Tati Compton’s home sits at a crest in the roller coaster hills of Echo Park. Her door is wide open and she greets me with sparkly lapis-colored liner rimming her eyes and newly-dyed copper hair. She doesn’t remember my face, but my arm looks familiar.
“I’m usually looking at the tattoo so hard that I forget people’s faces, but then when I see the tattoo, I remember,” she says.
Compton is on a rare day off from her residency doing stick and pokes at Saved Tattoo, the LA outpost of celebrity tattooist Scott Campbell’s Brooklyn shop by the same name. Though Compton herself hasn’t garnered Campbell-level fame for her cosmic, divinely feminine designs, perhaps she will. Multiple times, people have pointed at the tattoo on my arm of a full-figured, shirtless woman happily clutching a glass of wine and asked “Is that by Tati?” Her designs are that recognizable.
Compton’s space reflects a cozy inner life: a small bungalow with colorful tapestries warming the walls and a careful mix of perfectly worn furniture. She says her old apartment used to be a mess and that her husband of a year, artist Danny Fox, is the one that likes everything in its place.
“We don’t really collaborate because we do such different things, but I’m always asking about his opinion and we share a lot,” she says.
Her collection of platform high heels hint at a wild past before her current stint of domesticity. She “was going crazy in New York,” even giving her now-husband the keys to her house on the first day they met because she was on mushrooms for a month and was “filled with love and being very giving.” Her bookshelf holds books on the meaning of symbols, sex obsessions, crimes and criminals, Van Gogh and the history of punk.
Compton, hand rolling a cigarette, calls tattooing a dream job, only pausing to flip the Blue Cheer record playing through the house with the breeze.
“Tattooing is very meditative,” she says. “I just get into another zone and I can almost keep going forever. And then when I stop I’m like, ‘I’m so tired. I can’t see anything. I’m really hungry.’ But when I’m doing it, it’s all clear.”
Compton, who was born in the Bay Area, got her start professionally tattooing a few years ago at London shop Sang Bleu, owned by Maxime Buchi. It was there that she started to cultivate her stick and poke aesthetic, heavily influenced by the occult, tarot, nature, the female form, and psychedelic drugs.
“The main one that changed everything is tarot,” Compton says. “Not just reading tarot and using it, but how the cards are structured and how you can gain knowledge through an image. Also, psychedelic drugs. It wasn’t like I was ever trying to create something, it was more like I had to. I have to make art to not go crazy and it just so happens that smoking a lot of weed and doing mushrooms changed how I see things and how I drew.”
Before that, Compton was giving stick and pokes to her friends out of her apartment or tattooing at parties and art shows. She wasn’t initially attracted to going into a tattoo shop or getting a traditional tattoo. “Eventually I might learn to use a machine just because it’s another craft to learn,” she says. “But I love how stick and pokes can happen just right then. You don’t have to go to a shop. What I love about them is how I started doing them, which was hanging out with my friends and getting drunk and being like, let’s do tattoos.”
Compton’s work has clearly grown beyond a drunken pastime. She recently released a book of over 800 of her original illustrations, entitled “Tati.” And with nearly 200k followers on Instagram, clients sometimes have to wait months for a booking with the internationally-recognized artist. During my tattoo appointment with Compton last month, The Leftovers star Justin Theroux stopped by hoping that she might have time to hand poke one of her signature women on his ribs. (She did not, though she would try to fit him in the following Sunday.) Compton’s celebrity clientele includes Netflix series Love co-creator and Girls writer Leslie Arfin and model Holly Graves. She’s a favorite of rapper Brooke Candy, who has a few pieces including a pair vignettes of fellatio and cunnilingis.
Compton also designs album cover art for her friends—most notably for Ty Segall Band’s album Slaughterhouse and Segall’s side project, Fuzz—fabric for clothing designer Rusty Cuts and has collaboration in the works with lifestyle brand Elder Statesman.
Compton is a bit taken aback by her Instagram fame.
“It’s really weird,” she says. “I guess I just don’t pay attention to it. I remember when I had 100 followers and I was like, ‘Oh my god 100 people are following me.’ I don’t even know that many people. You know, like, who are these people?”
Compton is thankful for the professional exposure, but confident that she could go without it. She’s broken her phone on purpose several times. Once, triumphantly, she threw it into the ocean. Instead of focusing on fame, Compton has modest ideas about her future. She tells me that she has always wanted to buy a big piece of land and build a house.
“I just went to Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City and Danny and I were just like, ‘How do we do this?’ We’d never have to leave. So I think we’re both working together to eventually make our own space, with some land and some animals. It’s kind of like what everybody wants, right?”