Photo by Rochelle Phipson
Richard Phipson is a tattooer who moved from South Africa to Hong Kong and now co-owns Starcrossed Tattoos. Durban-born and bred, Rich has been active in art, tattooing and music for years. We caught up with him to chat about music, the transition from South Africa to Hong Kong and from graphic designer to tattooer, and some other things. Meet Rich Phipson…
Yo Rich! Give us a brief introduction to yourself.
I still don’t eat my veggies.
Still not sure which ones a shirt and which is a t-shirt.
I thought being this age would feel different.
Not all my friends have forgot me yet.
I don’t deserve to be interviewed.
Working originally as a graphic designer, you made quite a career change in deciding to become a tattooer. Can you tell us about why you decided to make that transition and how you got started tattooing?
Tattooing isn’t something you can pick up quickly or do part time. Anyone who thinks that isn’t tattooing, they’re doing something else. I had no choice. It becomes a part of my everything. My night and day. It still is. the process wasn’t intentional. Nothing about the last five years has been though. I’ve just tried my best to keep happy and do whatever moves me. There was a time when that’s what graphic design was for me; exciting. It’s hard to turn a hobby into a job and still appreciate it the way you did before. If you can or do then I think that’s enough to keep you going.
You grew up and lived in Durban until a few years ago. Why did you decide to move to Hong Kong?
There’s something we carry. Well some of us do. It’s a curse and a blessing. It’s a drive that pushes us to be better and do better but also fools us into always thinking there’s something better. It’s the opposite of complacency. Discontented and dissatisfied. It’s what only let’s us see it after midnight and forces us to stay up to see the sunrise. I dunno if its specific to my generation or culture. But I know me and my friends have it. Also, at the time it seemed like a good idea.
4. What does your typical day look like?
I have two types of days.
Day one starts as late as possible, no food, maybe coffee. Bus to work. Tattoo. Shovel food. Tattoo some more. Hang with homies. Bus home. Eat and hang with Rochelle then draw until my eyes close from the bottom up. Repeat.
Day two hopefully starts earlier. Breakfast. Swim in the sea. Play guitar. Sit in the park. Paint. Dinner somewhere. Watch series. Lots of it.
What are your best and worst things about South Africa? And Hong Kong?
SA has family, familiarity and a beauty that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. I’ve sacrificed these for safety, both physically and financially.
Besides tattooing, what do you do in your spare time?
Watch loads of series, eat too much chocolate, and play guitar.
Being based in a city where millions of tourists from all over the world travel to or through, you must get some strange people coming into Starcrossed. What are some of the weirder encounters you’ve had?
The weird becomes the norm pretty quickly, but I’ve tattooed a man wearing a panda suit and been given a $7000 tip before.
Would you say that you have a favorite style of tattoo to do, and if so, what is it?
Not really. There’s more stuff that I don’t like doing. As long as the client gives me creative freedom with their idea I’m generally happy.
What do the local Cantonese people think of tattoos? You are pretty tattooed yourself. I can imagine you get a lot of stares. Although, maybe I am just naive and coming from a South African context, where people generally are still very conservative.
It’s pretty similar here to SA. There are rude people everywhere that feel that because you have colour on your skin they can touch it. But generally the stares aren’t too bad.
Some people will know of you from playing drums in the infamous Durban hardcore band, Crossingpoint, doing vocals in Joburg hardcore band, Compass, and being involved in some other projects before that. Music has been a big part of your life. Do you have any plans to do anything in Hong Kong? What is the music scene like there?
Yeah, it’s still one of the biggest things in my life. I’ve had plans since I got here, but nothing has worked out yet, but hopefully soon. The music scene is okay. It’s cool to be able to see bigger bands that come through here, but there’s definitely a lack of punk-ethos subcultures. I think it’s got to do with wealth and complacency. But that’s a whole separate rant.
What have you been listening to recently?
Today: O Brother, The Story So Far, Yellow Ostrich, Such Gold and the Local Natives.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to quit their job and do something like you did?
If you wanted to do it you would have done it.