The vibrant grit of Albert Jeffers.

1098191_445911528850316_1376786094_n Most artists have a favorite medium, what is yours?

I can’t decide. My main focuses are acrylic and skin. Working in skin gives me a way to hone my craft when I don’t feel like thinking too much. I’ve been doing it so long that I really do my best to let my clients express themselves through my eyes and hands. So in that sense I feel like I’m kind of a medium for less visually creative people so that they can express themselves. It’s a very powerful form and I feel sometimes it borders on magic, which introduced me to skin art in the first place.

My first tattoo was from Mike McCabe, who was a student of R.O. Tyler, featured in Tattoo Time magazine by Ed Hardy. So at that time in my life the visual symbolism on the body being connected to the spiritual sybolism in my life, they had intersected. Acrylic is a serious departure from that. It dries fast so it allows me to rework any mistakes, where skin is not so forgiving, I can go off on a tangent and still make it look good. I dabbled in watercolor for a few years and I got pretty good at it technically, but it didn’t allow me to express myself the way acrylic has. With acrylic, if I get stuck or bored or my mood changes, I can just let it dry and take the piece in another direction. If you work in multiple media, which one is the most enjoyable for you? Again I enjoy both.

With tattooing there’s a social component that I would never have seen in life had it not been for the job. I was a really shy introverted kid, always afraid of being shunned or thought of as weird. With tattooing I was in control and had something people wanted and they seemed (and still seem) to look up to me. It really has made me the man I am today, otherwise I fear I would be this shy shy psychotic shrinking violet, just too weird and afraid to express myself. So like before I had children, tattooing taught me that some people actually cared about what I had to say or who I was and were interested in me, for many years it was totally ego driven and I turned into a real asshole and offended a lot of people and fell from grace and then I kind of felt the world had turned on me, but it was really just me being self-important and selfish. Treating tattooing as if people were privileged to be wearing my work. A few things changed that.

One evening during the slow season in Pompano Beach Florida a prostitute came in looking to cover up a name on her tit. She was an older whore and she was happy skipping around on whatever crack binge she had been on and I gave her a price of about $250.00 and she said “I’ll be back” They all say that. As I was closing the shop for the night, she came back, with a guy, he was middle aged too. They were about the age I am now, early to mid 40’s, maybe younger but obviously they had had a hard life. I didn’t think twice about the hooker when she had come in, we got requests like this every day. So she had come up with the money and she wanted a rose to cover the name, it was not a small tattoo and she had big old floppy boobs and the shop was full of mirrors, so I put up a privacy screen. The guy she came in with immediately got on the defensive and was getting kind of edgy, which I thought was really weird as this was obviously a hooker, maybe he was her boyfriend, I don’t know I didn’t want to ask too many questions. I told him he could hang out right next to us without saying what I wanted to say which was “Buddy, nobody wants this, especially not in this lighting, I’m putting up the privacy screens more to protect the public from having to watch this disgusting ordeal than to hide anything innapropriate” It was weird enough, but his jealousy made it even weirder, but this is normal street shop stuff.

So sometimes when you tattoo drunk happy women, they make a show of it. Especially ones like her who don’t get a lot of attention. So she starts starts moaning like it’s a sexual thing while I am tattooing her and in the middel of that is a burp-moan. Then I smelled how she came up with the money in the three hours she was gone. I puked in my mouth and I didn’t puke on her, I finished her tattoo, she was happy and I was totally skeeved out. Street tattooing is a very gritty dangerous job, and at that time (mid-90’s) much more so than it is now. That night really changed how far I was willing to go to make a buck. I’d seen all kinds of shit at that point and that took the cake until recently.

I tattoo a lot of recovering addicts and alcoholics, they seem to be wanting to reclaim themselves and their bodies (not so different from the prostitute) and to affirm their new selves as opposed to their old selves. They are hurt and broken and trying to rebuild and a lot of them want to express that journey on their skin. About two years ago I had one come in and start getting a lot of Christian religion themed work. He was doing well and working his program and making good money working for a car dealership.

