Image isn’t everything, but it’s a lot to Luke Wessman. Born in an outhouse on a hippie farm in Tennessee and raised with gangsters in Southern Cali, Wessman is one of the world’s most renowned tattoo artists, known for his “traditional gangster” style.
The 33-year-old fully tattooed badass may not be as hard as he looks—he once worked as a beekeeper and his most memorable tattoo was one he inked on his ex-girlfriend, during which he shed a few tears.
Wessman spoke with Complex at the Wooster Street Social Club where he discussed his reality TV experience on TLC's Miami Ink and NY Ink, stigmas surrounding his career, progression and he shared a few stories about tattooing Silkk the Shocker and Master P—well, sort of.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
So you were born in Tennessee and moved to Southern Cali, what was childhood like for you?
I was born into a hippie family in a hippie farm, they were free spirited people. My family got kicked out eventually. Hippie farms were places in the '70s that practiced organic living and they built their own societies. My dad didn’t want to follow all the rules. They left, but my mom was pregnant with me and didn’t know where to have me. They went back to the hippie farm and they let us in because she was almost in labor. We lived in a shack behind the main area of the hippie farm—no electricity, no water. She went into the communal bathroom, an outhouse sort of place, and I was born on the floor. They waited a bit and then we hitchhiked to California. I never really grew up in Tennessee.
For me, street life was more just being around a bunch of gangs. I always knew if I got into that, I would never saw a positive outcome. I really had a lot of respect for it. When you grow up with thugs and gangsters...they were who everyone in the neighborhood respected.
I watched your Self Made documentary and your friend mentioned one of your first jobs was as a beekeeper.
As a kid, one of our neighbors had a beekeeping business, I started working there for $6 an hour. I learned the value of hard work and making money. I worked as much as I could. My parents moved but I was so established, even though I was a young kid, because I had that job and worked at a skate shop and had other jobs.
What was street life like in Oceanside?
For me, street life was more just being around a bunch of gangs. I always knew if I got into that, I would never saw a positive outcome. I really had a lot of respect for it. When you grow up with thugs and gangsters...they were who everyone in the neighborhood respected. I had a healthy appreciation for it. Learning the codes of the street and knowing it wasn’t for me exactly, surfing pulled me away from that. Oceanside is right on the beach, there are a lot of gangs right on the beach, but you were able to escape by just going into the water. My older brother messed around with gangs, they were all over. I could have easily went a different way in life.