Artist says some baby boomer bosses still discriminate against tattoos
Tucked away on 17th Avenue, just barely visible from the streets of downtown Calgary, is Bushido Tattoo. As you walk up the stairs, this quaint tattoo shop looks more like a trendy art studio than anything else. There’s a giant aquarium housing exotic fish and the walls are splashed with bold colours like orange and yellow with several pieces of art beautifully occupying each wall. Past the reception room, the constant buzz of several tattoo machines is audible against the sound of rock music. At the far back corner sits tattoo artist, Brandoh Boyko, hunched over tattoo enthusiast Countess Coitus Carcass as he works on completing her back piece. Boyko has been a tattoo artist for seven years and has seen all kinds of people who want all kinds of tattoos; however, Carcass is one of the most distinctive people he’s had the chance to work on. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work on someone as unique as her,” he says as he skillfully runs the needle along her upper shoulder.
TATTOOS AND THE WORKFORCE
Although some would consider Carcass a tattoo extremist with her full-body gore, Boyko says most people are a lot more cautious about where they get tattoos as well as their size — particularly out of concern for getting or keeping their jobs. “Now that I think about it, more and more people are getting tattoos,” Boyko says without breaking his concentration from his masterpiece. “Even blue-collar people come in and a lot of times you’ll have a hard time trying to talk to them about where their tattoo should go because they’re so concerned about it showing at work.” Boyko credits this cautiousness about tattoos to the babyboomers running companies who still think tattoos give off a bad image, not only to that person, but to the company they work for. “People really care about their jobs, especially if it’s a career job,” Boyko says. “If you’re trying to apply for a career, then yeah, you’re going to try and show the best image possible to get the job.” However, Boyko says that just getting the job might not be enough for people to be comfortable enough to show off their tattoos.
DOES HAVING A TATTOO MAKE YOU LESS QUALIFIED?
“From my understanding, you can’t fire someone for having a tattoo, or if you hire them and then they get a tattoo, you still can’t fire them for it,” he says. “Granted, an employer will always just find a way to get rid of them — they won’t say that officially, but that’s what it is.” For Boyko, who has tattoos covering most of his body, this seems completely bias and unfair and he says that having tattoos doesn’t make you less qualified for the job. “They shouldn’t be turning people down for having tattoos,” he says adding that employers might be pleasantly surprised to find out that there is an intelligent person behind the tattoos. It’s easy to see why Boyko says this. While speaking with him over the phone, it was easy to envision a well-spoken, highly intelligent, middle-aged man — perhaps wearing a suit and tie, sipping expensive scotch in his living room. The more difficult thing to imagine is the truth: a 28-year-old man in a florescent, flat-brimmed hat and covered in tattoos that reach up to the top of his neck.
NOT EVERYONE FEELS THE SAME
While Boyko says he has heard a few horror stories about tattoos in the workforce, many company spokespersons say having a tattoo wouldn’t deter someone from getting hired. Richard Bartrem is the vice president of communications at WestJet and estimates that about 30 per cent of all employees at WestJet have tattoos. “People on the front line who will be seen in public, such as flight attendants, have to cover (their tattoos), but at corporate headquarters, we don’t care,” Bartrem says. “As long as it’s not offensive or distasteful, it wouldn’t stop employees from working here.” Bartrem adds that he knows how widely prevalent tattoos have become and says he doesn’t believe they are seen as unacceptable in the business world, especially at WestJet. A woman from Kahane Law Office, who would not provide her name, also said that their company is accepting of employees with tattoos. She says that they do not pass judgment and people there are hired based on their credentials, not on their appearances.
ARE TATTOOS A FAD?
It seems that everywhere you go, you are bound to see someone with a tattoo or know someone who has a tattoo. Boyko says he hates to use the word “fad,” but hesitantly describes it as so. He says he’s tattooed people of all ages and all ethnicities and that is seems like these days, everyone wants a tattoo. “I’ve done quite a few older people. At some point, I tattooed a 76 year old,” he says adding that groups of older ladies have come into the studio as well. “That’s always a hoot!” Boyko says tattoos become progressively popular as more and more tattoo shops and artists emerge, adding that not too long ago, tattoo artists were hard to come by. “Back then, the war was going on and there were maybe a hundred tattoo artists across the planet,” he says. “Now, there are thousands of us.” However, Boyko says there is a huge difference in tattoo “collectors” and tattoo “enthusiasts.” “People who collect tattoos usually get smaller pieces and are a little bit intimidated by the largest stuff,” he says. “But Carcass here, she’s pretty enthusiastic,” he says as he pauses from the repetitive motion of the needle puncturing her skin to acknowledge her pain level. “How ya’ doing Countess?” he says with a smile. “Oh, I’m alright,” she mumbles through gritted teeth.
KEEPING UP WITH DEMAND
“There’s anywhere from 45 to 60 tattoo shops in Calgary – definitely way above average,” Boyko says. “Many cities have lots of tattoo shops, but there’s only ever a handful that are really good.” He says that the tattoo industry in Calgary has grown to keep up with the demand. “There’s lots of money in here,” Boyko says. “So when people have extra money, they spend it on novelties such as tattoos, which is the case in Alberta because we’re probably one of the wealthiest areas in North America.” With so many tattoos shops and artists, it would seem as if tattoos are becoming consumerized, which Boyko says is better for both artists and clients. “It’s better because there’s more diversity and different art styles,” he says. “People like yourself can walk into a tattoo shop with multiple artists and styles to choose from – hopefully you can find what you’re looking for.”
IN THE FUTURE
With the increasing popularity of tattoos, Boyko predicts that there will be a gradual change in how our western culture views tattoos. “Right now it’s a big problem that the older generations are still running industries,” Boyko says, adding that it’s this generation that associates tattoos with “hooligans.” He says that hopefully this idea will disappear as the older generation retires out of the workforce. If this stigma of tattoos continues, Boyko says that soon, employers won’t be able to hire anyone because most people will have tattoos or the employers will even have tattoos themselves. “Does the employer hire someone who’s actually qualified for the job or do they choose not to hire him because he’s got tattoos?” he asks, adding that he thinks employers will choose the latter. “That isn’t society changing though. That’s backing the employer into a corner,” he says. “I think society will take much, much longer to change — if it changes at all.”
By Jodi Egan and Lisa Taylor