“I dwell in a really bizarre land,” says native tattoo artist One Arm Willie. “I don’t contemplate myself disabled, however I acknowledge others do.”
OAW, who has been tattooing at Sacred Lotus Tattoo on New Leicester Freeway since 2019, sports activities a putting look accentuated by his rugged beard. His private type favors a darker facet, with beanies, denim vests and plaid button-downs making a mountain-man-meets-biker vibe — considerably intimidating at first look till the verbose tattooist begins speaking. Heat, congenial and forthcoming, OAW doesn’t shrink back from robust subjects, together with the truth that his left arm ends slightly below the bend of the elbow.
However he by no means tells the identical story twice. In a single model, he misplaced his extremity in a automotive accident; in a later version, a bear ran off together with his appendage. Regardless of the true story could also be appears past the purpose and counter to the general public persona he’s created — one that’s deliberately mysterious.
Get him speaking lengthy sufficient, although, and also you’ll choose up items of a previous riddled with obstacles that also drive OAW to this present day.
Born in Albuquerque, N.M., OAW spent a lot of his childhood bouncing across the nation together with his household. However regardless of the situation, he all the time ended up skateboarding and hanging round native tattoo retailers.
This early publicity to the tattoo business, in tandem together with his grandmother’s encouragement to pursue a profession within the arts, proved inspirational. However early naysayers, who insisted he couldn’t study the ability with just one hand, led OAW to initially pursue different vocations. He first thought of translating for the navy earlier than incomes levels in hospitality administration and biblical research. Regardless of these credentials, OAW usually felt potential employers couldn’t see previous his lacking limb.
“It’s extraordinarily debilitating to enter a job interview and instantly get turned down as a result of all they have a look at is my arm as an alternative of me,” OAW says.
Issues modified in 2015, when OAW supplied to assist his longtime pal Darcy Del Priore renovate the house for his new enterprise, Sickle and Moon Tattoo in Columbia, S.C. Recognizing OAW’s ardour for the business, Del Priore supplied his pal an apprenticeship. OAW endured the phases of grunt work and practiced on tattooing grapefruits earlier than breaking precise pores and skin.
“That motherf**ker threw me within the deep finish,” remembers OAW. “He understood me sufficient to present me the liberty to play with issues however would inform me if I used to be straight up doing it incorrect.”
Alternate of vitality
Educated in traditional-style tattooing, OAW has since developed his private aptitude, favoring a darker type with numerous black.
“It’s refreshing to have somebody with a extra old-school outlook,” says Kimi Leger, proprietor of Sacred Lotus Tattoo. “However he nonetheless prioritizes his personal type.”
Due to his lacking limb, OAW works from the underside up, which helps him keep away from smudging the stencil.
“Working with somebody with a bodily problem like that’s actually inspiring,” Leger continues. However in terms of his work, he by no means focuses on having one arm, she notes — his portfolio speaks for itself.
Reapers, skulls and spiders are among the many designs OAW enjoys tattooing probably the most. Nevertheless, his favourite items are people who have a deeper which means for shoppers, since he considers his work an trade of vitality between himself and the person.
“I inform them, ‘This isn’t your tattoo, it’s ours,’” he says.
OAW additionally views every new piece he works on as a direct problem to the biases folks usually maintain about folks with disabilities.
“A whole lot of instances, folks need issues achieved in a sure approach, and when others bodily can’t do it that approach, they don’t contemplate us priceless of their system,” he says. “If folks got the liberty to be artistic in the way in which they did issues, we’d be extra profitable.”
Not that any naysayers are slowing him down. OAW says he intends to proceed tattooing and difficult misconceptions for the remainder of his life.
“Tattooing is my old flame,” he says. “Every thing else is a mistress.”
To study extra about OAW, go to avl.mx/8we.