VICELAND’s newest star Grace Neutral is capturing the attention and admiration of a legion of fans across America.
This British ballerina-turned-tattoo artist is the star of Needles & Pins, an addictive new Tuesday night series that sees Neutral act as tour guide and reporter exploring the world’s cultures and sub-cultures with regards to the art of ink and body mod.
Described in past interviews as an “alien princess”, Neutral is most certainly ethereal, otherworldly and not at all reticent to explore and push the boundaries of what she can do to design her own body.
On Needles & Pins, she approaches each interview and subject matter with a respectful and almost fangirl enthusiasm as we meet some of the most renown artists around the world.
Before Neutral made it big, she was a ballerina student in London, England, but an injury ended her dreams of dancing professionally and she chose to explore another interest, body art.
Starting with hand-poke tattooing (where designs are created dot by dot), she pretty much taught herself the techniques of body art and modification and has since built a wellspring of devotees on social media, notably Instagram.
Fans of Neutral are fascinated by her body mods such as her bellybutton removal, elfin ears, bifurcated tongue, dyed eyeballs, her scarification (grooved cheeks and forehead), and of course her distinct ornate tattoos that cover her body.
Simply put, Grace Neutral gives no f**** about the media’s beauty standards or anyone’s critique of her boundary-pushing look. She is happy in her skin and game to try more modifications in her journey as an artist.
We spoke to Grace ahead of this week’s New Zealand episode of Needles & Pins.
Monsters and Critics: To an outsider looking in, there is a Fellini-esque atmosphere among those who congregate to share their modifications and ink and display them. What drew you as a young Grace to this colorful world of larger-than-life characters?
Grace Neutral: My mother always had loads of books and paintings of body modification throughout history and it always massively inspired me.
I was always dressing up in different clothes and would raid my mum and sister’s makeup draw and paint all these weird tribal patterns on my face and body.
Then when I got older I started wanting to go further with this evolution of my identity, so I started playing around with tattooing and piercing and it just went on from there.
M&C: Could you describe your training to become a tattoo artist? Is there a school for it?
GN: I wanted to do hand-poke tattooing and only hand-poke and nobody around me did it so I taught myself while I was working as a piercer and asked my friends who tattooed for as much advice as possible.
It was tough but I was super determined to become the best hand-poke artist I could be. I’m loving every minute of this journey and my goal is to continue evolving as an artist until the day I die.
M&C: You interviewed Dirk Vermin in Vegas, that was a great chat. He has quite a bit of antipathy for the newcomers to the inking arts. What is your opinion about old-school perfectionists and less-seasoned artists, and is there a strong underground referral to certain artists based on reputation?
GN: I love the old-school artists. If it wasn’t for them, [those of] us [in] the new generation wouldn’t have so much to look up to.
As far as less-seasoned artists, we all have to start somewhere…and if your heart is really in tattooing for the right reasons you will quickly start to develop into an artist people will trust with their skin, and that’s the biggest honour of all.
M&C: Is it common that most people get their first tattoo, have it be a letdown, then in that process they find better artists by referrals and word of mouth?
GN: I don’t think so, I think people have a good education and understanding of tattooing now and social media has made it really easy and extensible for tattoo virgins to find the perfect artist.
M&C: You go well beyond ink. What is the progression timeline of ink to body piercings to all-out surgical modifications? When did it change?
GN: The progression was determined by the right people coming into my life at the right time, but it was always in me to want to decorate and go through magical transformations.
I just needed some life experience to work out what the right steps were for me to take.
M&C: What is the most outrageous body modification you have either seen or heard of?
GN: Ummm I’m not sure, people are removing their noses… now that’s pretty far out!
M&C: What is the ratio of people who do body modifications, gender-wise, and what country is the most embracing of this?
GN: That’s a hard question because body modification has spanned back for thousands of years and through so many cultures.
M&C: Have you traveled someplace you felt unsafe to reveal your body art and modifications?
GN: No, not really. I’m an Aires and I’m pretty fiery and have a good instinct so I never put myself in situations I feel unsafe.
I have been to tons of places where I have felt looked down upon for looking the way I do but never felt unsafe.
Usually, I’m the one scaring people…not the other way around!
M&C: You’ve been doing this a long time now. Are you at a point in your career where you’re mentoring other artists when not being filmed?
GN: I’m still a baby to tattooing. I have been working in the industry for ten years but only tattooing for a little over five, so I don’t feel anywhere near ready to take on an intern or apprentice because I still feel I have so much to learn.
M&C: If you could erase one thing you have done to your body, what is it?
M&C: What do you feel you want to add to yourself next?
GN: I am just finishing all the tattoos on my body that need more work and who knows in the future, but for now I feel pretty content.
M&C: Who is your favorite old-school tattoo artist?
GN: Duncan X
M&C: What do you think is the most overplayed modification, piercing or ink?
GN: God, I wouldn’t even know where to start, there are so many!
M&C: What is your favorite tattoo that you’ve done?
GN: Impossible question, that would be like asking someone to pick their favourite child. You just love them all.
M&C: What would you recommend to someone wanting to get into the tattoo business?
GN: Are you really sure you wanna do that? Ha ha!
M&C: Your favorite UK city for body art? Favorite USA place? Favorite country is?
GN: London in the UK, not sure about USA [as I] haven’t explored enough of it yet. I’m pretty in love with New Zealand!
Needles & Pins airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on VICELAND.