Miya Bailey

Atlanta, Georgia

How did you get your start in Art?

I was a child artist. I began drawing when I was two-years-old and started selling art when I was ten. If my mom was having a party, I would draw someone's portrait for fifty cents. Back when everyone was breakdancing, white people would pay the black kids to breakdance, and I would draw the breakdancers and get a dollar. It became my hustle, but it was also my passion. I was making a little money, but I knew at an early age what I wanted to be.

Tattooing became another medium. When I was 17 or 18-years-old, a friend came back from the Job Corps, and he had this homemade tattoo on his arm. That was rare to see in the black community in the early 90s. He showed me how to do it using a needle and thread, a jail technique of tattooing. I gave myself a tattoo using the same method. People began asking me to do tattoos for them, so I started going to the library and began reading books on tattoo culture. I picked up this book by Don Ed Hardy, and it contained all these different tattoo styles, Japanese, tribal, Polynesian, but I didn't see any black people or black culture in the book. I knew that in African culture people got body modifications, scarification and were tattooing way before Europeans. I began studying African art and how it related to tattoo culture. I started hanging around a tattoo shop named Liquid Dragon in Asheville [North Carolina], and there my friend Rob taught me a lot about the technique of tattooing. I decided to move to Atlanta to find an apprenticeship. I came in contact with Julia Alfonso who was sparking a culture by teaching young black men how to tattoo. She was one of the first artists to start teaching a generation black tattoo artists, and I became one of her students.

Where do you draw your artistic inspiration?

I dream a lot.

I can’t front, sometimes I might take a psychedelic [a mushroom] and dream these beautiful visions.

Photo by Omega Ruth Jr

Photo by Omega Ruth Jr

How would you describe your artistic style?

Neo-Expressionism.

I have a lot of different styles, and each can be considered its own category. I tattoo differently than I paint, I paint differently than I illustrate. Each artform has its own different expression. You may not always understand the subject matter, but you can feel it.

What is your favorite project or collection?

My last collection, Before I'm Gone Vol.2, was the largest collections of work I've done in one series (42 pieces that spanned sculptures, paintings, and illustrations). It was my most exhausting project and tested my physical abilities. The project taught me a lot about my limitations.

What has been the most memorable response to your work?

When people say my work is "beautiful.”

I know it seems basic, but that means the most. [The word] beautiful surpasses physical attraction. There are things that might be “pretty” or “nice,” but if you say something is beautiful, you can see passed the physical and feel it from the inside out.

What is a common misconception of tattoo artists?

A common misconception is that every tattoo artist is equal.

Some people think a tattoo artist is the same as a tattoer or a scratcher. Everyone has their specialty and things they like or don’t like to do. There are different categories to the artform like in any career. You have to know what you are looking for when you are ready to get work done.

What are some of the challenges you face as an artist?

I think the number one challenge for me at this time is "energy vampires." Sometimes you don't know if someone is sincere or if they are trying to drain your time and energy. Friendships should be an equal exchange of energy. If it gets to the point where you are repeatedly giving [time and energy], and someone is repeatedly taking with no reciprocation, then they are probably an energy vampire. Those are people I have to actively avoid.

Photo by Jamani Chavis

Photo by Jamani Chavis

What are some of the challenges you face as an artist?

I think the number one challenge for me at this time is "energy vampires." Sometimes you don't know if someone is sincere or if they are trying to drain your time and energy. Friendships should be an equal exchange of energy. If it gets to the point where you are repeatedly giving [time and energy], and someone is repeatedly taking with no reciprocation, then they are probably an energy vampire. Those are people I have to actively avoid.

On managing the demand of being a sought after artist:

I remain disciplined and very anal about my time. I have a schedule, and I stick to it. There’s a time to socialize and a time to work. On Mondays, I take care of business, conduct interviews, etc. Tuesdays, are my days off, I talk to people, go out to eat, or I may stay home and read comics all day. From Wednesday to Saturdays, I'm tattooing, and at night I'm painting. On Sundays, I'm with my family.

I could actually work all day. I enjoy working more than anything. I love work more than having company.

On current projects:

I hooked up with an organization called Goat Farm, and they sold me a building down the street from City of Ink. I agreed to keep the building art-related, so I'm working on a neighborhood coffee house, community library, and art store. People will be able to buy art supplies, drink coffee and draw right there on the spot. There will be a speakeasy art gallery behind one of the bookshelves. The top floor will be where elite artists can come and work. It will be a hub for inspiration.

 What quote or affirmation do you live your life by?

I never adapt to the environment... I make the environment adapt to me.

I'm not sure where the quote came from but it's been with me since I was a kid. I stand firm on my principles and my discipline. I don't depend on another human being for anything. And I don't mean that in an egotistical way but it helps me stay morally grounded.

For more on this artist, please visit MiyaBailey.com and follow on social media at @miyabailey