Love Kat Von D? We reckon you'll love the tattooed goddess Maureen Van Mortis too!
When Bizarre first met Kat Von D in 2006, she was a minor player in Miami Ink, the spunky, fresh-faced tattoo artist who’d been drafted in to cover for an existing team member who’d been in an accident. And with her sparkling personality and tattooing talent, she soon became the star of the show.
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The second time we met Kat, back in the spring of 2008, she’d moved on from Miami to LA, still Inking. She’d set up her own shop, High Voltage Tattoo, and was the star of the more successful spin-off TV show, LA Ink. She’d also split from her long-term boyfriend Alex ‘Orbi’ Orbison, the drummer with Whitestarr and son of rock’n’roll pioneer Roy Orbison, and had just started a relationship with Mötley Crüe’s bouffant-sporting bass thumper Nikki Sixx.
Now Kat is as big a star as those she inks – and she’s inked some legends. She and Nikki are the pale-faced, large-sunglassed king and queen of Sunset Boulevard. Kat’s music festival’n’tattoo convention, Musink, will reappear this summer, and she’s also produced a line of make-up for mainstream cosmetics store Sephora.
Home sweet home
Kat’s new book, High Voltage Tattoo, features lush pictures of her art and tattoos, and traces her mercurial rise to fame, from creating her first tattoo aged 14 to going professional at 16 and her subsequent big break in television. When we catch up with Kat this time, she’s giddy with excitement about it.
She’s halfway through a tour promoting the publication, and admits, “It’s probably the most energy I’ve ever put into any single project before. I loved writing it. I loved looking back at all my artwork from day one. It’s fun to see that process and progress behind it.”
Speaking to Kat, you realise what makes her such a good tattooist; she has natural empathy and is charming and helpful. It’s mid-morning in sunny LA, and Kat’s chatting to Bizarre from her publicist’s office.
She’s a series of contradictions – she looks like the coolest chick on the block, all pouty mouth and leather trousers, her history stained into her skin. But in person she’s goofy and funny and has a honking laugh like an asthmatic donkey that punctuates the end of her sentences.
She admits, “I think a lot of people have this idea that I’m cool and tough and stuff. But I think when it comes down to it I’m pretty conservative and a homebody. I like to do arts and crafts, and play music, and write, and paint, and draw. I’m definitely not a party animal any more.” This might have something to do with the fact she gave up drinking a year ago (about the same time she met Nikki, who’s teetotal). She says, “I like being focused and creative as much as possible. I couldn’t have done the book if I hadn’t been sober. No way. Too much work.”
Kat’s book also has an introduction written by Nikki Sixx, in which he describes her as “a top-fuel funny car, a superhero cartoon character with a tattoo machine firmly in hand 24 hours a day. The saying ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ doesn’t even apply to her, ’cause she’ll be tattooing an angel on Satan’s shoulder when her time comes, and he will fucking love it, ’cause she is Kat Von D, Mistress of the Ink.”
Nikki and Kat met through a mutual friend as they were going through “brutal divorces” in the summer of 2007 (Kat had split with husband Oliver Peck and Nikki Sixx with Donna D’Errico). Though they started off as just friends, a trip to the movies in March 2008 turned friendship into something more.
Kat says that they’re pretty “geeky”, explaining: “We do a lot of photography together, a lot of art and stuff like that. He’s really talented in every aspect.”
And not surprisingly, Kat has also tattooed Nikki, including a portrait of his grandfather. She says, “I’ve tattooed every boyfriend I’ve ever had, pretty much. The tattoo experience with anybody is a bonding moment. It’s an exchange of energy – you’re marking somebody permanently, for the rest of their life. For Nikki and I it’s nice because we don’t really get a lot of quiet time together, so to be able to tattoo each other is an intimate thing.”
Nikki tattooed the words, ‘I love you’ on Kat’s arm. She laughs, “He obviously doesn’t know what he’s doing. It looks like a three-year-old did it, but it’s one of the tattoos I love the most.”
The pair are obviously head-over-cowboy-booted-heels in love with each other. But they’re not keen on tying the knot officially. Kat grins, “Y’know, we’ve both been through pretty gnarly divorces and we just kind of... maybe one day. We talked about getting married in as far as, like, maybe some crazy ceremony in Bali by some monk or something. We don’t really want to do anything that involves paperwork. We keep our business and our personal lives completely separate, because in the past, for each of us, it’s ruined our marriages.”
Perhaps Kat is taking note of her most recent favourite tattoo. On her hand, it reads ‘aware’. “It’s a constant reminder to stay aware of knowing whether you’re in a bad situation,” she explains. “It’s a good reminder to step back and think about how it applies to all situations and go from there. Any kind of bad situation – a dilemma that’s work-related, relationship-related, whatever.”
Saint of Los Angeles
Since rocketing to stardom in her TV shows, Kat’s been a target for crazy fans, and she’s had to move out from the house she shared with her mother on Sunset Boulevard. “When I moved my mom in with me it was kind of hard,” she says. “Certain people I know have good intentions, but if they showed up Mom would get really scared. So I had to move out of being in the mix of everything.”
She’s also been the target of backbiting and catcalling, from the general public and from the tattoo community. In fact, she’s started to sever her connections with other inkers. As she explains, “I kind of separated myself from the world of tattooing, a bit over a year ago. It’s very much an ego-driven industry. People will always want to build you up to knock you down. I just want to be a good tattooist. My inner critic can be harsh, and sometimes not listening to that can be hard to do. But I remembered why I got into tattooing, and it wasn’t to make a bunch of money, and I didn’t know it was a ‘job’ – I just did it because I loved it. I think staying true to that is the best way of dealing with all the other bullshit.”
Kat’s plans for the future are modest. She’s just finished filming a part in vampire movie The Bleeding, in which she stars (under real name Katherine Von Drachenberg), alongside tough guys Vinnie Jones, Michael Madsen and DMX.
She says, “It was a lot of fun. On Ink, it can be very difficult to play yourself. You have to be conscious of everything you say: people will judge you, and dissect every sentence and every tattoo, trying to find everything’s that wrong. But when you’re acting you’re not going to worry about that stuff because you’re playing a character. Obviously there’s no such thing as vampires, so you can be as crazy as possible. It was fun to wear prosthetic teeth and eye contacts, and having a stunt double. Man, I wish I had a stunt double on the TV show!”
Though Kat enjoyed her acting experience, she doesn’t want to do it full-time. Of her ambitions, she says, “I’m trying to build a little empire, I guess. Right now I’m really into discovering painting, photography and sewing. With those three things – and balancing that with my tattooing and everything else – that’s probably enough for now!”
But one thing’s for sure. Whatever she does, she’ll find time every day to ink virgin flesh. As Nikki says in his intro to High Voltage Tattoo, “She has to tattoo. If she doesn’t tattoo, she gets her panties all in a wad, and the wrath of Von D isn’t one you want to see. Point is, the girl fucking loves tattooing.” And Kat absolutely agrees, “I’d never stop. I’d tattoo every day. There’s just no way I could stop tattooing. Ever.”