Westside Tattoo moved from its prime spot in Boundary Street to Hardgrave Road in May last year, but it’s more popular than ever and rather unexpectedly, super stylish inside.
Trying to squeeze in a time in his busy schedule to speak to studio owner Matt Cunnington was a clear indication that his tattoo studio is thriving. Their move from their old spot in Boundary Street to their new pad on Hardgrave Road was mainly because the studio had grown to a point where the next step was to buy a place rather than continue to rent. “We really wanted to put some proper roots down in West End before it becomes impossible to buy here,” explains Matt. “Over the next few years I think it will continue to increase in popularity so getting into the market now made sense.”
Westside Tattoo opened in 1998 but Matt didn’t become a full owner until 2005 when he bought out the other partner. His studio is staffed by eight artists, plus a laser tattoo removal specialist, who mostly work part time. Matt grew up in Bardon and still lives in the area today but his ties to West End date back to his schooling days. “I went to school in West End, my first jobs were here and when I moved out of home I did a lot of house shares here too, so I’ve got a lot of history with the place.” His dad also owned a book publishing business on Bank Street. Owning a tattoo studio in the area therefore was a natural step for him. “I love the community,” says Matt. “Plus it’s probably the last undeveloped place in Brisbane so it has maintained its old character.”
Matt was originally drawn to tattooing on a visit to a studio in Sydney when he was at high school. “It definitely had an instant appeal.” It was one of the golden rules with his family not to get tattooed so Matt explains that of course he had to cross it off the list as a teenager. “Getting a tattoo gave me a feeling of power and the social taboo gave it something special and attractive,” Matt adds.
To be a good tattoo artist, Matt believes you need a combination of passion, patience and self awareness. “People who can draw don’t make good tattoo artists unless they’re passionate about tattooing.” And keeping tabs on your ego, according to Matt, is important too. “Your ego can go a little bit crazy doing this job as every time you finish a tattoo your client tells you you’re the greatest thing, because they’re on a high, and it seems really important but it’s not in the grand scheme of things.”
While I’m there Matt is tattooing the thigh of his client Scott Mackenzie. He’s a regular client and first had a tattoo done by Matt five years ago. When asked to rate Westside Tattoo, he is full of praise. “It would definitely be the best tattoo studio in Brisbane and it’s known not just in Brisbane and Queensland but around Australia too.”
It’s probably safe to say Matt will be “sticking it to the man”, as their slogan says, for a while yet so expect to see him continuing to make his mark in the West End scene. “Even if I won the lotto next week I’d still be tattooing,” says Matt. “I’ve considered other careers but I can’t think of anything else in the world I’d rather be doing.”
Words by Roisin Johnson | Images by Darlia Argyris