It’s a bright sunny day, and romantic Bollywood songs fill the air as the Hyundai Accent makes its way up the winding hills of Uttarakhand, enroute to Nainital. Inside the car are four friends, but this isn’t any ordinary road trip. As the car pulls up at its destination, the unusual contents stored in the boot are unloaded — ink bottles, ink caps, disposable needles and a German make tattoo machine.
“U think it, I ink it :)”, reads the WhatsApp status of Mumbai-based tattoo artist Rahul Venkat. Apart from being cushioned up at his swanky tattoo studio in the big city, he chooses road trips to remote villages and towns. Ask him the inspiration behind this adventurous route and he shares that it is his love for road trips. “I could get to places in a jiffy but I love to be close to nature and the thrill around it.”
Over the last eight years, he has done thousands of tattoos, including several for celebrities. But what sets this twenty-five-year old artist apart is his modus operandi in reaching out to diverse tattoo lovers, spreading the art to people who might not have knowledge or access to a professional studio.
Rahul started doing road trips six years ago, travelling five times from Mumbai to Chennai, as well as trips to North India and around Maharashtra.
This has enabled him to tattoo people in a variety of towns and cities such as Nainital, Goa, Hubli, Hosur, Kolhapur, Buldana district, Mysore all the way to Chidambaram on the east coast.
Rahul says, “Most of them are pre-planned but one happened out of the blue during my third trip to Chennai. When I was at the cinema hall in Chennai, a young boy asked me from where I got my tattoo done. When I told him about it, he wanted to get one done. He was leaving for Kodaikanal the next day. That made me do an unplanned trip to Kodi, a hill station that I had not visited earlier. I did the tattoo for him and three of his friends too. After Nainital, this has been my longest road trip covering 1,700 kms from Mumbai to Chennai, then Kodaikanal and back. In this way, I got the best of both worlds at one go, work and pleasure!”
Although he has worked with film and TV personalities in Mumbai, one of his most memorable inking experiences is very humbling. Recalling one of his road trips he took to Shegaon in Buldana district of rural Maharashtra, he says, “I was requested to ink a hearing impaired and mute person who used to sit beside the samadhi of the saint Gajanan Mouli during the day. He wanted me to do a permanent portray of the Lord. So, I did a tattoo for him in front of the shrine in the temple. This was a divine experience.” That apart, the clientele during his road trips comprises mainly middle class young male adults and students. “Hence my fee for such customers is lower than from metropolitan cities.”
When asked about the difference in his experiences in the countryside and the big metros, he says, “Whether rural or big cities, they would have some basic homework on who I am and what I do. But in small towns, they are unaware of the science behind the art and the hygienic aspects. So, I explain these to them in detail.”
Recalling an experience in Buldana, he shares, “A Hindi speaking local guy wanted a tattoo of a horse and bull. I asked him his sun sign and when I figured it was Taurus, I drew him an artistic bull design that he liked. Clients in big cities generally know what they want. Based on their body language, I understand their requirements and customise the designs.”
This adventurous persona has been a part of him ever since he was a teenager. Born in a family of highly-educated professionals, he chose to get into the creative field of animation.
Although his parents were unhappy with the idea, he joined a degree course in animation in Bengaluru to follow his passion. That was when his journey in the world of tattoo commenced.
“My friend took me to a tattoo studio. Considering I was always inclined to sketching and painting since my childhood, I was really interested in learning the art from the artist Vivek Venkatesh. I observed him doing tattoos for about six months,” says Rahul who was inspired by his maternal grandmother to become an artist.
Very soon his guru shifted base to Pondicherry but that didn’t deter him from following his hobby. He spent another 7 months assisting Vivek in Pondicherry.
How did he manage his studies in parallel? He immediately quips, “I wasn’t a dropout. My name was on the defaulter’s list as I used to attend college just to give my exams. But I got my marks and that's what mattered to them.”
Always dreaming of being an entrepreneur like his late paternal grandfather, he took yet another unconventional path at the age of 21 — setting up a tattoo studio in Goa with an acquaintance.
“It was the right time to start and build my network as there were not many tattoo artists at that time. I got a lot of exposure to foreign tourists too,” he states.
After two years of exposure and experience at Goa, he returned to Mumbai to scout out a suitable retail location in his own neighbourhood — Chembur.
It has been about two years since he opened Inkville in Chembur and another studio which he has co-partnered with his student in Bhayander.
He has never regretted taking daring decisions in his career and has kept his parents satisfied by holding a full-time job as an animator. “I can now say with pride that I am enjoying both my passions and have two careers — a professional animator and a tattoo artiste,” beams Rahul.
Rahul will be in Pondicherry and Chennai from May 3-8.