He spends his work days at Outer Limits Tattoo and Body Piercing, where he is a sought-after tattoo artist with a three-month-long waiting list.
But at home, Long Beach resident Shay Bredimus spends the rest of his time pretty much alone in his one-bedroom apartment, where besides a bed, a chair, a drafting table and a vintage painting easel, he has no other furniture — not even a TV. His constant companion is his old cat, Barkley, whose face Bredimus has tattooed on his right leg.
It's here the long-haired and bearded Bredimus isolates himself to continue working on his art; but instead of needling images on human skin he transitions into a figurative painter who uses tattoo ink, wax crayon and photography on opaque drafting film to create ghostly and spiritual images.
“I think of myself more as an artist that tattoos than a tattooer that paints,” said Bredimus, in a soft voice as he sat on a stool inside his second-floor home on his 35th birthday last week.
He had no plans to celebrate his birthday that day, instead he was going to stay in to work on his art as he prepares for his upcoming show at the Koplin Del Rio gallery in Culver City titled “Cartomancy: Recent Drawings by Shay Bredimus.”
The exhibition opens June 28 and runs through July 26. It's the third solo show at the gallery for Bredimus, who holds two fine arts degrees. It will feature 24 pieces that are part of a larger 72-piece series called “Cartomancy: The Seni Horoscope Re-imagined in Tattoo Ink.”
“If you walked into my museum, this is what you would see: monochromatic, strong visual stuff,” he said as he looked around his apartment walls that were covered with the dark pieces that will be featured in the show. Some were completed and hung with dark wood frames that resemble cathedral pediments, others were scattered on his drafting table or in boxes as he continued to work on the final touches.
“This is based on tattoo graphic art, realist or naturalist portraiture and the layers, the combination of the two,” he said of the artwork, which is inspired by the 17th century fortune-telling system created by Italian oracle Giovanni Battista Seni — a tarot deck of cards with 72 images — like hearts, moon, sun — that represent predictions for life.
Bredimus imagines these cards as a combination of familiar images like ships, anchors, planets or even a Pegasus created using black tattoo ink on both sides of the translucent drafting film.
The images are adorned with illuminating rays that emerge from behind, another element inspired by his tattoo background. Portraits of women that Bredimus photographs in his home studio emerge as ghostly apparitions from the middle of the images.
“With this grouping there is a definite sense of something that is historic and nostalgic,” said Eleana Del Rio, gallery director at Koplin Del Rio.
“They have an aura about them, almost as iconic images; as if you're going to a cathedral to see these historic relics. I think that's compelling in this body of work, you're naturally drawn into these pieces,” she added.
The Omaha, Neb.,-born Bredimus was raised by a single mother along with his older brother in Phoenix, Ariz. His mother, who was a cartographer, was an early influence on Bredimus' artistic career.
“She's a great photographer as well; she has a clean minimal aesthetic, which I think I got from her, and beautiful architectural handwriting, which I try to emulate too,” he said.
Another great influence on his art was a more tragic event that nearly took his life when he was 10 years old. Bredimus was walking his bicycle across a sidewalk when a car hit him. The handlebars of the bike went through his head and caused a traumatic brain injury. He recalled the event as he pointed to about a quarter-size scar by his right temple, where the handlebars entered his head.
“I had 45 percent right frontal lobe brain damage. I should have died instantly,” he said. “I made a full recovery and I feel like it turned on the art. You have your event, your catalyst that turns you into who you are and I feel like that was mine. At that moment, visual language became my primary language.”
His love of fine art led to him to study life drawing classes at a community college and eventually to a bachelor's of fine art in painting from Emily Carr University and a master's of fine arts in painting from Laguna College of Art and Design in 2009.
Besides his exhibitions in Culver City, Bredimus had solo shows at the San Luis Obispo Art Center and Fresno City College, as well as several group shows in Hong Kong, Seattle and Las Vegas. He was also a featured speaker at the Long Beach Museum of Art in February as part of the venue's Artist Talk series. Bredimus spoke about how his tattoo skills influence his fine art.
Ron Nelson, executive director of the museum, said they are now working with Bredimus on a solo show there that would feature the bulk of his current series, including some of the pieces that will be on display and for sale in Culver City.
“I would love to show his work,” Nelson said. “We're really excited to see these 17th century cards he's re-created with his own special touch. I'm excited about the show at Koplin Del Rio but I'm really excited to work with him in the future and really showcase all of the talents he has.”
Meanwhile, back at his apartment, a friend stopped by and left a gift bag on his front door without knocking. Later, Bredimus ended up going out to a movie with another friend that night.
He got home late and went right back to his artwork, since there are still pieces to finish for the upcoming show.
“I've been working on this show pretty hard for the past nine months,” he said. “I've pretty much been drawing every day with tattoo appointments and then coming home and doing this for three to four more hours a night.”