Optican Illusion - Rask Opticon

Published: 23 July, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 214, July, 2012

When you're Rask Opticon and you've dedicated the better part of the last 25 years to creating art, it should be no surprise that after conquering everything else, the natural progression of canvas would lead you to flesh…

With the ever-growing street art and pop culture movements currently making waves across North America, particularly in California, it has become an incredibly daunting task to make a name for yourself and find that niche which art fans will immediately recognize as yours. And far too often, stellar artists get lost in a constantly evolving scene saturated with by an overambitious community, which should only enhance the admiration for what 33-year-old Rask Opticon has achieved.

Having honed his craft on practically every manmade canvas and within almost every artistic style, from acrylic to airbrush, digital to spray paint and even sculpting, Opticon recently reached an epiphany – he was ready to conquer an entirely different canvas… human skin.

As of now, his experience within the confines of human tissue is still fairly green, but he is hoping that years of experience perfecting his own unique styles will translate into success, even though the texture is unlike any that he has ever worked with. Thus, we figured it would be mighty interesting to see how one as accomplished in the art field (non-arguable point) was faring in making this transition to skin.

In fact, it was his unique style that initially lured me in, making me jump at the chance to have a little bit of that uniqueness etched into my skin and contribute a little something to the ever-advancing skills of a legend in the art world who by his own admission, is something of a virgin in the tattoo world.

His confidence is evident, but nowhere close to arrogant, and is a trait best explained by Opticon’s lifetime commitment to perfection. Art has been a prevalent part of his life for as long as he can remember and he is living proof that a little encouragement goes a long way.  

“I've been doing art since I was in the second grade. I used to get a lot of awards from my teachers, so I kinda figured ‘I guess I’m pretty good at this’. I’ve been drawing ever since.”

It wasn’t just his teachers that took notice, but as a sort of prelude for things to come it was his fellow students and their incessant demands for his drawings that really made him aware of his artistic potential. However it wasn’t until he discovered graffiti that he began to realize how deep his appreciation for art really was. Growing up in the predominately Hispanic community of Paramount – a neighboring suburb of Compton that’s perhaps best known for being the birthplace of the Zamboni of all things – tagging was a normalcy, with authorities having more pressing matters than a little wall desecration.

“Back then there was, like, no police department… I used to live on this street where on the corner [was] the public school, and in broad daylight the gangs would just come in with bolt cutters and just cut the chains and take over the corner,” Opticon reminisces with a smirk. “There’d be graffiti all over the place and I was liking the whole big block letters of graffiti. And having a nickname, almost kinda like a super villain type of deal, you got a nickname and everyone knows who you are.”

As he got older, other influences began to seep into his art, which remain prominent in what he creates today. “I’m a huge, huge video game fan. Atari, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, I was a big role playing game geek, man, strategy games… especially the Super Mario games ’cause of the colors and all that. I like vivid colors, crazy characters, you know, like the turtles with the wings flying around.”

It came as no surprise then that when he concocted the design for my tattoo, it was focused on the old Nintendo game, Bubble Bobble. As an old school gamer myself, I was stoked at such a fantastically random idea.

As far as particular artists that have had a profound effect on him, Opticon was quick to answer. “Michael Hussar,” he blurts out without hesitation. “I like his art; it’s dark, especially the way he does the eyes when he does portraits. He’s definitely one of my favorite artists. Those eyes, they were dark and sad and you can tell, like, something’s going on in his head.”

While a vast majority of artists tend to drop the anchor around the art mediums they’re most comfortable with, Opticon has never been one to rest on his laurels, continually expanding his walls and opening new doors, so it was only a matter of time before man became the canvas. And, not unlike how his teachers used to encourage his artistic side back in the second grade, this time, positive reinforcement came from within the tattoo community.

“A lot of people tried to get me into that scene maybe five or six years ago. I met a bunch of tattoo artists, they looked at my work [and] they’re like ‘You’re not doing tattoos, bro?’ I never even thought about it.” And, like his classmates back then, the encouragement came with ulterior motives. “They wanted me to get good so I could tattoo them,” he laughs.

So he began experimenting with practice skin, understanding the unique texture along with the repercussions of working with human flesh as opposed to paper or plastic. And he spent a considerable amount of time watching YouTube videos and lurking on tattoo forums and message boards in order to get a good idea as to what to expect.

