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Art & Life with Matt Kerley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Kerley.

Matt, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I obtained my BFA in sculpture/painting from East Carolina University in North Carolina. While in school getting my Bachelors of Fine Arts, I was asked to apprentice to tattoo at my local shop so that I would have a full-time job waiting for me after school was over. I have spent most of my career as a traveling tattooer. When I was living out of my car and traveling across America for several years I was able to work in hundreds of shops across the country. Also, I have had the pleasure to tattoo in Europe and Canada.

I currently work at Big Trouble Tattoo in North Park San Diego and run my clothing company called Death Mask ( I have self-published six books of work. Also available are shirts, prints, pins, hats, and even dice. I personally design, produce and ship everything in my store.

In my spare time, I also work as a freelance illustrator from my home studio. Mostly working for bands such as Jeff Tweedy, Zao, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Earth Crisis, to name a few. I enjoy doing this work as it is a departure from tattooing and allows me to use a different set of skills. Most of my work is inspired by the thought of loss.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
Most of my work outside of tattooing is ink on paper. Although I have worked in ceramics, wood and cast iron in the past.

My most recent body of work has been simple black ink on large watercolor sheets. Most of these pieces have out of context lettering that helps supply a narrative. Much similar to a single panel of a comic book where the viewer is unable to see the rest of the story and is forced to tie up all the loose ends themselves.

Most of my work is based in the idea of loss or the ability to lose. Melancholy and the Macabre are reoccurring elements within my work as well. such imagery as skulls, reapers, scythes, hands, teeth, blood, come into play on repeat. My tattooing creeps into my illustration/painting body of work and vice versa.

Sometimes the outlines for a painting will be asked for by a client to be made into a tattoo. It’s always interesting to see how the two bodies of work alter each other even being so similar to one another.

Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
I believe that the role has always been the same for artists. We say with images, sounds, and objects what everyone wants to say but are unable to. With the political climate in the turbulent state its in these days, we are working overtime.

In my personal work, especially at the beginning of Trump’s regime, I did quite a bit of political work. I released an anti-Trump print to raise money for the ACLU in hopes to benefit someone in need. Recently I have veered away from this as I, much like everyone else, just feel oversaturated with everything that is wrong. Its daunting world out there and I use art to escape these days.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
A lot of the work is available to be seen on my Instagram.

If you would like to buy a print, shirt, book, pins etc please visit to book a tattoo appointment please email.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 4020 30th St San Diego, CA 92104
  • Website:
  • Phone: (619) 677-2448
  • Email:
  • Instagram: @MATTITUDE

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