It was a typical crazy day in Berlin and as usual I was running late. I rang the bell apprehensively, as I wasn’t quite sure I had arrived at the right place. It was a very nondescript facade, but then I noticed there was a subtle UNIV ERSE sign on the door, so indeed I had arrived.
Brody Polinsky Queer Clean & Sober Tattoo Artist
Brody Polinksy answered the door and offered me a pair “hausschuhe” and suggested I take a seat on the couch as he disappeared to return to his lunch guests. I was left to absorb the ambiance of UNIV ERSE. Bare exposed walls, black floors, low light, a tattoo station in the corner with a long table strewn with designs. What struck me was the cool temperature inside compared the warm day outside. I immediately felt at ease.
Brody returned with his lunch guests, introductions were made and after a brief conversation about evening plans, they bid their goodbyes. The couple was also tattooers living here in Neukölln and obviously from somewhere else, not native German speakers.
Brody himself is somewhat unassuming – backwards baseball cap and wire rimmed glasses – and of course, tattoos. You might not notice at first, but he has a lot of them.
If you were to guess, how much of your body is covered in tattoos?
Maybe 80%, possibly 90% … I think?
And your history?
After high school I left the prairies for Vancouver, it was a blur before then and I was not sober. I then started to vagabond around the world tattooing and skateboarding, successfully escaping a few winters. Eventually I wanted to feel grounded, and wanted a place to call home. While in Australia I met close friends of mine from Berlin who easily convinced me. I’ve been living here for 3 years now, though I still travel usually half of each year.
Why did you feel the need for a queer safe space?
I have tattooed in a lot of other dynamics and spaces, even gay, yet never been totally comfortable in my own skin. Most were conventional tattoo studios, which can be hyper masculine and party environments. The personal dynamics between everyone in a studio sets the tone for the day and the outcome of the tattoo, in my opinion. It’s hard to leave your shit at the door and it really affects everyone around you.
Thus the clean and sober tag line?
Yep, I’ve been sober for 13 years, but only working my program the last 4 years, which makes all the difference. It is a super important part of who I am – tattooer, queer, skateboarder, traveler, motorbiker, cyclist, vegetarian, musician, blah blah blah.
And the queer part?
Most of the gay identified tattooers I know aren’t blatantly out publicly, just by word of mouth. I can understand that apprehension, but for me being visible is important. Realizing that I was still insecure after 13 years being out was humbling, in many other cultures it’s just not possible. Even if you work in cities like San Francisco or Berlin it can negatively impact your career. I started to publish more about my life transparently last summer, it was tricky and have had some disappointing backlash. I felt that if I could reach out to one other human who could identify, that would be worth whatever happened.
Instagram is the current platform that tattooers use to publish their works, so I posted several video clips of me skating. I wrote my insecurities and sincere intentions to challenge others’ boundaries and my own. Initially I felt like I wanted to throw up, and for me that usually means I’ve made the right choice. I have lost a fair amount of public momentum, with some surprising support from other tattooers.
I realized that so many other folks can not be out in their chosen working environments which really blew my mind. So, I decided to build a queer tattoo Instagram, with satellite friends helping curate from thier perspectives. It’s a safe online space for queer clients to see where they can get tattooed called @queertattooers / www.queertattooers.tumblr.com
Tell us about UNIV ERSE
UNIV ERSE is my heart, representing my life, of which was built from scraps essentially. Physically, it was formerly a bubble gum pink spätkauf that we gutted, then arduously brought back to life. As we continue to evolve here and I go forward personally, UNIV ERSE produces more ongoing projects. It is where I feel the most grounded, motivated and grateful.
However you identify and why is up to you, come as you are, everyone is welcome. The normative box we are supposed to fit into keeps most queer folks out of tattoo studios. Unfortunately the most common vibe walking into popular tattoo studio is exclusivity not inclusivity, this is the antithesis of UNIV ERSE.
We often invite close friends for guest spots to keep up the critical new energy exchange. I intend to connect my cultures by drawing a line between them to manifest a radical community.
Trial and error has taught me that my energy works best in a private space where the creative process is more fluid. No one gets the same pattern twice, I often draw in that moment, I know where they want to get tattooed and my partner handles the admin side to keep my head together. Clients arrive, we drink tea, listen to good music, eat something, then we are ready. Each human’s form is sacred.
The ritual of tattooing for me is an intimate exchange between the client and the tattooer. They put their trust in you, exposing their body to you, a raw human canvas. They’ve come seeking something to permanently change, consciously or subconsciously, it’s an honor for me every time.
You don’t seem like a Mom tattoo kind of artist.
Sure, I’ve done plenty of mom tattoos, it is important to spend years doing all styles to see what you can offer. Please leave your mom, dad, friends, partner or dog at home, it might get spelled wrong, I am easily distracted ha.
What’s coming up for you? Travel, etc.
We will be in Den Haag again for a few days in June tattooing with friends and a mini vacation. I am content being home again, it’s only been a month and summer is coming back slowly. New York, Toronto, Montreal and Chicago are being planned for late summer, it’s always nice to be back over there.