Whatever your feelings are about Kanye West, you have to admit that he’s fascinating. With his multiple number one records, his often-outrageous political beliefs, and his genre bending fashion, he commands attention even from folks like me, whose entire exposure to his music is through random encounters mostly by other people playing it.
So it was pretty cool when I found out that my friend and fellow artist Jimmy Butcher was working with the enigmatic performer.
“At least until they fire me,” he quipped.
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Butcher, who is known by most as owner of The Butcher tattoo studio on Bay Street, has long been pushing the boundaries of his own creativity, exploring painting, murals, illustration, design, and much more in ways that I think most locals don’t fully appreciate.
But it was while engaged in tattooing that the opportunity to work with West reached him.
“A friend, a relationship I’ve been building for years, called me on a Tuesday at 2:30 and he said, ‘What are you doing?’” Butcher recalled. “And I said, ‘I’m getting ready to do this tattoo.’ And he said, ‘Aww, that’s not the right answer.’ And I said, ‘What’s the right answer?’ And he said, ‘You should say you’re on your way out to LA.’ And I said, ‘You mean like now?!’”
His friend did, in fact, mean now, and after a few moments of consideration, Butcher rescheduled that aforementioned tattoo appointment and within two hours was at the airport awaiting his flight out west.
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“For the time being I’m just kind of flying by the seat of my pants and holding on for dear life to see what happens next,” he said.
For years the talented Butcher has been fighting the preconceived notion by many that he’s “just a tattoo artist.” Although he openly admits to loving the medium, and is proud of what he’s been able to create with his studio, he’s often felt that as soon as people learn of The Butcher, they’re ideas about who he is and what he has to offer creatively are limited.
“When you ask someone what they do and they say, ‘I’m an artist,’ what that does is it allows you, before you go any further in the conversation, it allows you to fill in a lot of blanks,” he explained. “And your brain starts to go maybe they’re a performing artist, maybe they’re a painter, maybe they’re an illustrator.
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“If someone says what do you do [and you say] I’m a tattoo artist, that person thinks that they’ve already filled in all the blanks. So that average person doesn’t go, ‘Well, what else?’”
To be fair, Butcher really is a really good tattoo artist, in addition to being really good at a lot of other things. Back in 2018, he was featured on the competitive tattooing television show “Ink Master Angels,” where he made the finals before ultimately losing to one of the shows hosts.
But he’s also received accolades for his fine art works as well. A couple of years ago he created a custom pair of Nike Air More Uptempo sneakers for actor and musician Will Smith based on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, whose Instagram post showing them garnered over half a million likes and hundreds of positive comments. He also created custom Yo! MTV Raps sneakers for Ed Lover that the musician wore during a performance for the 30th anniversary of the show. And locally he executed a well-received mural at Starland Yard, and his imaginative paintings and illustrations have found both a following and a market.
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Still, he finds it hard to break free of the mindset that most have of him as strictly a tattoo artist, something he hopes his work with Kanye West will change.
“It’s highly relevant to my dreams as an artist,” he said. “As I transition away from full-time tattooing, and also kind of destroying that tattooers box that I’ve been trying to break for a decade.”
Find Jimmy Butcher’s artwork on Instagram @tenhighfives. The Butcher is located at 19 East Bay Street.
Art off the Air is a companion piece to the radio program “Art on the Air” hosted by Rob Hessler and Gretchen Hilmers. The column can also be found at savannahnow.com/entertainment.
The show airs Wednesdays from 3-4pm on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah and at WRUU.org.