put, “Flier by Ray Tattooed Boy. ” That’s how I would sign it. I kept on doing it . . . bands just came to me, and I started doing fliers. I did a bunch of Girl in a Coma fliers, Dieboy fliers, Spies Like Us fliers.
Then, I just started drawing pieces for myself. Manipulating them so they were like my own. And here we are now.
BA: Well, your work is super iconic and recognizable.
TB: I think my subject matter is iconic, you know what I mean? I take an image and say, “I want to see the inside of this—like a person’s face.” It sounds morbid but . . . I love anatomy. I’m a fan of the human body and the way it works, the way it looks. To me, that’s art. I try to mix science and pop culture. It may not be anatomically correct, but, to me, it looks cool. I’ve never had any doctors say, “That bone’s not correct.” And [looking cool is] the end goal.
BA: So let’s talk about your personal milestones as an artist.
TB: There have been many. Zippo was the first thing that propelled me into the real art scene. I had a manager [Sonia] at the time [and] worked with her for about 2 years. She was in the marketing field, so she knew how to do things that I didn’t know how to do. She was very helpful. She got me a gig by showing my artwork to Zippo. They made limited-edition sets of Tattooed Boy lighters. Four lighters, 200 each (you can’t find them anywhere now). They sold out the first month back in 2005.
BA: Did you feel like a real artist before then?
TB: No, definitely not. I don’t feel like it now.
BA: Well, you are a professional graphic artist. But let's move on. I know you have a big man crush on Robert Tatum.
TB: He’s been a big help with my career, and I’ve told him that too. Back in the '90s, I used to see his murals and would take pictures. And I’d go, “Damn, who is this guy?” Later on, I learned who he was, went to his shows, went to his shop. That’s one of my other accomplishments: the Tatum collaboration.
BA: It’s a celebration of commercial art!
TB: It’s commercial art, too, but he did it in a way to where it was his. And he also had people who worked for him. That’s my goal, not to have anyone work for me, doing my artwork, but to have a little studio of weird people.
BA: To find the next Velvet Underground?
TB: Yeah . . . I know a lot of bands that could do that, actually. Well, [Warhol’s] my main influence. There was an exhibit at the McNay a few years back. I desperately wanted to be a part of it, so I made a flier and asked them if they could use it. They said they didn’t need the fliers. We’re the McNay and people come to us. My manager talked to them, and they said it would be cool to get temporary tattoos of Andy Warhol. And I was like, “All right! I can do that!” So we did these little 2” x 2” tattoos with my artwork with the name of the exhibit, and I thought it was really cool that some of my art was in the McNay! They had a bowl of my temporary tattoos, and anyone could get them. Like kids were putting them all over their faces. But the coolest thing was that I got to meet Mr. Shiner. He’s the curator of Andy Warhol’s museum in Pittsburgh. He’s like the next best thing to Andy Warhol, to me. He loved my stuff. He’s seen my Selena piece. So that was an honor.
Now, I don’t want to sound like an artist who’s never been given anything, but sometimes I get criticized for not acting like I own it. I think it’s cool, because I’m just this regular dude, and I’m getting achievements. But at the same time, I think of them as lucky breaks.
BA: Well, yes and no. Like that’s one thing I’ve always admired about you—you really put yourself out there. You hustle.
TB: When you say “hustle,” I see that . . . but there are better artists than me. At the same time, I’m doing the blueprint of Andy Warhol. There were a million better artists than Andy Warhol, and that’s a known fact, but he was a machine. I’m going to put something I like out there, and if you want to buy it, it’s a million dollars.
BA: That’s how much Ray’s temporary Warhol tattoos were—1 million dollars.
TB: Yeah, they’re probably still in that bowl there. Ha!
BA: But seriously, the hustle. What you say is really true. There are a lot of really talented people out there who don’t necessarily put themselves on the line and they have their reasons, but you’ve earned it, you know?
TB: If you say I’ve earned it, I’ve only earned it because of the hustle. Because the artwork is mediocre, but I’ve got my marketing gauge on. I know where to go. I know when to post, when to show, and where to show. That’s the stuff you learn along the way. There were times when no one saw my artwork, and I thought people were looking at it. The artists I’m influenced by now constantly do Facebook updates, mailing lists—those are the things that get you jazzed up about an artist.
