Local Artist: Mic Radford


The tattoo parlor—A seedy place filled with unsavory characters, dirty needles and dirty people doing less-than-attractive things—or at least, this is what you are supposed to think if you were born in the fifties. Wake up kids, because that old stigmatism is gone, for the most part, that’s due to artists like Mic Radford. First off, the term “parlor” has been replaced by “studio.” Why? Because now it’s art. Now, artists from other mediums have become involved in the tattoo business, bringing with them phenomenal innovations to the art of skin illustration: artists like Mic Radford. 

Walk into his studio, Southern Thunder Tattoos and you will find a floor so clean my Italian mother would be proud. Look around, and you will see nothing but sterile, clean surroundings; almost like a doctor’s office with cool pictures. While Mic admits that there are still some old “parlors” around, a lot of studios have changed their image. “Artists needed to raise the level of consciousness surrounding tattoos. I am not a death-dealing stain-maker and I won’t be bunched into that prison-tattoo mentality,” he says. 

For Mic, tattooing is a labor of fulfillment and an expression of his talent. He has built, from nothing quite a lucrative business. He started working for “Living Art” four years ago, bought the studio, turned it into Southern Thunder Tattoos and tripled the facility in the last two years. He has a true passion for his art, as you can see by looking at the depth and dimension in his work. He thinks of the industry the same way you think of getting your hair colored or buying designer jeans. Yes, it’s a vanity thing. Yes, it’s addictive. Mic wants people to be respected for wearing a piece of art on their body. Maybe that’s why, after 10,000 tattoos he’s never had someone come back unhappy with his work. 

Mic has won four awards in the “Iron Circus Tattoo Expo” tattoo competition and has also tattooed famous people like Mickey Rourke and Carré Brennan Otis. After all the success he has had, Mic speaks very modestly of his talent and achievements. He is much more concerned with his clientele, how clean his studio is, and public perception of the tattoo industry. Counseling is one of the things he’s big on. “Sometimes I’ll talk to people for 30 to 45 minutes before we start thinking about their tattoo,” hey says. That’s because Mic is the kind of guy who would never want to be responsible for permanently changing someone’s appearance in a way that later became embarrassing to them. 

He doesn’t do hands or faces unless the situation calls for it. He wants his subjects to have a beautiful piece of art on their body and be proud to display it. This makes the appreciation level of the viewer goes up. “There are tattooers and then there are tattoo artists. A tattooer follows a stencil design, and that’s it. But to be a tattoo artist, you must first be an artist. You must have a natural talent for drawing. Tattoo artists also use stencil art as a guide, but the talent comes in when you give the tattoo dimension, shade and light,” he says.

For Mic, the mystique of the tattoo has not gone away. It is still a statement of identity, separating yourself from the rest of the crowd, be it for whatever reason you choose. All of the bad and negative connotations, however, have gone away. At least, when you walk into Southern Thunder Tattoos, you forget about all of them. I know I did. –Madd Maxx

Read more from our October 1994 issue here.