BACK in 2011, Jimmy Butcher was tired of the stigma surrounding tattoo shops. A visual artist outside of his tattoo career, he set out to create a new kind of space in Savannah: a pristine, progressive space where locals could not only get inked, but check out fine art in the gallery space.
“I wanted to break down the stigma that’s attached to tattoos,” Butcher explains. “I personally struggle a lot with being labeled a ‘tattooer’ instead of an artist—and that’s just my own little pet peeve—but I guess the shop is a projection of that. Basically, we’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re creative people—we’re not just tat guys.’”
While envisioning The Butcher, located on Bay Street, Butcher saw a place that was an intersection of a gallery, small business, and a place to get inked by the finest artists in the Lowcountry.
“It felt important to be connected to the city and to the art and culture, since that’s what we consider ourselves to be,” Butcher says.
While he maintains the tattoo business side, Jenny Hawkes acts as Art Curator in the gallery.
“When we first started out, I learned a lot just by doing,” remembers Hawkes. “I just learned as much as I could, and the shows just started to grow in popularity. Before I knew it, we had artists banging on the door!”
The Butcher plays host to a variety of artistic styles and mediums—in the last year, the walls held works as diverse as W. Gerome Temple’s modernist illustrations and R. Land’s zany graphic multimedia pieces. And that’s just how Hawkes likes it.
“It’s always really different,” she says. “Most of it is what I feel like will work with the general atmosphere of the shop and what I feel like will appeal to a lot of our customers. A lot of stuff I’m personally drawn to, I think our customers will be drawn to. The general atmosphere that I’m trying to create with the business itself is polished and clean, but extremely creative. It’s pushing the boundaries, but it’s definitely very polished and clean.”
One of Hawkes’ all-time favorite shows was the very first she was ever involved with: an exhibition of works by Savannah artist Matt Hebermehl.
“It’s hard to choose a favorite, because every time new art comes in, it’s like Christmas, and I get to unwrap it!” she laughs.
While Butcher advises that the gallery and tattoo business are thought of very separately, occasionally there’s some happy crossover, like June’s forthcoming exhibition. Known around town for her feminine, organic tattoo work, Butcher artist Kimberly Reed is also an oil painter; her pieces will be on display up front.
Both Hawkes and Butcher are excited for the return of Patch Whisky, the neon-soaked, bubbly street artist based in South Carolina, whose work will be back on the walls toward the end of 2015. With exhibitions booked through the rest of the year and the tattoo side as busy as ever, the duo are looking forward to the future.
“It’s not really about the tattoos or the quality of artwork, but more about people having a good time,” Butcher explains. “The most important thing we’re trying to do is give people a good experience, and we’ll continue to try to do that in the future even more so. For me, it’s only the beginning.” —Anna Chandler
Runner-up: Black Orchid Custom Tattoo & Gallery