Matt Trevelyan is leaving his mark on Auckland
Matt tattoos on his own terms. 27 years old and self-taught, his Grey Lynn studio is booked out weeks in advance.
WORDS | Sam Clark (he/him)
Matt Trevelyan, aka Trev From Down The Way, is sitting on the couch in his corner of the sunny Friends Studio, a shared workspace in Grey Lynn. He’s done for the day. Hidden behind a car yard on Great North Road, the bright blue entrance hints at what goes on inside. The stereo’s always cranking, and this time it’s ‘Sweet Thang’ by Shuggie Otis. The two large cabinet speakers and modern hifi system are a centrepiece of Matt’s studio. It’s separated from the rest of the building by a clothes rack filled with handmade clothes. Aside from some equipment on the far side of the room, you wouldn’t know you were in a tattoo studio. But that’s how he designed it. It’s far from typical, but so was his journey getting here. “Mate, I absolutely stumbled into it like you wouldn’t believe”.
He went from tattooing himself and his friends, to figuring out how to organise 20 bookings a week and how much to charge. It’s common to finish an apprenticeship before becoming a fully-fledged tattoo artist. And, being self-taught, he’s very aware of how that could be perceived within the tattoo community. Although hand-poked tattoos are trending at the moment, he says there’s always been a bit of stigma around them. Whether that’s because they’re taking potential busi- ness, or if it’s being done in a clean and sanitary environment, Matt gets it. But he stresses that hygiene is always the top priority. He points out that hand-poked tattoos came first. Matt’s operating on the periphery of what many view as a sacred art. He says he likes to ruffle feathers, but he’s not here to offend anyone. “Because I don’t know any of the rules, I break them all the time. But I reckon they look hot as shit, so that’s all that matters.”
“Because I don’t know any of the rules, I break them all the time.”
But that’s the appeal of hand-poked tattoos. The aesthetic is sometimes called ‘ignorant style’, which Matt says is more about the approach. “They’re breaking the rules. You look at traditional tattooing and the big motifs... The swallow, the snakes, the dragons, the women. I take these, tweak them and put them on parts of the body where maybe they shouldn’t go.” He explains why this appeals to him: “I love object-based tattooing... like putting a ladder on your body, what the fuck’s that about? It’s sick, it looks cool. It’s grungy, it’s ignorant.” Matt’s first introduction to ignorant style was an early idol, tattoo artist René Gibson. Things came full circle recently when Gibson returned to New Zealand and they tattooed each other. Back in the day, there was a greater expectation to be a jack of all trades. Now, Instagram allows artists to find their niche and hone their style. Matt says it’s important to be savvy on the platform: “It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you take shit photos people won’t want a tattoo from you.” His clever branding has helped him cultivate a large following. Word of mouth is also spreading. A girl who came in earlier was recommended to Matt by ten different people from all over the country.
“When it’s perfect symmetry required, I like to hand poke. I could probably achieve a good result with my machine, but little simple tats should be hand-poked because that’s the steeze.”
In recent years, Matt has teamed up with Stolen Girlfriends Club, giving tattoos at a collection launch. Last year, one of his tattoos was a prize on the wheel of fortune at Working Late festival. All of this gets people talking about Trev From Down The Way. He’s very aware of his brand, but he’s careful not to let it outweigh his style. “My shit looks janky, cool and stylistic and it’s on trend... And I do it because it’s truly what I want to draw. I’m smart, I see what Instagram want and what people like and I draw that. To be creative is fantastic, but you have to be commercially creative right?” This is coupled with the unique experience he’s created for clients. It’s all carefully considered. “I want to create more of a lounge vibe than a tattoo studio. Everything’s legit, clean and good for it. But at the same time, people come in and the nerves go away when they can sit down and feel comfy.” Matt grew up in a very creative household. His father paints watercolours and his mother makes clothes. They didn’t have a TV or microwave, but they had an eco-friendly bach in Mangawhai. He’s the oldest of three kids. When he was a teenager, he made underwater hockey gloves - first for himself and then his team. By the end he was filling orders for everyone up to the men’s and women’s national teams. “I found a niche and I filled the niche, from my garden shed.” An attribute he still carries.
“I found a niche and I filled the niche, from my garden shed.”
High school was tricky. He went to Mount Albert Grammar School, the second biggest high school in the country. Grey uniformed, rugby-orientated with no real emphasis on the arts, MAGS was a let down. He says these problems come down to its sheer size. “When you’re trying to educate 3000 people a day, there’s people who are gonna slip through the cracks.” He places his grey caliburn vape on the table. “I was cast as the naughty kid. The kid who couldn’t sit still, the kid was lippy to the teacher... One of my biggest things was my schooling and bullying. I was so sensitive, man. And I think now that’s why I want to stand out.”
Matt compares high school to the forty hour work week, something that still gives him anxiety. However, he was doing exactly that before moving into Friends Studio. He recently finished a two-year stint at Blink, an equally young design firm behind a lot of branding and signage around Auckland. “I was just grinding for the man. They were great dudes and I love them to bits. But I thought to myself - shit, I’m doing four tats a week on top of working full time... something’s got to give.” Before opening his private studio, Matt was giving tattoos out the back of Blink’s industrial Mount Eden workspace. He’d meet you outside and lead you past their workshop laden with stacks of sheet metal through to his makeshift studio. At first, he toyed with the idea of staying part time, but three days a week wasn’t going to work. “I thought fuck it, I’m going to take the leap.”
“Fast and loose” is his motto and he’s turned that decision into a full-on career. He now has a repetitive stress injury in both hands from tattooing for six months straight (and some pre-existing damage from underwater hockey). But, he’s bought a new machine that doesn’t rattle as much. Chunky silver rings on each finger, he itches his own new tattoo, a padlock. “Honestly everyone always winging it! Which is so cool. Some of the best tattooists in the world ... their lines are blown out all over the show. It’s this expansive pot of knowledge that people reckon they know but no one really knows.” After studying in Wellington and living in London, Matt’s back in Auckland and he’s here to stay. “Auckland’s my home, I absolutely love it. It’s my favourite place to be.” Over the past couple of years, Matt’s had a complete career change and seen the end of a long- term relationship. He’s since started dating someone new and couldn’t be happier. So what’s next? “For me, tattooing for a few more years... That’s what I want to do, that’s my calling. The world needs to be pretty and it needs to be filled with people who look at life through a different lens.”