101 Most Influential People in Tattoo (No. 18)—Jeff Gogué
The last time I visited the next artist was to include him in a book, “Tattoo Road Trip—The Best of Oregon,” that I am preparing for Schiffer. But this artist would easily fit in a book called “Best in the Business.” As an example of not only his talent but his love of the art, not long ago I was driving from Hood River, in the northernmost reaches of Oregon, to San Francisco, a day and a half away. After five long hours behind the wheel, I stopped in Grants Pass, at the southernmost end of the state. Arriving in the evening, I stayed the night at a local hotel. I planned to get an early start in the morning. At about 8 a.m., I was cruising through town on my way to Highway 101 and thought I’d stop by this artist’s shop and, just to say “hello” and let him know I had passed through town, leave my business card. Surprise, surprise. When I pushed the card through the mail slot, the door squeaked opened and, there inside, preparing for a seminar was the man himself, Jeff Gogué, consummate artist, aficionado and super-dedicated teacher.
18. The home headquarters of No. 18 on our list is Southern Oregon, where talent thrives, the Rogue river flows and artist Jeff Gogué has the world beating a path to his door. When I first met Jeff, my original intention was to travel through southern Oregon, as part of a road trip article about tattoo art in northern California. Three stops ought to do nicely, I thought. That’s until I entered the tattoo shop of Jeff Gogué (pronounced Go-gway). Recently renamed Off the Map (it used to be called Gogué Art), this formidable gallery/tattoo studio is situated on a busy one-way street in Grants Pass, Oregon, a stagecoach stop in the 1860s and a rail head with the completion of the Oregon-California Railroad (now Southern Pacific) in 1884. The name (back then it had a comma) was selected to honor General U.S. Grant’s success at Vicksburg. A world class tattoo shop in the middle of nowhere, whose main claim to fame is the river rafting on the nearby Rogue River? Yes. Definitely yes.
Although the town claims a population barely topping 31,000, more tattooed customers showed up for our photo session than at many big-deal studios in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. When we came through the door, the huge, high-ceilinged room was alive with people. Over two dozen. When I asked Gogué how he got so many folks to show up and show their ink, he said, “That’s nothing. I have clients that come from all over the U.S. I’m booked a year in advance.”
Get outta here. Sure, I’d heard on the circuit that there was a phenomenal, new artist on the scene named Gogué (although it got mispronounced as everything from Gough to Goo-gee), but I had no idea just how phenomenal he was. Tattooing for going on thirteen years, Jeff came up the hard way. He wasn’t part of some tattoo artist clique, had no teachers and began his career in a town I must admit I never heard of, Quincy, California. Hardly a Mecca for the tattoo arts. Acknowledged internationally as “the real deal,” Gogué first started tattooing in August of 1999, and, since then, has become an inspiration to many young tattooers who don’t mid working hard to achieve success.
“Before I tattooed,” says Gogué, “I worked in the trades. As a dad and a husband, I had a family to support. I worked in construction, sign painting, carpentry, millwork finishing. I did whatever I could to pay the bills, until tattooing took over my life. It was all-consuming from day one. I was raised by my mother. She published one of my drawings, when I was thirteen, and made a limited edition of my so-called print. .I sold them for seven dollars apiece. And that’s how I paid for school clothes and all that. We did a thousand of them. From then on, I thought I was going to be an artist. So, all through high school I did these pencil drawings and had them printed, like one a year. I had some of those prints in my house and my friend, an eighteen-year-old-kid, who had tattooed himself in jail, saw one of my pencil drawings and said, ‘You ought to tattoo.’ But I was blind to it. I never recognized tattoos. I didn’t see it. But I said, ‘Yeah, I could do that. I could work on your tattoo.’ After all, I figured that I knew how to draw. So, I just started asking questions. I thought it would be easy. You just find out where to learn, buy the machine and do it. But it was not easy. Everywhere I turned, it was brick wall, brick wall. I began checking out tattoo shops, but I was afraid to go in. Ultimately, I ended up buying a kit off the Internet.
“By my third tattoo, I remember thinking, This is extremely difficult. Then I started getting tattooed to see how it was done. I had no guidance at all. I got kicked out of shops, and people told me, ‘You have no right. Get out of here.’ But I stuck to it. My teachers were magazines. I was twenty six, and had a family. I’d worked for ten years in the trades. I knew about efficiency. I knew about integrity. I knew about quality product. I used sober judgment. That’s how I looked at my stuff. Plus, I had a back injury and was not able to return to work. I had to succeed. I had no college education. I had nothing to fall back on. My back was messed up, so I couldn’t pursue physical labor, which was all knew since I was thirteen. I had no other options. Zero.
“But I was really good at drawing. That was about it. I could do the best drawing in the world. It would look like a photograph, but I never know if I was going to sell it. It might take three years to sell that drawing. So, I’d work on it for fifteen hours, but I might not get any money for three years. I might get three-hundred dollars. And yet people were willing to pay me three-hundred dollars for a few hours of work, tattooing in my laundry room. It just blew my mind, I was like, “How can this be?” It didn’t make sense to me, but it was paying my bills. Plus, I’ve always wanted to excel. I figured, if I couldn’t do it perfectly, I didn’t want to do it at all. That’s true in anything, everything. It’s just my nature.”
Aside from the art, both tattoo and canvas, that Jeff produces on a regular basis, this powerhouse of creativity is a regal member of the international convention scene and contributes to sold-out seminar programs with the likes of Bob Tyrrell, Guy Aitchison and Larry Brogan. It just goes to prove that, in the current tattoo climate, you don’t have to move to the big city to make a name for yourself. If you have world-class talent, simply stick to your guns, find the ideal place to settle, enjoy the songbirds and watch the river flow by. Gogué has certainly done that. And he has not only made it work, he lets the big city come to him.