I’m crying as I write this, it could have been me. He had gone through about 20 hours with me, really nice kid, anyway Christmas rolled around and he was a former Oxycontin addict, and you know these oxy kids aren’t that street smart, they don’t know what heroin looks like really, you know it doesn’t come from a pharmaceutical company. He wasn’t suicidal, he was just ignorant and I’m sure he thought he had gotten ripped off when he put the heroin in the spoon, And he died. Poor kid probably never really felt the hit. Anyway a couple of months later his parents came and got matching tattoos of an expression he liked to use {I’M TRYING TO FIND THE EXPRESSION RIGHT NOW} We all cried. They had this connection to me or through me and it really really hurt but it really affirmed my place in the community and who I am to people.

Now talking about acrylic, acrylic is where I can take all of these experiences and emotions and convey them MY WAY and tell MY STORY. With tattooing you get this emotional stuff that you just can’t avoid and it comes in, but where the fuck do you put it? Watercolor was too rigid, if you make a sweeping move with your hand on a watercolor because you are pissed, you ruin all the detail you did before, but with acrylic you can let your hands make wide sweeping movements and bring some emotion into a detailed piece that was previously meticulous and detailed and rigid, adding movement to a scene. Seth Ciferri told me “Just go slap some fucking paint on a canvas” and we were all working with watercolor at the time as it was so much like tattooing, you can’t do that with watercolor or tattooing, but you sure can with acrylic.

Sometimes I get pissed and frustrated and I just want to start over and I cover up a piece I’m working on and then I realize I just put weeks or months of hard work into something I’m about to lose forever…… then I wipe off that coating, revealing detail underneath.

Do you have any secret shortcuts?

A million. Hairspray helps me dry acrylic faster. Experience helps in tattooing, so that if I lose a stencil I can actually just draw with a tattoo machine. Some days I will say stencils and other days I will say it’s my frame of mind. Stencils and spray paint can enable me to get crisper edges and smoother transitions between glazes than I can with a brush.

There are substances that help me focus on minute details in acrylic paintings that I get bored with otherwise. Others have helped me get visionaray and sloppy in the middle of one of those detailed paintings so I add some mood or movement to it with sloppy washes that I have to wipe off. So some substances help with artist’s block.


I mean, do you use odd tools, techniques, or anything else that isn’t strictly status-quo for your medium?

Yeah I’m a fucking psychic or an empath or some weird shit, it gets a little tiring, but I really have a knack for getting into people’s heads and getting nuances out of them to where THEY would like the their art (tattoo) to go. Getting into people’s minds IS a special tool, and that’s why I don’t tattoo a lot, because you have to actually LIKE your client and want to help them express themselves.

How did you figure out that it worked?

Real world experience, and then the acceptance of my peers. So like if I was thinking this way and all the work was mierde, shit, it wouldn’t be valid. But I think this way and act on it and then my peers see it and they say it’s valid, then it works, that keeps me going. If the arts community sees my stuff and calls it shit, then I would have stopped years ago.

You’ve sold work before?

Yes I have, as much as I can and as much as I’m willing to part with. I’m a working artist, this is ALL I do to make money, I have a family and I have to put food on the table, see the above story of the prostitute and you’ll understand my work ethic.

What was the first thing someone bought from you, that you made?

I painted a Grateful Dead skull on a denim jacket for a girl in high school for like 20 bucks so I could buy some weed. It wasn’t perfect enough for me but she loved it. I also painted an abstract piece in the late 90’s that sold for a few hundred bucks and that’s when I knew I could make a living.

Tattooing is weird because you are selling art every day, but the agreement is of course that it belongs to the wearer, so you know they are going to walk away with it.

How did it feel to sell that piece?

It’s really nice to know that people are walking away wearing my art and showing other people every day, and how much it means to them! The look on their faces after you and them both have completed these things is priceless. I treasure and I’m very lucky to live this life. It’s almost like the tattoos can make them fly.

Are there pieces you keep hidden away, or keep for yourself, and why?

I am willing to SHOW all of my art, but a lot of it I will not sell. Last year leading up to Art Basel I was working in public and a vacationing Dane wanted to buy a Seahorse Mandala I had painted while my daughter was in gestation, each of my daughters has one of these mandalas. I told her it wasn’t for sale, she was a bit rude in whipping out her checkbook and I was SO broke, maybe that’s why I thought it rude, she didn’t know what it meant to me (she and I are friends now)

988280_445911922183610_1081501151_nSo yeah I have these three pieces, one for each of my children and one for my woman that are completely inspired by THEM and made for THEM that truly show the essence of who they are or are to become to me, they aren’t really mine, but they will never leave this house except for the occasional show.

