A Story Told in Ink:
Hawaii Tattoo Artist Adam Siehr Part One
By: JMAW for Hawaii’s 434 Tattoo
“Guns hurt people, tattoo machines create art.” ~ Adam Siehr
Homegrown and one of Milwaukee’s best, Hawaii Custom Tattoo Artist, Adam Siehr, has been in the game for over two decades. Adam has tattooed tens of thousands of people and owns 434 Tattoo, one of the most successful custom tattoo shops in Honolulu, Hawaii. Celebrities such as actor Steven Graham and the auto-tune rapping sensation T-Pain are just a few of the celebrities who stopped by the tattoo shop on Ena Road in Honolulu.
“Part of my apprenticeship included mixing the drinks with Crown for the bikers who owned the shop.” Siehr says as he paints with the tattoo machine, gliding gracefully over the freshly laid outline, my third tattoo from him. In November of 2010, I was referred to Adam by a friend and his work has helped me tell my own story, make sense of this crazy life. I had returned home to Hawaii after taking some time to on a spiritual journey, a vision quest, my metaphorical time in the desert, LOL, all of the above. Or quite simply: a time to find myself.
The custom design Adam put on me that day was meaningful to say the least. My first tattoo, which I got back home in Hilo, was on my rib cage, a quote from Corinthians (no not that famous one), that made me remember to live from love and not fear. I told myself I would never get another tattoo on my rib cage. That night I dreamt there was a lion in place of the words. Adam gave me my first lion tattoo that day and today I have three tattoos on my rib cage, two lion tattoos designed by Adam. He elegantly placed the pieces around the text, making it all flow into one design.
Siehr got his start in the tattoo industry at 17. I got my start in the “old-school tradition” apprenticing in Milwaukee. He has since worked as a guest tattoo artist in shops across the country, also worked around the world and settling in Honolulu as one of the founders of Tattoolicious. “I helped build the walls there.”
Now 37 (but still looks 20), Adam is a veteran in the game for sure. I used to work in politics and in a way so did Adam. As a member of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, Adam spent time testifying before the Department of Health, working behind the scenes with the laws relating to tattoos in Hawaii.
In his career in the tattoo industry, Adam has seen some pretty amazing things. “Dude, there’s so much.” he says in response to asking him about some of the best memories he has had since he began his work. So I do what everyone else does: ask about celebrity tattoos. That’s a pretty good question to jump off with. I’ve never interviewed anyone while getting a tattoo so my Gemini ability to jump from question to question is only half-there as I am focusing on the pain, breathing in the experience. I believe in the spiritual aspect of tattooing, every one of my tattoos means something. But we get to that later…
I ask about celebrities because in addition to doing work on NFL Pro Tony Gonzales, members of the Chicago Blackhawks, there is one iconic figure who stands out. Adam has tattooed the world famous Pro Boxing Legend, “Iron” Mike Tyson. A picture of Adam and Tyson hangs near the entrance of the shop. Tyson was still in his physical prime and towers over Adam.
“He came in a few days before his fight with Holyfield to check it out. The shop I was at in Vegas had a bunch of, I call them carneys, working there. They all bum-rushed Tyson with their books.” Siehr stops his art for a second, I look at my arm, also inspired by a dream, the second piece on my arm, the next step to a sleeve, telling my own personal myth symbolizing a time of great transformation and rebirth in my life.
“I learned to be a carney myself and out of all the people there, Mike chose me. I got to do his first professional tattoo”. Tyson’s other “homemade” tattoos had been done before and during his prison stint. This being my third custom tattoo design from Adam, I already knew I was in good hands, but it was kind of cool to think that I was being worked on by the same hands that worked on someone who at one time, was arguably the most feared man on the planet.
“He was a good dude. I tattooed him for free. I only wanted a ticket to the fight and Mike stopped by a few more times to tell me his manager was working on it. Each time he’d roll in with celebrities or lots of people. But I never got the ticket.” Adam pauses his work lets out a wild, genuine laugh, the laugh of someone who in my opinion is free, a free spirit. I ask to take a break to stretch my arm, the position not normal for me. “It’s cool though. I got to say I tattooed Mike Tyson. I hope to one day get an autograph. I’d like that.”
To be continued…