Black and gray tattooing is rumored to have started life as the body art of choice for thousands of prison inmates around the world. Due to the limited amount of resources available, prisoners were unable to obtain colored inks and had to settle for different shades of black and gray. As the tattoo culture evolved and gained popularity, many artists have recognized the benefits of working in gray scale and used this method to create some of the most realistic portraiture work around. One artist who is well aware of the power of the colorless design is world famous artist Corey Miller.
Specializing in black and gray portraits and dragons of both traditional and classic styles, Miller has become a household name after appearing alongside Kat Von D in the reality show LA Ink. With over 25 years worth of experience he has worked alongside some of the greatest artists in the business including Mike Brown, Jack Rudy, and Mark Mahoney. Known for his spectacular freehand work, his designs are worn by a host of celebrities including Metallica’s James Hetfield and custom motorcycle artist Jesse James.
As a 15 year old drummer in a punk rock band Miller decided that it was time to get his very first tattoo and proceeded to ink himself with a needle wrapped in thread. This lead to the creation of a homemade tattoo kit built from, amongst other things, a fish tank motor pump, a bic pen, and a bent toothbrush. After travelling to Hollywood he finally set foot in his first tattoo studio "Spotlight Ink" run by Bob Roberts. Gazing upon the beautifully designed artwork adorning the walls and seeing an actual tattoo machine in action, Miller vowed that he would soon be tattooing alongside the professionals. A year later he became a regular face at Franco’s tattoo parlor in Ontario, California. As well as hanging out and consuming vast quantities of beer, he performed simple duties such as taking out the trash and drawing designs.
After Franco’s closed down Miller had the good fortune of meeting Mark Mahoney at a house party in 1987. Watching Mahoney perform tattoos on the guests he realized there was a whole other dimension to tattooing that he had only just begun to understand. He then hung out at ‘Fat George’s Tattoo Gallery’ where Mahoney worked in the tough district of La Puente, California. Miller began pressuring Fat George for a job and was finally given his big break and began his career as a full time tattoo artist. He attended his first tattoo convention in 1989 with Dick Warsocki, who had invited him along after seeing him in action, and met respected artists Guy Atchison and Eddie Deutsche. Amazed by what he saw at the convention he described the tattoo style of Guy and Eddie as having “absolutely no boundaries”.
Upon returning from the convention he landed a job at ‘Goodtime Charlie’s Tattooland’ an incredibly well respected studio in Anaheim. Working next to Jack Rudy and Mike Brown, he began his education from what he called “the kings of black and gray”. In 1991 he opened the first tattoo studio in Upland, California along with 2 friends. The studio managed 2 years of business before a shootout, incarceration of one friend, and the dismissal of another, forced the shop to close. Miller went back to travelling and continued to perform tattoos from his basement were the name of his current studio ‘Six Feet Under’ originated. After 3 years had passed he opened another studio and then in 1997 ‘Six Feet Under’ opened on April fool’s Day.
Corey Miller has had a tumultuous career that has seen him rise from the tough streets of California and become a household name and friend of the stars. Having never completed a traditional apprenticeship he learnt his craft through trial and error and this has leant a genuine authenticity to his work. One of his most well-known designs is the black and gray portrait of a Russian fighter pilot. This hauntingly beautiful piece shows the pilot in profile with an old-style oxygen mask trailing from his head gear. The shading on the pilot’s clothing and mask is so precise it looks almost like an actual photograph. But the real beauty of the piece lies in the knowing expression on the pilots face, and weary sadness in the eyes.
Miller has appeared in TV documentaries, attended numerous tattoo conventions, and even joined Metallica on tour. As well as tattooing the lead singer he designed a dragon motif for Hetfield’s Gibson guitar. He was involved in the creation of ‘Tony Hawk: Ride’ a video game that featured the celebrity skateboarder. Miller was commissioned to design virtual tattoos for the characters that could be selected when players ‘built’ their character. His most recent entrepreneurial venture involved designing artwork for a drum kit made by Ludwig and has lent his name to the product. In between his many varied occupations he has found time to play drums in punk rock band, Powerflex 5.
His has experienced his own share of pain and tragedy during his life most notably the death of close friend, Suzanne Fauser. Miller met Suzanne after he attended his first convention back in 1989 in New Orleans. The meeting was the beginning of a 13 year friendship which saw Miller spending every summer vacation with Suzanne at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Another sad moment came after Miller heard a client he had worked on during his time on LA Ink had passed away. Arnaldo ‘Arnie’ Quinones was a firefighter from California that had asked Miller to design a 9/11 memorial on his back to commemorate firefighters who had lost their lives in the attack.
The incredibly detailed full back piece was done mainly in black and gray with only the American flag shown in full vibrant color. The poignant memorial featured the words “First in, Last out” above a depiction of firefighters tackling a blaze, watched over by a guardian angel. The design is a fantastic example of Miller’s heartfelt approach to his work and conveys an emotional message to anyone who sees it.
Nowadays, Miller divides his time between his studio in California, touring with his band, and appearing on LA Ink and at Tattoo conventions all over the world. This year has also seen him open his very own art studio, TGimeless Art allery in Los Angeles. He is happily married with 3 children and states his favorite tattoo is the dragons on his right arm which symbolize his daughter watching over him. He takes bookings for appointments through his website, www.SixFeetUnder.com, for himself and fellow artists Henry Powell, Larry Garcia, Neil Wilson, and William Herring.