I try to make prints available, I’ll make prints of anything. It’s funny because recently I was asked to participate in a show during Art Basel with The Moksha Family Artist’s Collective, which I am a part of and admire all of their efforts and I SO wanted to be a part of thier show, but I had to decline as they wanted me to sell these three pieces. I’d live on the street before I sold any of them. I told the kids if they ever felt they needed theirs to go to college or something like that, they belong to them. I’m sure those paintings will be in the family a very long time.

4. Working with people is sometimes the hardest part of art. How do you deal with (commission requests/demanding tattoo clients/bad art ideas/people asking if you have a real job)?

Here’s a bogus Facebook Quote making the rounds: When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied “then what are we fighting for?” What’s a real job? If it weren’t for people like you and I this country would not be worth working for. Yeah we are the slackers and the weirdos and the miscreants, but we are the ones who test our boundaries for the public and push the limits.

It’s funny because you know the way people people look at us and they have no fucking clue what’s inside, they probably think we are homeless meth addicts when we are in the rich neighborhoods, meanwhile we are the ones who will go to the fucking chopping block to defend all of our rights to express ourselves peacefully. Americans have always pushed the boundaries of self-expression, maybe we are self important, but I do think at one time we were very inspiring to the rest of the world in what we do here as artists. We have always skated on that razorblade of proper and obscene and have become masters of innuendo. I guess what I am trying to say is that most people think they have no use for art, maybe many do on their bodies, but we are living in a time where people are starting to be afraid to express themselves, we’ve always had this uptight Christian based culture, which I don’t think is bad, there’s something to be said for temperance, but let me give you a scenario, Imagine a world without the GG Allins, Honey Boo Boos, Anji Marths, Andy Warhols or even the Kanye Wests of the world? Pretty fucking boring right?

I mean we live in a time where Jesse Ventura and Cicciolina have both been elected to public office because their weird ass public art jobs gave them a platform where they could be seen and heard and they were found to be extremely intelligent and useful to the public. These are people that have some serious balls and they are the ones who spearhead social change.

Tattooing in itself is an ever evolving way of learning the art of handling commision requests. How much am I willing to do vs. how much are you willing to pay me? I mean if there’s anyone out there who will settle our mortgage and car payments I’d be glad to paint myself with blue sparkles and stick a candle up my ass and sing old glory on a street corner for a day.

1003167_445903962184406_864583440_nWhat jobs did you have before you started arting?  Did those jobs influence the way you approach your art now?

I can’t say I worked before I started arting, I have been arting since I could hold things to make marks and build. I’ve worked in IT which has helped a lot with getting my art out there on the internet, I’ve also worked as a picture framer and in printing, both of which helped me learn a lot about math and technical processes and measurement. My work in tattooing and with using safe pigments in the human body have made me VERY well versed on pigment chemistry and color theory.

I have the blackest blacks a canvas has ever seen. Color theory and a need for self expression are the two things I feel I was born with and had no need for training on, on those two I go with what I feel.

How long have you been tattooing and painting?

I’ve been tattooing since 1989 and painting since 1979. I tattoo at least 3 days a week painting has been up and down but for the past two years I paint damn near every day.

Do you think there are any new ideas in that field that are worth pursuing? 

Always. I mean whatever works. I’m a big fan of the visionary arts and there’s this one guy, he’s actually a tattooer by trade but not like me like it’s not his bread and butter, he does these 3D sculptures then scans them and turns them into paintings or prints….the name escapes me but he’s a burner and quite popular, let’s get back to him.

How do you feel about using projectors, tracing, and photographs as reference for your work? Do you use these? Do you think it’s cheating if you use your own sketches or photographs to start out with? And, what do you think of camera obscuras, camera lucidas, and other optical aids like grids, for perspective and proportion?

As far as the final product is concerned, I think Acrylic, Pencil, Watercolor and Oil are the hallmarks of fine art. They are real, you can touch them, they have a texture to them which conveys emotion where digital art doesn’t always, although I do think digital art is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. I don’t care what it takes any artist to get to his finished product, does it stir emotion? Does it make you think? Does it speak to you? That’s art to me.

Have you taken any formal art classes?

