Q: You lived through some of the most iconic times of the San Francisco’s area, close to very significant characters of American tattooing. Greg Irons, Ed Hardy, Henry Goldfield, Lyle Tuttle, Dan Higgs, Eddy Deutsche… What made those times special and what did those people bring to tattooing?
A: “Definitely the people made it special. It was a truly magical time in San Francisco, filled with some of the most influential personalities in the tattoo world: Ed Hardy, Greg Irons(which passed by the time I came in, O started tattooing in 1987 and Greg died in 1984), Henry Goldfield, Bill Salmon….
Tattoo Time was probably the most progressive/relevant book on the market, with a take on tattooing never seen before. I think what was so special about that time was that it was like a family. Perhaps slightly dysfunctional, but still a family. Everyone knew each other, it was a small city, and word and the work got around.
Dan[Higgs] started tattooing a few years before myself. He came out from Baltimore to work at Erno Tattoo which is where I started. Eddy Deutsche moved up to San Francisco a couple of years later when we opened up Tattoo City.
We all knew each other, that created a bond and a scene hard to reproduce, something unique born off a special place and special relationships. It truly was a magical time.
Ed Hardy had kind of blown off the doors of tattooing because of his art school experience and realizing that tattooing didn’t have to stay in the boundaries of what existing tattoo designs were.
So, we’re at a point of it being state of the art for that time, and it wasn’t even 1990 yet. The first wave of tattoo renaissance was just beginning.”
Q: What has been the most valuable learning moment throughout your career?
A: “Well, that would be a very hard one to nail down because there have been all kinds of learning moments. Moments of illumination and moments of extreme failure that you hopefully learn from.
I would say my answer is probably when I realized how much I didn’t know. Not only that but the fact that I could also learn from people I considered less experienced than me.
Meaning, most of the tattooers around me were way better than I was so there was lots to learn there. But I could also learn something from anybody I worked with, even if they were just starting, even if they weren’t very experienced, I could learn what not to do, how not to shade something what needle grouping not to use in a certain situation.
In a nutshell this is a vast vast frade that is very complex in all its aspects. I will never know it all but I can try to understand every layer of it at the best of my capabilities. Whether being related to customer service, tattooing technique, choosing the best course of action in any given circumstances, etc.”
Q: What are you most grateful for looking back and what is your sweetest memory?
A: “There are so many I’ll pick one or two. One huge one for me was getting a call from Ed Hardy in 1990 asking me to come work with Bill Salmon over at Realistic.
Those were the days of answering machines and it was like 9 in the morning. I heard that it was Ed Hardy over the speaker and I dove out of bed across my girlfriend into the phone to grab it. That was one of the greatest days ever.
Getting the keys to Temple Tattoo was another of those moments that left a wonderfully sweet mark in my life.”
Q: What’s the most important and treasured aspect of tattooing for Freddy Corbin? The self expression, the contact with people, the craftsmanship, the tribe, the freedom…
A: “For me it’s probably the belonging, the tribe. The freedom which I’ve been gifted with. I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I wasn’t tattooing. It has given me an incredible family across different countries.
I just love the act of tattooing. Meeting the person, figuring out what they want to get, doing it for them, experiencing how stoked they are, wrapping it up and doing it all over again.
I’m not somebody who focuses on large work. I’m not really a bodysuit guy. I much prefer the dynamic of tattooing in the shop’s setting where people are coming in and out asking questions etc. I’m more of a drawer than a mechanic.
As much as I respect it and admire it I’m not one to build machines, O just did that once with the fellow that taught me. I would much rather do art, draw or paint than build stuff. That’s just me probably because I don’t know how to do it LOL”
Q: What does the style that you specialize in have that resonates with you? What characteristics and qualities does it carry and what makes it special in your eyes?
A: “Well, as much as I believe that it’s very important to be a well-rounded Tattooer, to be able to satisfy every request that walks through the door, I’ve always be drawn towards Black&Grey. Especially California Chicano prison style, as well as black Polynesian South Pacific tribal style.
They just look really organic and natural to the body. I once met a Samoan guy that had a Samoan Pea’ mixed with homemade tattoos of a lady has an old English.
I grew up in the Italian community where the cultural borders often blurred into those of the Latino communities around. The Catholic artworks belonging to these communities’ visual heritage carried an emotional strength which always strongly resonated with me.
My favourite is a guy that has got a big old Jesus on his chest with some spiderwebs and some old English text next to it, maybe a Guadalupe on the arm and a girl’s name on his neck. I just think it’s the coolest look ever.
