Kirk Hjelmstad and Meme Skulls
Kirk Hjelmstad and his girlfriend Melissa are two tattoo artists and collectors who both got into tattoos for the same reason; their toughness and rebellious symbolism that tattoos have withheld for many, many years. Based in Tacoma, Washington, their tattoo shop, Ink Spot Tattoo, is where they apply their work to many faces and personalities who wander into their parlor, most of whom are local, loyal clientele and military personnel. But it was punk rock, the biker scene and outlaws that got Kirk and Melissa (aka Meme Skulls) into tattoos.
“When I was a little kid, the bikers really stick in my head. I knew I wanted tattoos. I loved the way they looked and the people that wore them,” Hjelmstad says, “I thought they looked tough as hell.”
Even at the tender age of eight, Hjelmstad found tattoos to be fascinating and purely jaw-dropping. He recalls a family friend who showed off a fresh tattoo to him and his family, a Peter
built truck running over a state patrolman. “I thought that was the coolest thing I ever saw in my life and I knew right then and there I wanted to do that to people.”
Meme didn’t quite get into the tattoo scene until she was 19, with the mentality that rebellion is the way to go. Unlike her beau, who collects art that is as classic and tough as can be, Meme likes adding designs to her collection that just make her happy, such as her bro tats or numerous matching tattoos (and Bill Murray from Where the Buffalo Roam). And of course, the more color, the better. “I don’t get sad tattoos,” Meme says.
Th ough they diff er in what they add to their personal collections, they both are very versatile when it comes to their artistry. Th ey both do a little bit of everything, and Meme says they keep it interesting with their clientele who usually keep them on their toes. Hjelmstad prefers American Traditional, but makes it a point that he tries to be good at everything.
For a couple who has been tattooing for a combined total of about 22 years, they have a tremendous appreciation for the past and the greats who revolutionized the tattoo industry, whether directly or indirectly. With so many up and coming artists, the actual art and value of tattoing seems to have faded, and that includes how artists are making it in the industry and how artists apply their ink. When it comes to the tattoo industry, Meme says she would bring back the old school way of earning your career and not having it all handed to you. “I think it’s overcrowded with artists that don’t seem to care about the past. How can we move forward without paying respect to the past?”
As for Hjelmstad, he takes it a step further by saying tattoos should be outlawed, giving tattoos the defi ance it once had which will make them “cool” again. Hm.
While that may not be happening in the near future, Hjelmstad continues to develop as both an artist and a collector, idolizing other artists that are fl ourishing in the Northwest like Casey Buxton, Paco Rollins, and Adam Craven, all extremely well versed in applying traditional tattoos. Hjelmstad admits his collection of tattoos are not necessarily meaningful—though tough, of course— but his ever-changing themes of traditional art through the years replicate the classic designs the guys he looked up to wore. “I can pick a classic design right off the wall and be happy as hell about it,” says Hjelmstad.
And as the both of them develop their work, it continuously infl uences what they add to their collection and by who.
Meme says, “I have a better understanding of what makes a good tattoo and what will age well. I love watching other artists work so I can continue to learn, so I pursue artists I respect and admire.”
Meme stresses the fact that anyone can be a salesman, and checking out any artists’ portfolio is a must before getting their work. Every avid collector and pure admirer for the art of tattooing knows to let the work speak for itself, or just take Hjelmstad’s advice and “get tattooed by the old timers before it’s too late. Pay your respects.”
Hjelmstad and Meme have gone as far as Arizona to add to their collections, stopping by to permanently don the works of Aaron Coleman, another traditional artist whose vibrant and clean-cut work were worth almost a 3,000 mile roundtrip for the couple.
And if the life of an artist and a collector ever sounded diffi cult, think again— though who would? Because according to Meme, the life of an artist and collector go pretty hand-in-hand,
You can fi nd their work on Instagram at @ClassActKirk and @Memeskulls.
– Shannon Cole