A few at Art Student’s League in NYC and also the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Always figure drawing. Figure drawing with charcoal has been instrumantal in the way I make all of my work, from tattooing to paint.

Have you had mentors?

I have had help from all over. Michael McCabe was a huge inspiration to me, David Bollt has also helped me a lot, I soak up information quickly. Lou Sciberras and Ken Cameron, in the short time I worked with them, I remember every damn word that came out of their mouths, as far as tattooing those two were and are very great men. Michael too, that guy bridged the gap between street art like tattooing and high culture, he’s a Columbia grad, and my parents went to Ivy League schools, so in him I felt I was on the right track. Do you have “spirit artists” to guide you? (artists, living or dead, who you do not personally know, but to whom you look for inspiration or answers) Greg Irons. Such a shame he died so young. I so relate to him, from the crazy 60’s and 70’s comics to the anti-war comics and also Dungeons and Dragons and he was working on an illustrated Rime Of The Ancient Mariner when he died. I feel like Greg and I both are very ancient mariners. I worship the sea.

Do you make prints or reproduce your work?

When I can. Art’s a tough market and printmaking can get expensive. We’re planning on buying a high quality printer, but the thing is tattoos always take over, they come in with cash, you feed the kids and pay the rent and then what’s left over? My girl is helping me learn to manage this.

Do you like galleries?

I love galleries, even the boring ones, they give me inspiration. I mean if people buy some of the boring “Hotel Art” I see, I know one day they will buy mine.

Do you hang your art in bars or coffeeshops?How do you feel about public exposure to your work?

As often as I can, I like to show my work. I like coordinating events around it, but it’s a lot of time and energy and I have a family, so it’s difficult without a guaranteed payout.

 Does it make you nervous to be in a spotlight, or do you enjoy it?

You can’t make a living in the arts if you are super shy unless you have a HUGE body of work that you can distribute everywhere, so you have to do it, you have to politely answer stupid questions, you have to prepare to have a thick skin for the people who insult it. It’s a fucking circus and I love showing my work.

 How many hours a week do you work? Counting research, sketching, cleaning up, framing, promotion, etc. Do you think you get paid a decent wage for this? Do you think it matters, as long as you’re enjoying the work?

If I couldn’t make a living doing this I wouldn’t. Sometimes I starve. It’s a strain on relationships, not having a steady paycheck. I think you have to work a lot harder than the rest of the population to pull this off, sometimes I’m not so sure if I am pulling this off. And making art is really expensive, you and I have both had to beg borrow or steal just to ply our trades, hopefully we are coming into a point of our lives where the work is being recognized. It’s really hard to see it from the inside.

When you began. what was the hardest thing to learn?

To just let go and trust myself. That came with maturity, those few “AHA” moments that made the difference between thinking “wow I can do this” and looking at the finished product and realizing you don’t even remember much of the process, that you have reached a point where working with your medium is second nature. I have this weird bone growth on my right index finger where my tattoo machine fits, so it has been in my hand for SO LONG that my body works with it.

When you began making art, what was the hardest thing to do? What mistakes did you make? Do you have pictures of any of those mistakes you can share? How did you solve that problem?

It was hard not to shred apart and scrutinize everything and just throw it away and forget about it. Learning to accept what you have done and make your mistakes part of what you do, once you accept the mistakes and keep them and work with them, you are on the way to creating your own style. Or I’M on my way to creating my own style, we all have our own paths and it takes a certain level of maturity to know what that is. And then the plane your family is flying in crashes and you have no choice but to take another path, alone. Nothing is certain.

Do you have a site where you sell your work? which site, and how do you like it?

My own website I have found it way too frustrating to use any of the art sites out there so I’d rather work directly with clients, media and through word-of-mouth.

Anyone you want to give a shout-out to?

… Melanie Bond. I wouldn’t have the time to type this if it weren’t for her, she’s added a temperance and stillness to mylife that I desperately needed, she keeps me grounded. And my big brother Richard S. Smith, which has truly been my inspiration to become an artist.

When you aren’t working, what are you doing with your time? Do you have any hobbies that are totally apart from your creative work, or does your art tend to creep in to your recreation time?

I have a living reef in my living room and three daughters. They are all a piece of work and works of art. Raising a family leaves very little time for much else.

You can find Albert’s work at: