“Are you my artist? I didn’t expect that . . . you look so young and you’re a . . . well . . .a girl.”
It comes as no surprise that Mel Storm has heard a variation of these words more than once. Progressive, though it may be, the tattoo industry is traditionally a male-dominated space. For these moments, Mel has a simple reply:
“It shouldn’t matter. I’m an artist whether I’m male or female.”
The subject doesn’t go far beyond this. Mel has no problem embracing her femininity, but equally, she has no interest in exploiting it. She’s more interested in discussing her work in “black and grey photorealism with a dark prophet twist,” an impressive niche she’s managed to carve in a mere five years.
Much like the living organ she’s claimed as her canvas, there are layers to this artist. There’s Mel Storm, the public persona, the femme fatale, the mysterious dark angel of ink, quiet, aloof and married to her craft.
But peel back the epidermis that enshrouds her and she’s Melissa, a devoted wife and lover of furry creatures who is confident in her art, but unsure of how that confidence might be perceived. Each statement of opinion is delivered apologetically, reflecting a knowledge of potential greatness tempered by a self-awareness that tugs at the corners of her words and demands humility.
Fittingly enough, when asked to name the artists who inspire her, she cites photographers over painters, namely Stephan Gessel.
“He’s a really great photographer,” she says of Gessel. “A lot of dark influences in his work as well.”
As far as tattoo artists, she quickly names Rob Richardson of the U.K., her earliest inspiration when applying ink to skin. “I still admire his work today,” she qualifies. Arguably more important to her development has been Semyon Seredin, her employer and mentor at Townhall Tattoo, in Auckland, New Zealand. “I really look up to his work,” she intimates, “I think more than he even realizes.”
Originally from South Africa, the former graphic designer and fitness bikini champ migrated to New Zealand with her husband when her newly honed artistry began to grow beyond the confines of her homeland. But don’t let the historic land of the Maori give you the wrong idea. Mel isn’t etching her high-res portraits into flesh with a chisel; she prefers the rotary.
“I wanted to grow more,” she explains of the move, “which I felt wasn’t happening back in South Africa. . . I love my country, but since being here, I’ve seen a lot of progression in my own work. If I had stayed back in S.A., I don’t think I would’ve gotten this far.”
A casual perusal of her Facebook timeline confirms her thoughts. Her upward trajectory has been little short of awe-inspiring, something she attributes to the atmosphere of comradery maintained at her shop.
“There’s no competition with anyone. No one is trying to outdo the next person . . . If I need help from someone else, I’m going to get it and there’s no nose up in the air.” But not even this atmosphere is enough on its own to foster the talent our subject has cultivated. Such skill can only be acquired through tenacious resolve, obsession with excellence, and innate talent, all of which she possesses in copious amounts.
When pressed on areas of potential growth, she touches on her desire to employ more color and toys with the idea of exploring the bold, thick lines of the Japanese style. But she quickly reaches beyond mere talk of the trade and looks within.
“Just be out there, be a little more outgoing, speak to people, make them more comfortable, because maybe I come across a little snobby, at least, I’ve been told.”