I really appreciate the large scale pieces that somebody like Filip Leu for instance realizes. It’s just a little bit out of my wheelhouse so I try and stay in my lane and just do what I can do well.
Q: What inspires you, outside of specialized books and artworks, and how does your creative process develop? How does an idea get into your head and where do you take it from there?
A: “That’s a tough one. Simply I would say everything around me. Ilike to draw inspiration from my surroundings, and everything/everyone I get in contact with.
That can take the shape of a beautiful architectural design in a church or a temple, the inspiring impressions that comes along with traveling, the cultural crossover in the hood or an incredible tattoo I come across.
Something that has always been a bit of a conundrum for me is that I typically can be kind of lazy, but l’m never short of inspiration. I’ve got ideas for days. The task is finding the time to get them on paper or skin.”
Q: As somebody that has been in the game at top levels for a long time, you saw changes and cycles substituting each other over the years. What valuable aspect do you think in this new phase of tattooing, with a strong influence from social medias, we are at risk of losing and which one should be absolutely preserved?
A: “The INTEGRITY. On both ends. We can look at people’s work around the world, screenshot it ,throw it into an iPad, copy it and make a stencil, while we use the other tattoo for reference. It seems that it’s making people better tattooers which I guess is a good thing?? (laugh)
The other end of that extreme, is due to its popularity and the TV shows that followed. People that would never have anything to do with tattooing and definitely do not have its best interest at heart are getting involved and to me that’s one of the scariest things ever.
Whether it’s trying to invent something that will sell, come up with some angle to make money. I saw a video of what looked like a sweatshop in China that had about 80 people learning how to tattoo and not one of them fucking had a tattoo, not one. That to me is absolutely blasphemous!
That’s why I always come back to INTENTION and INTEGRITY. I believe your intention, your why, for getting into tattooing is one of the most important parts.
If your intention is to get into tattooing out of sheer love and because you love to make a living doing it, then great! If your intention is to make money, that being your only reason to get involved, then please stay the fuck away from me and my shop. There’s nothing I can do to stop that obviously, I just can’t support it.
My fear is that Tattooing will eventually lose its magic because it’s been so watered down by main stream influences. Made safe to be on TV, it all comes back to money in the end.
I don’t have anything against money, money is just a tool, it makes life a lot easier, you get to travel etc. The pivoting point is when money becomes the main and only goal. Regardless, I would be tattooing even if you couldn’t make a dime at it! Probably not as much as I do now but I would still be doing it because I love it, it makes me happy and makes other people happy. My fear is that we’ll lose the magic and the connection to True Tattooing and its anticonformist, connective, expressive spirit.”
Q: Where would you like your tattooing and tattooing in general to go in the future?
A: “Well, I would love my tattooing to get better. Personally I need to work more on human figures, and to try some of the new equipment. I love my Bluetooth foot pedal lol
I am a creature of habit and still I think old dogs can learn new tricks. I try to stay in my lane, I do want to get better, but l’m 33 yrs in. My goal is to tattoo 50 yrs solid. We’ll see after that.
Where I would like it to go… that could be a whole chapter, It’s why I did this article. The intentions you have to retain our integrity as a trade, are my desires and intentions as well. It’s like we could compare tattooing to so many other things that have changed drastically, especially over the last decade via social media and technology. I hope it doesn’t become too clean, too sanitary, sterile. Pun intended.
One of the beautiful things about tattooing for me. No matter who’s doing it, HOPEFULLY there aren’t too many squares involved and it can keep its edge and its crusty film of mystery on the walls. I never want tattooing to be mainstream. It seems that right up around the corner at the rate we’re going.”
Q: A few of your favorite tattoo artists that you admire and why
A: “Always, Good Time Charlie, Ed Hardy, Chris Garver, Eddy Deutsche, Ben Grillo, Alex Binnie, Dan Higgs, Tim Hendricks, Luke Atkinson, Chris conn.
Some newer, Salty Walt, Rose hardy, Robert ryan, Justin Oliver, Juan Teyer, Jondix.. But most of all, at the very top, FILIP LEU. He’s, in my opinion, the best for so many reasons.
He’s incredibly kind. No ego.
He had started so many styles, brought so many things to the tattoo table.
My role models would be Charlie Cartwright or Filip. The reason I love these tattooers is because they do beyond beautiful tattoos, and they are trail blazing bad asses.”