Under the gun
James ’Danger’ Harvey
James “Danger” Harvey was born in 1980 in Alaska, where he lived in a log cabin built by his father. Since moving with his mother to the Sacramento area in 1987, he's worked as a junkyard puller, homebuilder and strip-club bouncer. But art was always his calling, and since he transitioned into tattooing, Harvey's been trying to bring a honed artistic aesthetic to the skill. He's also a talented multimedia visual artist, and starting this week, Harvey will appear on the third season of Spike TV's tattoo-competition series Ink Master, which airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. He sat down in his studio to chat with SN&R about prison tattoos, beautiful art, and his clients' gross and weird conversations.
How’d you get on Ink Master?
My client. Her name is Taylor. And she sent me the link on my phone, and I’m like, “You know, she’s going through the trouble to send me the link. I’m going to go ahead and do it.”
So, I saw the different ways to enter. And it was way past the time that I could do a live casting call. So I called [a friend], and he came in with a camera, and we started at the front door, and in one pass, walked in, and I did my spiel. They had a list of questions you had to answer in three minutes and 30 seconds.
I edited the footage myself and emailed it off to them at 9 p.m. I got a phone call at noon the next morning, and they're like, “We'll set up a Skype [chat].” And I bought a camera and learned how to Skype.
I heard you did prison tattoos for the show.
Yeah. … [They were] single-needle tattoos. So we had to go into this [with] just one needle. It’s absolutely a thin, hairline needle. … But in prison, they don’t use tattoo needles, they use guitar strings. And so, we’re using something that’s even thinner than what they use in prison, which makes it harder to use, and a lot of us had never used a single needle before. It’s not something that you normally tattoo with professionally, because you can go in too deep, and the line will blow out and blow up, and you can scar people. My guy was really cool. I ended up tattooing him, and he was happy with his piece.
Other jobs you’ve had?
I started off doing skill-set jobs: carpentry, plumbing. I think my first job was [at a] McDonald’s [inside a] Walmart in Folsom. I was 14.
I think tattooing is my craziest job. Just everything that it includes that I do. I don't just tattoo. I consider it [as] I make art, I make pretty things. I make beautiful things for people. If somebody wants a skull with its face torn off, it's still beautiful to them.
How’d you get into the field ?
I’ve always been an artist. And in the tattoo industry, I see a lot of tattooers who aren’t artists. And I don’t understand why you’d choose an artistic profession if you can’t draw and you’re not artistically driven.
I didn't grow up always wanting to be a tattoo artist. I really never gave it a second thought. I had a few tattoos. Never had one that wasn't in a shop by a good artist. Just because I am an artist. I'm not going to have someone do crap on me.
What’s your tattoo style?
I don’t know. … I’d like to think that I don’t specialize in something. I’d say that’s for the viewer to decide. I have people that come to me for different things. I have people that see my Marilyn Monroe paintings, and they think that I’m the best ever at a Marilyn Monroe tattoo. And I have people who come to me and are like, “Man, I love your evil [biomechanical art] work.” So, I think different people view me as a specialist in different things, and that’s why they come to me. You can look at my work and tell that I did it, I think. But it varies, I do a little bit of anything.
Craziest tattoo story?
I’ve never had anybody pass out on me, but I’ve had people scream and yell.
You hear the craziest stuff when you tattoo. Especially women. A large percentage of my clientele are all women. And you get two girls there, and you're tattooing them, and they're talking to each other—women say some shit. They just say the grossest, nastiest stuff to each other. It's like the nastiest conversation you can have with your buddies doesn't compare to what girls talk about. I think just the conversations that happen during tattooing and the relationships that spawn between people—not physical relationships, but just talking—because I'm tattooing you for 100 hours. So I get to know you and your life story. … It's really entertaining.