BA: And cross-collaboration. Especially in San Antonio.
TB: Definitely. It seems like everyone’s doing it now. Which is great, because you can gain a new audience. Collaborations are key. The San Antonio art scene is phenomenal. There are a lot of events that promote it. I think it’s growing, and it’s going to grow even more. I just want to help that along, I don’t want to be the leader of it, I just want to be in the mix.
BA: About that Selena piece . . .
TB: We started making shirts of my Selena print [without the background], and I showed it to her husband Chris, and he loved it and was like, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my life!” And he started bowing in front of me. I was like “Whoa! What’s going on?!” He loved my artwork and said, “That’s a beautiful piece.” He’s worn it to concerts for his solo project. Part of me was thinking he was being really nice, which he is, but your artwork does influence and affect other people. Someone’s going to see it; someone’s going to have a reaction to it. You either have to have a no-care attitude, because if you’re sensitive and an artist, then you’re not going to make it. You’re never going to make it.
BA: And what about Conan O’Brien?
TB: I e-mailed them personally and said, "Hey, I did a piece of Conan," and they said, “That’s awesome! Can we have your release? Can we put it on the Internet and the show?” And I was like, “Yeah!”
I think it was the first year Conan was on TBS, and that’s when they were taking fan art—that’s when they first started doing it. I e-mailed them directly and was speaking to their marketing directors.
The episode my artwork was first featured, it was just one other person and me. And I was like, “Holy shit!” I never thought I was going to be on the [Halloween] show—they said I was going to be on [Conan], but they didn’t say which one. Nowadays, anyone can be on it. They just pick and choose what looks Halloweenish, or whatever [fits the theme] and that’s great. That’s fantastic! The people submitting artwork now are so good. They submit like oil paintings! The next year I did another one, and they didn’t show it on TV, but they shared it on the Internet and it got like 15 thousand likes. They had fan art, but they weren’t featuring it on the show until I contacted them. I’m a huge fan of his–since his NBC days. So that’s one achievement.
BA: Working with Morrissey’s crew?
TB: Working with his crew is a lot of fun. I’ve done stuff for his guitarist Boz.
BA: I saw that image of him wearing your Selena shirt. Wow!
TB: Yeah, well, he’s a fan of me. So, when your guitar god likes your shit, it’s unheard of. When you see stuff like that, that really says you’re doing something right.
BA: Is that surreal to you?
TB: Too much. Too much. To the point where it’s like, it doesn’t exist! I get jazzed up about my stuff working really well with other people. And it’s fantastic, because it’s fun! It’s a fun job to draw pictures and then to use them. It’s really . . . fun. There’s no other way to explain it. That’s the only reason I do it. Artists helping other artists is really amazing.
BA: Any dream projects?
TB: I would like my own gallery showing in San Antonio as an independent artist. I’d love to have people with me, but at the same time I’ve never had a solo show.
BA: Is that something in the works, or is that a future goal?
TB: It’s a goal . . . I’d like to have a solo show. I’ve come close, but I didn’t have enough material at the time, but I do now. My main goal is to be a silkscreen gig poster artist that’s famous for promoting famous bands. New phase of Tattooed Boy: Artistically, hand-crafted screen prints by Zane Thomas of Black Moon Print. “He’s so great and he’s so knowledgeable. He makes me become a better artist because I now know what to do for fine art pieces.
When discussing the future, Ray was quick to mention community outreach projects for underprivileged schools.
TB: San Antonio is growing artistically, and I’d like to keep that going. Whether it’s public school or private school, I’d love to start a charity that donates to that cause. There are programs for music, but I’m interested in just artwork. There are so many talented artists in [struggling] areas where there’s tremendous talent. There are kids who come up to me, kids like 8 years old, and say, “Oh, I like your artwork. Look at what I do.” And it’s a masterpiece, and I’m like “What?!” Those kids could go to college and study art and make something of themselves. But they don’t always have a chance to do that, so giving them the tools at school to make sure their art program is top-notch, and make them know that they could have a career in what they’re doing would be a priority. There are other options if you’re lacking in academics. If you’re talented in artwork that can really help. Like I said, I didn’t go to college to study art, but I have a tremendous job now that pays well. If you’re a great artist, [your artwork] needs to be seen either in the corporate world or for yourself. Schools need to promote artwork as another career field.