By Erin Caputo
At The Butcher on Bay Street you won’t find any lamb chops or cuts of beef. Instead of deli meats in the glass case there are T-shirts sporting The Butcher logo. There aren’t salted meats hanging, but original works of art.
The owner of The Butcher Shop is James Butcher, 32, a painter and tattoo artist. His shop combines two, even three of his passions; one to display his original art on canvas, another for tattoo art and then graphic T’s and merchandise logos.
Butcher has a degree in painting and graphic design and his love for art began at a young age. It wasn’t until he was doing work as a graphic designer here in Savannah though, that he received the opportunity to apprentice with a tattoo artist.
Beginning at around five years old, Butcher was creating art.
“I realized I wasn’t a very good scientist, [but] I always wanted to do something with art, I just didn’t know what,” said Butcher.
After high school, Butcher went to college for the advanced art program. He was able to do so on a soccer scholarship. He still plays today, on his own team, “Team Butcher,” in the Savannah Adult Soccer Leagues.
“It’s the only thing that takes me away from my work,” Butcher said.
Right now, Butcher is booked more than a month in advance and the gallery is reserved for back to back shows. Beginning in spring, there will be life drawing workshops held at his gallery as well.
On March 10, The Butcher gallery showcased original works by Butcher where he raffled off many of his pieces for free.
A subject he enjoys including in his tattoos and painting is styles of campers. The campers represent the memories he has of spending time outdoors in his native West Virginia. Some campers have monster truck wheels, one is being pulled by a bicycle and another has wings.
“I feel like wherever I go it goes with me ya know, the flying camper,” he said.
Butcher heads back to West Virginia out in the woods to relax about once a year, he calls it his sanctuary.
Another trip Butcher frequently makes is to Vancouver. He attends tattoo conventions and visits his mentor, whom Butcher describes as “one of the best tattoo artists in the world.” Horiryu — his name means “the dragon tattooer” — taught Butcher all about business and the art of tattooing.
Horiyu also bestowed upon Butcher his own Hori name, a great honor saved for the best and most dedicated tattooist to become part of the tattoo family.
Hori means tattooist and the next part of the name is decided upon by the mentor and could be anything from how the artist acts to what they look like. Butcher’s Hori name is Horikappa. Kappa is a creature in Japanese folklore.
“It is an honor especially for an American artist,” said Butcher. “Because I’m bald and the creature is bald he thinks it is funny to call me Kappa.”
Butcher is now among the likes of Sailor Jerry, a famous American tattoo artist whose Hori name is Horismoku, because he smoked a lot.
Butcher believes one of the most important things his mentor taught him is how he looks will represent the customers he attracts.
“If you look like a punk rocker then that’s the clientele you will attract as well as a punk rock salary,” said Butcher.
The clients that Butcher does bring agree that he is one of the more dedicated and focused artists that they have the pleasure of knowing.
“Jimmy is a good a** artist,” said Cruz Salinas, a small business owner downtown. “His art is so good, so I know if he does tattooing it’s going to be really good.”
The way Butcher “keeps his chops up” is by constantly drawing. He’s developed a huge mental database of images from tattooing for more than eight years.
“It pushes me to learn more about the subject matter,” said Butcher. “I become a better painter from tattooing and become a better tattooer from painting.”
But even with as much dedication as he’s devoted to his work over the years, he said there are still naysayers that tell him not to call himself an artist. “You’re a tattoo guy,” they’ll say. “It’s a struggle everyday within myself because I want people to understand that I am an artist,” Butcher said.
Butcher looks forward to the days when tattooing will be only a side note to a larger life goal. “The graphic designer in me always wanted to create a logo that thousands of people would see,” he said. “Hopefully in five years maybe [I’ll] have a Butcher boutique that represents the Butcher brand in another state. If it takes me 10 years that’ll be cool too.”
To see more of what The Butcher is all about go to his website.Contact Erin Caputo.