The Cleopatra of skin ink

2010-07-24 16:13

Kat Von D is a modern-day screen siren – a no-nonsense femme ­fatale with rough edges and a personality to rival her bra size.

Her tattooed body is usually encased in tight-fitting leather, and her sultry red lips perfectly complement her raven hair and the cluster of stars that cascade down the left side of her face.

She is as different from her ­reality TV brothers and sisters as chalk and cheese. She’s no Paris Hilton, Kardashian sister or ­Playboy Mansion Bunny.

Heck, Kim Kardashian once famously ­retorted when asked about ­getting a tattoo: “Would you put a bumper sticker on a Bentley?”

Von D, a Los Angeles native, is not about spray tans and being famous for being famous.

She wants to be known for something – like really amazing body art.

“My biggest influences are the masters’ paintings. I love ­Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Da ­Vinci and Rembrandt. But Odd Nerdrum from Norway is my ­ultimate favourite modern-day painter. His approach to realism has been beyond influential,” she says in a voice too soft to belong to a hard-core tattoo artist.

Von D was introduced to South Africa’s TV audience when Miami Ink launched on Discovery Channel in 2008.

Her spirited personality – thanks to her ­Mexican heritage – soon made her stand out. That feistiness saw her butting heads one too many times with Ami James, owner of Love Hate Tattoos, the home of Miami Ink.

After two seasons of the reality show, Von D opened her own shop, High Voltage, and landed the show LA Ink.

The ­similarities between the two shows are uncanny, but Von D sees it differently.

“Miami Ink is too ‘produced’. When I first put together the cast of LA Ink, it was important for me just to compile a team of ­really great tattooists and be more art driven. In the end, I just try my best to do really amazing tattoos to outshine all the
other bullsh*t.”

Von D has put ink on some of the biggest celebrities, including The Game, Dave Navarro of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and skating champion Tony Hawk. She is about to start tattooing Lady Gaga’s lower back.

“I don’t really get star-struck. Maybe it’s just because living in Los Angeles desensitises you to that stuff,” she says of her
celeb clientele.

Von D’s notoriety extends far beyond the world of tattooing. The striking beauty has graced the cover of numerous magazines, offering an alternative to the model cover girl.

She also credits her Mexican, German and Argentinian roots with influencing her art.

“Mexican culture is prominent here in LA and you can see it on the murals, the bikers, the fashion and even in the ­music. That has always been something that plays a part in my art.”

Jumping from a ­popular tattoo artist with a six-month waiting list to ­reality TV star is
not easy.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure and ­sometimes it can be overwhelming. I’m a pretty sensitive person. I don’t allow any tabloids in my house or at the shop. I don’t watch ­television either. I just think it’s a lot of added noise that isn’t necessary.”

At 27, Von D is a bona fide brand, with her own tattoo ­parlour, perfume and cosmetics range, and a book on skin art. But Von D says she is just getting started.

“I think there is always room for improvement. I want to push the envelope further. I want to write music. I am busy opening a gallery and writing my second book. I need to up my game.”

We’re sure you will, Kat.

» LA Ink is screened on Discovery Channel on Tuesdays at 8pm 

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