It wasn’t long before he was ready to try, tattooing a Decepticon logo on the calf of a close friend about four years ago. “He was the one bugging me [to start tattooing]. It was pretty painful for him, but for the first time ever my lines were straight and clean. It was just gonna be an outline, no filling; that’s a whole different needle and you can only go over the skin so many times, so it worked out fine.”

While most of this information was given to me just before I was about to become Test Subject Number Eight, I refused to be deterred, committed to seeing just how far he’s come with tattooing in such a short period of time. So with his mentor, AR, watching over his every move, making sure to point out and correct Opticon where his inexperience got the better of him, there is no doubt that Opticon is a tattoo star in the making. With a slow, methodical approach, he remained as meticulous and self-assured as any tattoo artist 30 years his senior.

Having done just a handful as of now, he is in no rush to start putting his own unique brand of art onto others despite the high demand. “A lot of people ask me, but I’m nowhere near that level.” Opticon’s concerns regarding fans expecting the same level of quality with his tattoos as with his other art are both warranted and justified, and why he refuses to budge until he’s confident he’s ready. “I don’t wanna get a rep like, ‘Oh, man, who did your tattoo? Rask? He did this?’ and they’ll look at my work and then look at my other work and be like ‘Oh wow!’ I don’t want that rep, so for now, it's just baby steps.”

But once he decides to start, he’ll make sure the world knows. “When I’m ready, I’ll make the announcement, but until then I’ll only tattoo people that I know personally and who know where I’m at and what level.”

In the meantime, Opticon will continue to build up his portfolio in the art world and do what he can to not get typecast as just another tattoo artist. To help him keep things in perspective, about a year-and-a-half ago, he joined forces with fellow art enthusiasts AR, Mario and the rest of Ink Bombers, a tight-knit varied collection of artists located in and around the San Gabriel Valley.

Created in 2007, the familial collective has become a mainstay in the art community, establishing itself in various art forms from painting to digital to tattoo. “AR, my mentor in tattoos, he’s the one that started it a few years ago. And when I came into the scene a year-and-a-half ago, we were talking about doing an art show and were like, ‘We should do art shows with themes’, so people would be excited about it.”

As of now, the group has just completed their fourth show with subjects ranging from Disney – for which Rask created his acclaimed Little Mermaid and Dumbo pieces – to the most recent exhibit which pays tribute to Alice in Wonderland.

Opticon is also looking to get back to his roots and recommence his love affair with more traditional street art, a style galleries have come to embrace in more recent years. A shift that makes Opticon exclaim, “Where the hell were you guys back in the day?”

And he’s also yearning to dabble in music. Or more specifically, hard trance and industrial, an endeavor that’s unfortunately too time consuming for his
hectic schedule.

But art is his first love and there’s nothing more he would enjoy than continuing on with his self-proclaimed warped, dark and bipolar art, and thriving in an exclusive community hell-bent on chewing up and spitting out artists with every gallery event. “I’m like, ‘Hell yes, time to kick ass and put my name out there!’ I wanna go all the way, man.”

By the Book

Opticon’s first foray into the world of published accolades came in 2011 when he graced the pages of Lowrider Arte Magazine. “They told me six [pages] and it ended up being ten. And a lot of people [started] adding me on Facebook like crazy and they were like, ‘Dude, I’ve been collecting this magazine forever and when you were in it that was my favorite mag’.” Shortly after, acclaimed author and photo-journalist, Edgar OSOK Hoill, included four different Rask Opticon pieces in his book, Latino Art Collection: Tattoo-Inspired Chicano, Maya, Aztec and Mexican Styles.

Michael Hussar  

Michael Hussar is an American artist from southern California who specialises in oil paintings using modern masters’ techniques. Considered to be one of the pioneers of the thriving alternative art movement, Hussar spent nearly ten years teaching portrait painting at the Art Center College of Design before notoriety came. Sometimes controversial due to their provocative and intensely realistic nature, Hussar’s works have been featured in magazines and are part of the private collections of celebrity art enthusiasts Warren Beatty and Francis Ford Coppola, among others. Recently, Hussar released a book entitled White, detailing the last ten years of his illustrious career.


Text: Seth Fischer; Photography: Opticon