The Skingraver Speaks
CoC looks at the work and career of underground tattoo and death metal cover artist Jon Zig
by: T. DePalma
"I do not enjoy looking at a dead body", explains Jon Zig, "but in an artwork... it's different."

One of the most controversial and, over the last several years, preferred artists in death metal, Zig's artwork appears on the cover of dozens of underground records, where his gory, detached images of anguish and pain -- the stuff of fevers and plagues find a welcome repository for many a grind outfit as well as the occasional black metal group.

But his work reaches much farther -- make that deeper -- with an even more dedicated following of his unique style. Zig owns and operates the Skingraver Tattoo Studio in Austin, Texas and has become among the most sought after and recommended tattoo artists in the country. The number and status of his clients is growing by the day.

Zig's interest in drawing came early on, a paternal inheritance. "My father sketched things for me and I was amazed", he remembers. "He was in the Navy and the Air Force and airplanes were my thing. He drew them for me on occasion. Other than that, my father is a dick." At age eighteen, Jon began drawing tattoo designs for a man who worked out of his kitchen. "I continued after he got a shop... we lost touch after I took on an apprenticeship with someone else." That someone else was Ed Potter, a legendary tattooist of over thirty years residing in Austin. From 1994 to 1996, Jon worked with "Notorious Ed" on honing his craft.

"I am picky in what I do", he cautions. With over eleven years behind the needle and a growing rep for the most extreme artwork available, he's seen nearly everything and rarely is a request too strange. "This lady came in the other day and wanted a bridge tattooed on her forearm. I understand why people like weird things. I'm always surrounded by weird people. We deal with dumbass crackheads and shit." But for the customer wishing to shock the man who's created images of Spider-Gods devouring the Earth, cold and undead figures wrapped in barbed wire and various pandemonic uprisings, there is still hope. "I think it's weird when someone wants a language they don't understand tattooed on them."

Zig's association with metal began typically young, and during the early Nineties he started making flyers and T-shirt designs for local groups Antisma and Houston speed metal greats Helstar, from then on working closely with groups like Deeds of Flesh, Disgorge and Averse Sefira. As of September, his artwork will be shown on Suffocation's fifth and self-titled album.

"Mike Smith got a hold of me and said he would cut some artists loose if I could come up with a symbol for them." Originally, Dan Seagrave was slated to once again work on the cover, until Suffocation's bassist Derek Boyer approached Zig again about going all out. "I have known Derek for some time and he wanted me to do the artwork. The rest of the band obviously agreed. A lot of people hate the artwork. Some love it. The band is happy and will make killer music no matter what." Criticism seems to especially follow Zig as his profile increases. His style, a mix of digital and hand painted images, lends itself to the more fantastic imagination; less symmetrical than a Seagrave or the more realistic portraits of Ed Repka (but no less detailed). Because of this, "Some have expressed on not using me." He continues, becoming somewhat defensive, "You cannot please everyone. I do not care to. What people have to know is that I paint what they want. It reflects on me of course, but the critics can go cry about it... Even I think that a lot of what I have done sucks -- as an artist, I need that to learn."

Nevertheless, there is a cerebral quality in his work captured by few of his peers. His paintings and even his digital pieces have a kind of frenzy in them, a subconscious projection of desolation and (more stunningly) pain shaped within surrealistic patterns and comic-oriented tone. But, he admits, as the father of two children, "I do paint pretty things on occasion, but I don't put it out there."

Among those already mentioned, Zig counts as his influences the Polish fantasy artist Zdzislaw Beksinski, his American counterpart Michael Whelan, Czech painter Peter Gric, Andreas Marschall, Dru Blair (re-emphasizing his interest in aviation) and Wayne Douglas Barlowe, whose "Guide to Extraterrestrials" is an essential and vivid compilation for anyone interested in science-fiction literature.

The book also holds particular interest as Zig recounts a rather strange encounter that he says has not affected his art so much as it has his thinking. Shades of "Easy Rider": "My friend and band mate Steven and I were on our way to California from Texas, 100 miles from California border in Arizona. We both saw some weird lights off of the shoulder of the highway. We pulled over to a screeching halt, got out of the car, and about a light pole high above us... there was a small 'craft' about the size of a minivan and looked like a tear drop. The lights looked as if they were shined onto the craft. Three lights, all three different colors. Both of us started yelling at the craft and it turned its lights off and quickly zoomed off about fifty yards away. In a second or so we yelled at it again to come back and abduct us. It turned its lights off again and disappeared. All of this was dead silence. We looked up and three stars dispersed in opposite directions at a high rate of speed... I think it was an organism."

Today Jon Zig has his hands full, juggling between three different outlets of creativity and business. His own band, Images of Violence, released their debut album, _Degrade the Shapeless_ this past April on Ossuary Industries. Formed while guitarist Steven Watkins and then drummer Mlody shared a one bedroom apartment in Texas, Images of Violence came together after a mutual friend introduced the pair to Zig. Soon after came 2004's _Cadaverous Recomposition_ EP with Zig on vocals, and two years later, Larry Jackson, of Texas' sadly unheralded Acerbus, stepped in on drums. The result is a massive accomplishment over their early material, which some complained took on a too similar sound to Napalm Death, even introducing a cover of "Suffer the Children". "We aren't trying to sound like anything... never were, really", Zig insists, "but we are going in a different direction altogether."

Currently, Images of Violence remain situated in Texas, performing the occasional festival and odd date whenever possible, but Zig is adamant about taking the band on the road, even with his busy in-studio schedule. "Once some things are squared away, we are there. I will take my job with me." With such arduous prospects on the horizon, Jon Zig remains confident -- even while promoting yet another band, Sacrolyctic, with Disgorge's Rick Myers. It all flows together, as he touches on this last point: "I started doing work for bands before tattooing was involved, but doing both has pushed my product very well, hand in hand", adding, "After seeing what tattooists were doing, I saw that evil can be permanent. That's what I enjoy most."

(article submitted 26/9/2006)

9/26/2006 T DePalma 7.5 Images of Violence - Degrade the Shapeless
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