Mo Ganji on His Deep Connection to Tattooing and Why Art Always Comes Before Money

Mo Ganji On His Deep Connection to Tattooing and Why Art Always Comes Before Money

Before becoming a tattoo artist, Mo Ganji was working in the retail industry for almost a decade. Starting as a cashier, he later found himself working a senior management position and needed a new beginning. “My life at that time was screaming for a change… A lot of people know the feeling of doing something that does not feel right. That was the case for me. Even though I had a great career, it was not my career,” he shares.

Ganji credits his friends for the beginning of his tattoo journey. For his 31st birthday, they got him a tattoo machine. “I was talking so much about tattoos that my friends bought me a tattoo machine a month after I was done with the retail business, or the retail business was done with me. It was my friends who pushed me over the edge to just do this.” “This” being the start of what he says is an “unbelievable journey.”

Unlike other artists who start on tattooing themselves and their friends, more of a hobby than a paying gig, Ganji was a full-time artist from the get-go. Given that he had dabbled with creativity all his life, it came naturally. “I have been painting and drawing my entire life,” he says.

As an in, Ganji’s cousin was a tax consultant for a tattoo shop, and he helped him get an interview with the owner. “After the interview, he [the owner] told me I could start the next day. My boss said that I’m a natural talent and all I need is someone who trusts me.” After learning the basics on fake skin, Ganji started tattooing his friends, and spent the first three months doing small tattoos to “understand the basics of skin.”

Today, Ganji has his own studio and runs it with a few specifics that he shares with his customers and clients beforehand, such as going to the shop alone for tattoo appointments. It may sound bizarre for others but for Ganji, who doesn’t do guest spots, there’s a reasonable point of view. For him, it’s all about having a peaceful atmosphere where the “energy is calm.” A point of view that matches his tattooing technique and style.

Before long, Ganji quickly caught the eyes of many through his single line technique, wherein each tattoo is one continuous line. “The single line is a perfect reflection of the way I live,” he shares. It’s a technique that, at some point, will challenge one’s creativity but Ganji is a man of simplicity. “I live in a world that’s suffering because of the constant need for more. One of my deepest beliefs is that simple does it.” This belief is reflected in his style, which he further describes as “clear and easy to understand, regardless of age, gender, or heritage.”

Tattoo designs do a lot of things to the mind of the spectator. It stops us for a moment. It calls for our attention maybe because it’s a fun design or a unique, interesting piece of art. It doesn’t always have to be massive and wild. “Simplicity can be so complex that it blows your mind,” says Ganji, whose single line designs vary from animals to nature to humans. “But what if I tell you all it is, is a single line? One and the same line just in different shapes?”

While Ganji says tattooing is not something that consumes his life, his connection to it is deep. “I do believe that everything in this world is Energy, one and the same Energy. Some people call it Prana or Chi. Some say Nature, Life or God. I do believe that the only thing separating us from each other and the world and the Energy around us is our ego. There is no difference between us, the trees, and the rest of this world. We are part of something bigger. An Energy that will never disappear. It will only change its form after your body falls apart. That is pure physics. You can see that in my work. Or maybe this is all nonsense and it is just a single line,” he says. After three months of tattooing names, infinity signs, and other classic designs, Ganji found himself scribbling at two in the morning. This marked the start of his single line technique. “It felt like this was the universe responding.”

Despite this deep connection to the art of needle, ink and skin, Ganji confessed he “never wanted to become a tattooist,” but more of an artist, and feels that if you want to set yourself apart from the crowd, you need to have “some sort of voice. Something that people can recognize. Something that reflects you and your beliefs.” In a time where money seems to make the world go round, Ganji considers money as “neutral” and says you need to be patient and passionate to live off of art. “Capitalism is a system that can be easily hacked. If you are awake and more or less intelligent, you can earn money,” he says. “It really doesn’t matter what you do. If you choose this path because of money I don’t believe you will be successful. People can sense authenticity. Money will come when you concentrate on your work, believe in what you do and when you put your heart and soul into it.” He also advised artists put their energy in their craft and not waste it on numbers. “It helps when you have someone who is good with accounting and managing. That’s one thing a lot of artists are not good with, and that’s fine. Get somebody to help you with these things.”

Today, Ganji keeps doing the work he is passionate about. “My canvases are alive. They have names, stories and they travel from all over the world to my little studio,” he continues. “When you look at your tattoos, they will remind you of a certain part of your life. They make you travel through time. That’s what all scars do regardless of their color.” He also says it’s vital to not compare yourself to anyone and instead, to concentrate on you. “If you start this path for the right reasons it will give you what you ask for. Fame and money are just side-effects. They should never be your motivation nor your goal as an artist.”

Many may think any career in the creative world is easy – you just make art. But that’s the thing. Making art is not easy. It takes countless trials and errors, vulnerability, and the willingness to expand your comfort zone. It takes someone to give you and your talent a shot. That does not come easy these days. Add to that the pressure of social media and the constant need to have more likes and followers, and this can easily divert the attention of any creative from focusing on their craft to focusing on their engagement. Ganji has a great way to shift those thoughts. “Imagine yourself with 10 million in the bank and 10 million followers, and see if you are any happier or more fulfilled than you are now.”

Through the ups and downs of tattooing, Mo Ganji says the craft feels like “the biggest gift from the universe because everything felt in place.” He recently collaborated with travel website Momondo, creating The World Piece, where 61 strangers gathered and were tattooed with one continuous design on them. “To me that’s what life is. It has a beginning and an end, and it moves.”

Related: Rosa Laura on Hand Poking, Growing Up in Brazil, and Being Inspired by Indigenous Culture

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