"It ain't bragging if you've done it."
That epithet has applied to over-achievers from Dizzy Dean to Mohammed Ali. Add Cap Szumski to the list.
Uncannily precise tattoo imaging in the photo-realism mode in particular, has won Cap kudos. He's established a winner's reputation since the 1980s when he was based at Brian Everett's studio, and, since July 1994 on his own at Timeless Tattoo, Inc. in Atlanta, he is widening his possibilities.
For the record, the operative elements of Cap's tattoo talk are respect and enthusiasm for the craft of tattooing.
Cap's conversion experience to ink was sudden and ineffable: "I've always drawn on paper, but when I got my first tattoo when I was fifteen or sixteen, it was just magic, the most incredible thing to see an image on the skin that'll be there for the rest of your life." The little eagle that got inked to his left shoulder (still there, by the way) must have whispered in his ear, beckoning a life in tattooing.
Half of Cap's 34 years has been claimed by tattooing. He started at the Magic Castle in Newhall, California, under J.R. in the old school mode, after which he hopped about for nearly a decade, never quite finding a tattoo shop to call home but honing his chops along the line. Then, in 1987, he met Brian Everett, who invited him to work at his shop, Route 66 Fineline Tattoos in Albuquerque.
"That's when my best work started happening, when I got into a more technically advanced way of tattooing," Cap says. "I learned a lot, to tattoo what I saw and not what I thought I saw." It was mentoring process in which the student-professional absorbed the nuances of his craft.
"I watched Brian a lot because it was a different type of tattooing altogether- more technically advanced, which was priceless to me. I learned different shades of black and gray, soft shades for photographs, without having the tattoo lose its quality. When I tattoo a portrait, I'm tattooing what it's going to look like three months down the line."
Now that he's steering his own ship, Cap is taking to the road even more than his usual 20-per-year average. "I go on the road as much as possible without neglecting the shop. Sometimes I gotta escape and get inspired with other ideas." Cap calls his four compatriots at Timeless Tattoo- also from Albuquerque- "tremendous graffiti artists," adding that he's learning and appreciating more about color through working with them.
The transition from lieutenant to general, he says, has been smooth and satisfying, now that he owns his own studio. "What I've found since I've come to Atlanta which has been kind of neat is that even though it hasn't been very busy, anybody who has come in has wanted custom work. Instead of just single needle things, I've been doing a whole variety, with different line variations, bolder tattoos where I can get more intricate with stuff inside.
"I've got specific ideas about how I want my shop to be. It's the shop I've always wanted, a shop for the future. It's a clean, comfortable, easygoing environment. There are separate rooms for each artist, which they decorate any way they like. People like the privacy. They don't like to be gawked at while they're hurting," he says. The only thing infectious here is the enthusiasm that Cap communicates, for he and Timeless Tattoos are firmly ensconced in the precepts of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists and its sterilization stricture.
Pulsatingly life-like photographic imaging is Cap's calling card, but in addition to that, in a kind of dialectical process, he obviously likes to return to the old school tattoos. The old school style gets tweaked under Cap's needle, one notices, as he experiments with line variations and colors.
The depth and breadth of Cap's talents are obvious. Last September in Baltimore, Cap earned Tattoo of the Day honors for his portrait of James Dean. Equally impressive is his religious iconography, such as a recent Christ child-with-Virgin Mary image. Add to that the myriad conceptual possibilities between those two and Cap has been there- or wants to be there: "I've never stopped learning. I want to perfect my style."