Monday, 15 August 2022

Hairdresser who became top gun in tattoo industry

A HAIRDRESSER turned tattoo artist has bagged three international awards after swapping scissors for the needle.

A HAIRDRESSER turned tattoo artist has bagged three international awards after swapping scissors for the needle.

Glenn Cuzen, 33, of Western Avenue, Henley, won tattoo conventions in New York, Manchester and Telford for his geometric dotwork designs.

He was competing against more than 400 of the world’s best tattoo artists at the events, where his work was judged by a panel of experts.

His designs included an adaptation of Relativity by Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher.

Mr Cuzen, whose own tattoos include an owl on his hand and a geometric pattern on one side of his head, said: “I received the award in New York for the M C Escher tattoo, which was probably the hardest tattoo I’ve ever done.

“It was taking artwork and optical illusions and combining them to look like a traditional Samoan tattoo. It took me 50 hours over five days and would have cost £3,500.”

Mr Cuzen, who runs Top Gun Tattooing in Reading, was born in Henley and grew up in Vicarage Road with parents John, a bricklayer, and Sharon and attended Trinity Primary School and then Gillotts School.

As a child, he would doodle on his bedroom walls and when he was about 10 he started cutting hair. He soon had a roster of customers including school friends and their parents.

Mr Cuzen said: “My dad was very good at art so he encouraged me to be creative and my mum made a few tapestries so it runs in the family.

“I started cutting my classmates’ hair and I had quite a big clientele by the time I left school.”

He studied fine art, photography and history of art at The Henley College before landing his first job at the old Toni and Guy salon in Duke Street.

He opened his own salon, the Henley Barber Shop, in Station Road, when he was 19.

He became known for his intricate shaved designs and was spotted by tattoo artist Dave Flowers in 2005, who offered to teach him how to tattoo. His first design was a dragon on his father’s shoulders and after that he couldn’t stop.

Mr Cuzen recalled: “My friends were confident in my artwork and were happy to let me tattoo them.

“When I worked at the hairdressers I did geometric shapes and it was just a case of changing my medium. I made the step from one to the other very quickly.

“After being a well–known hairdresser for a few years, I reinvented myself overnight. I stopped telling people I was a hairdresser and said I was a tattoo artist.”

After buying his own tattoo gun, he decided to move to the Costa del Sol to work as a full–time tattoo artist.

Mr Cuzen said: “I wanted to work in Spain during the summer and England in the winter but in the end I found it really hard to get a business going over there.

“They tend to look after their own and it’s much easier to open a shop in England.”

In 2007, he returned from Spain and went back to hairdressing, working in a salon in Oxford Road, Reading.

Then a customer from the No Pain No Gain tattoo studio in Reading spotted his artwork in the salon and suggested he returned to his first love.

Mr Cuzen said: “He said his uncle was interviewing and within a month I had got the job.

“I took on the previous artist’s clientele and a few months later the owner left and I inherited my own studio.” The business became Top Gun Tattooing in 2011 when Mr Cuzen moved it to the current premises off Station Road.

Two years later, he was approached by tattoo magazine Skin Deep, which asked to use some of his tattoos in the magazine and invited him to his first convention, Tattoo Jam in  Doncaster.

“It was brilliant,” said Mr Cuzen. “I realised I could learn tricks of the trade and how to use all sorts of equipment. It opened up a whole new level for me.”

Mr Cuzen was introduced to dotwork, where shapes are created using tiny dots, while at a convention in Amsterdam.

He used this technique at the convention in Manchester in October and won.

He said: “Tattooing comes so naturally to me, it is like walking. I look at the shape of the body and get ideas as I go along.

“With geometrics you have to have plans to work off but it’s about piecing together the different parts and evolving the tattoo as you go.”

He says his background in hairdressing makes the precise geometric shapes of his designs easy to draw.

He has also combined his skills with needle and scissors to create a tattoo that blends into a hairstyle.

“I really enjoyed combining the dotwork with haircuts,” he said.

“Using the two different mediums was unique – no one had attempted it before. Dotwork is definitely a subculture but it’s starting to explode and it’s great to help lead that. Tattooing is natural to me and I guess that’s why I keep on winning awards.”

Mr Cuzen will be going to Nepal for his next competition on Wednesday. The convention will be held from Friday to Sunday and he plans to spend the rest of the time sightseeing.

He has already decided to visit the Mount Everest south base camp and ride an elephant.

In July he will return to New York, where he will give demonstrations on dotwork at different tattoo studios.

He said: “My style of art is big in England but it’s still finding its way over in America. I’ll be visiting studios in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn and it will all be documented by Skin Deep.”

Mr Cuzen will also be featured in two Channel 5 documentaries, the first alongside Skin Deep editor Sion Smith.

He will then be tattooing an Ed Sheeran lookalike, which will be filmed for TV.

Mr Cuzen said: “The lookalike wants me to mimic the tattoos Ed Sheeran has on his arms. Fingers crossed, the real Ed is going to be part of the show as well.

“I’ve just come back from tattooing a client in Spain and I’ve also got invitations to Costa Rica and Venezuela.

“No one has ever done tattooing like this before and that’s why I keep winning competitions and travelling the world.”

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