Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Revisiting the Willow Woods

When I first moved to the Dandenongs foothills one of my first discoveries while I explored the mountain I lived below was a little “Bubble of Reality” filled with Wizards, wands, candles, fairy houses and ceramic toadstools called Willow Woods. Ran by artist Jamin Swaneveld I wrote about his wonderful art and influence HERE where I also told how Jamin reluctantly had to close Willow Woods in 2008.
But where one door closes another presents itself and he established Last Frontier Tattoos in Upwey.
Creating a unique studio that was well situated, bright and inviting with a whimsical theme that looked a lot like Diagon Alley from Harry Potter was a big jump from a week end hobby selling sculptures and wares he made in his spare time.
Keeping in mind that this was to be in an industry that had many a negative image and reputation.

Jamin working on a design

Diagon Alley
When I last visited Last Frontier things had started well and business was growing. Jamin was still working as a builder and had high hopes that his dream of a custom tattoo studio would grow and prosper.
Time passes quickly and because my travels seldom see me in Upwey I made an effort to call in and visit Jamin once more during my recent summer holiday break.
I was shocked to realize it had been 18 months since my last visit.
I called in mid afternoon, some of the shops were still closed in the shopping strip for their Christmas break but I found Last Frontier had its little OPEN sign in the window.
As I entered I saw Jamin busy at work on a complicated piece of artwork on a client’s upper arm and opposite the client’s 8 year old boy sitting in an old Dentists chair staring bug eyed around the studio taking in all the books, furniture and odds and sods that Jamin has surrounded himself in his studio.

Desk and Dentist Chair
A few things had changed since my last trip. More artworks, some from the old Willow Woods hut had made their way to the studio as well as two old display cases that show cased some of Jamin’s newer works and other things he had collected along the way.
Jamin was no longer working as a builder, the tattoo studio had become so popular and demanding that he now worked full time at Last Frontier. The idea of a custom tattoos had paid off and they were booked up to three months ahead. Jamin had taken on the bulk of the work with one of the original partners leaving and the other only working part time. Since all tattoos coming out of Last Frontier are designed by the customer and artist, then comes the process of approval of artwork then line work and colouring, the process itself can be very time consuming, especially with Jamin doing the majority of work.

Some old stuff

And some new
So I was very surprised to see how much new work Jamin had created in his rare spare time at home, in between quality time with the wife and kids.
Since my last visit Jamin’s artworks had evolved somewhat, I’m assuming all that staring at dark lines of ink for long periods sometimes till late at night had darkened his style as well. Gone were the wizards and baby dragons of Willow Woods in their place were Vampire Hunter kits and Bell Jars filled with weird embryos and pickled creatures. I likened it to his artistic child had become a teenager and an angsty one at that. As well as strange two headed skeletons and old brass and wood chests containing strange instruments, it all seemed to add to the Diagon Alley atmosphere.
Because Last Frontier does have a vague Western motif to it Jamin also incorporated some firearms but none of this revolver / six shooter stuff. Jamin has collected some of the weirder Steam Punk creations from Weta’s Dr. Grordbort, weird ray guns from another time and place.

All the Ink guns have a Steam Punk feel
It’s strange how well they suit the d├ęcor.
The whole idea of the new artworks and the way it is set out one could almost call the studio a gallery sadly nothing is for sale.
The whole idea of all these curios was best described earlier with the 8-year-old boy. They are here to keep those being inked or waiting something marvelous to keep them amused, occupied or amazed during their stay at Jamin’s new “Bubble of Reality”.
I believe him when he says he couldn’t work in any other environment.

The front desk and adjoining cabinet of wonders

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