By Jennifer Koch
Photo by Mike Dillon
“I own a human skull. Every artist should own a human skull.”
If you are at all interested in tattoos and horror, you know his name. And if you don’t know his name, it will ring loud and clear after you see his work. I’m not talking about his amazing tattoo work either… I speak of his uncanny ability to paint some pretty scary shit.
I had the pleasure of sitting face to face with Paul Acker, appropriately meeting at midnight one balmy evening. After seeing his work, I expected some ominous creature resembling a man to walk in flashing bloodshot eyes and exuding evil of some sort. I would’ve been cool with that. Excited, even. But Mr. Acker does not exude evil. He is actually a pretty nice guy. Word around town is that he is shy and quiet… but I didn’t get that impression at all.
Paul is the owner of Deep Six Laboratory, a well known tattoo studio that houses some of the best talent in Philadelphia. He has been featured in several magazines, frequents conventions all over the world and won many awards for his tattoo work.
But that’s not what I was interested in. What’s interesting about Paul is his incredible talent in painting.
He started painting at the ripe age of 12. As he got older and entered his high school career, his mother noticed his ability and talent and suggested he go to the Creative and Performing Arts high school in Philadelphia. (What a cool Mom.) This is a high school you have to audition to get into, complete with a grueling criteria of expectations. Paul had no trouble getting accepted. And so it began…
Paul painted all throughout high school. In 2001 he started tattooing, and took a hiatus from painting for about 5 years. Naturally he was so busy and focused on learning and perfecting his tattooing, he simply didn’t have time to paint very often. “When you begin a tattoo career, you have to constantly be tattooing to learn. There weren’t instructional DVDs or internet videos to teach you how to be great at tattooing. Even now, the best tattoo artists have learned from experience, not a video,” he says. When Paul opened Deep Six Laboratory in 2006, he reunited with his paints. Paul’s partner Pastor was a fine arts teacher before he was a tattoo artist, and he got him back into painting more and more. Then Paul began mirroring his painting skills with his tattooing skills.
Today he is best known for his horror/gruesome paintings. “Figure painting in general,” he says. “Also, portrait painting… definitely not animals or anything with fur.” So where does he draw his inspiration from? “I draw inspiration from various horror movies, books and human life (or death) in general. One of the people that inspired me to do this kind of work was [horror artist] Basil Gogos.”
From conception to execution, Paul actually plans out all his personal paintings. He prefers to paint with acrylic and oils, mostly acrylic underpainting with oils on top. And from sketching to choosing a color palette and lighting source, he knows what he wants it to look like the moment he starts painting. When it comes to collaborative art, it just evolves as it goes. “Thats the idea of art fusion,” he says. Paul does a lot of painting collaborations. He would like to something on a really large scale size with other artists in the future. “Anything that would involve other artists would be awesome,” he says.
“I have a lot of anatomy books I use for reference, and I use just human life. I also use Rotten.com, you ever go to that site? It’s pretty awesome. Oh, and I take pictures of dead things” he says.
Since Paul has been painting horror for some time, I asked him if he felt like his paintings have lost the “shock value” from when he started. “As far as horror stuff, yeah. The horror genre has become so trendy now. As far as paintings I do for myself, no. I paint for myself, not to shock other people.” As far as people interpreting his art differently than how he is projecting it, that doesn’t bother him. “People will take what they want from it whether it be good or bad. That’s kind of the point of art.”
Speaking of shock value, Paul is a huge animal lover. He and his friend regularly send photos back and forth to each other of their cats. “I love my cat,” he says. “I paint from personal interest, not from emotion. A lot of artists paint from emotional experiences, not me, I have no soul.”
So, since Paul has no emotions or soul, I had to ask him which artist(s) challenges him to be better. The first three names to come out of his mouth were “Nikko, Hussar and Paul Booth…I have an amazing Paul Booth painting. Joe Capobianco, and I have a lot of Basil Gogos prints. In my shop I have Chet Zar, Joshua Carlton, Pastor and the people that work for me have paintings hanging in there as well,” he says.
So where can we see Paul’s paintings? Or possibly buy one? Well, he says, “I have art in various art shows and in shops. I have some in my own shop, as well as in Black Vulture in Philly. People make offers on those paintings, but I don’t openly sell them in any specific place.” You might have to contact him if you are so inclined.
People often wonder what someone like Paul would be doing if he wasn’t utilizing his talents, so I asked him: What would you be doing if you weren’t painting or tattooing? His answer was pretty simple, “Probably something in the film industry, or I’d just be a bum.”
If you would like to see some of Paul’s work, visit his shop Deep Six Laboratory.
Deep Six Laboratory
2483 Grant Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19114-1004
Check out his work at www.paulacker.com