Ultra-precise bold lines, simplistic geometric design and cubist-esque abstractions characterize Caleb Kibly’s work. He excels in creating unique designs that play on traditional perspective yet retain the essence of their original form and subject. These designs are beautiful, far from over-done, and express a knowledgeable background in modern masters.
Standing as artworks in their own right, I was absolutely thrilled when an Insta post showing the work of Caleb Kibly popped up on my feed from East River Tattoo’s account.
The UK-based artist was on a visit to the city and was extending his tattooing hours over the weekend in the Brooklyn based shop. Having had the god-awful ink itch for a couple months I decided to set up an appointment.
Tall and lanky, with hair slicked back, Kibly was wearing a plain white t-shirt tucked into navy blue flaring trousers and woven espadrilles. As we stood outside the studio, he took a much needed smoke break and explained to me why he couldn’t give me a custom tattoo. “I’m not in that state of mind right now, you understand.”
The devotion to his craft is remarkable and honorable. He only does custom work when he is able to devote all of time and attention to the design and make something that he is proud of. No half-assing around here.
Disappointed but persistent in my quest to get one of his designs, I flipped through his portfolio, pointing at various sketches I liked. “No, not that one. I don’t repeat tattoos. I don’t feel it’s fair to the person getting the tattoo.” Fine. I made my decision–the face of a dreaming woman, one long-lashed eye closed, with voluptuous lips and three locks of curled hair. He approved, “perfect, that’s a good one.”
This is Kibly’s first time tattooing in NYC, a change of scenery from his UK studios: Old Habits in London and Two Snakes Tattoo in Hastings. He has been tattooing for years now but started getting them at a very young age. After experimenting on himself, he started to practice more seriously and then served as an apprentice for six years while also studying classical painting.
This is not surprising–his training and art exposure are evident through his craftsmanship. His lines are exact and expressive. His subjects evoke masters such as Cezanne, Magritte, and Picasso. The designs reflect his own style and individuality. He knows what he’s doing.
As I settled in to get my tattoo, the soothing Cuban rhythms of Buena Vista Social Club playing in the background, I asked Kibly which he liked better, getting tattooed or tattooing?
“At this point, I like tattooing way better. I hate getting tattoos now. Another artist in the shop and I will be tattooing each other and we are not looking forward to it.”
“What’s your favorite tattoo?”
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. At this point I don’t really have a single one that stands out.” After a pause, he pointed to one on his forearm, a design of his—a rugged-looking sailor type smoking a pipe.
Popular themes seen throughout his designs are people smoking or drinking, dreamlike faces, double-portraits with their faces merging into one another in a kiss, ferocious feline heads, women, cubist-inspired table scenes, and the occasional flower.
If you’re ever in the UK itching for an artsy, unique, and badass tattoo, hit this guy up–maybe he’ll even show you some of his paintings.