With her pixie cut and arms decorated in tattoos, Emilie Robinson cuts an unmistakable figure. In her studio located in the back of Minneapolis Tattoo Shop, the buzz of the tattoo gun is often pierced by the artist's melodic voice and by classical music—her genre of choice—as Robinson meticulously and carefully works through a design.
The artist specializes in juxtapositions: in Robinson's art (tattoos and otherwise), old meets new, religion balances rebellion, and classical collides with the modern world—but one constant in her life is music, which connects all of the dots in her life.
As a young girl, Robinson traveled the world with her family while her father worked for a Christian organization. Robinson's mother—who grew up Amish Mennonite—along with her father found many ways to filter art into Robinson's childhood.
The family settled in Ireland for a few years, and there Robinson found an appreciation for ancient and modern worlds.
"Even as a kid, I always lived in my imagination," she says. "I loved reading books on history and mythology. Coming from a religious background, we read the Bible a lot. Ireland was so interesting so full of history; Dublin just turned 1,000 years old. There's a lot of old things hanging out with new things. Next to my school was this huge pier that was built 600 years ago that we walked on everyday after school. Your imagination runs wild when you think of stuff like that."
Eventually Robinson's father's job brought the family to the United States, where she studied art in college. After school, she was encouraged by friends to hold an art show for her collages. The pieces were created around iconic images and photos from magazines and history books, incorporated into disparate settings.
One person who bought one of the pieces was Peter Miller of We Are the Willows. Based on the work from the collages, Miller commissioned Robinson to do the artwork for the band's album last year. Peter had taken the letters his grandfather wrote to his grandmother while he was courting her, and wrote the album around this love story. Using this as her catalyst, Robinson created a romantic image from a photo she found in a copy of Time.
Many artists find jobs in different fields, then create their artwork on the side. Before finding a new career path in tattoo artistry, Robinson did a stint in industrial sewing, making mascot costumes for a local company, but when that work proved to be too solitary, she took to apprenticing at a tattoo shop to make more human connections. "I've drawn since I was little," she says. "I didn't really know what I wanted to do after college, but my husband encouraged me to work on my drawings. I started tattooing a year ago to combine my love of working with people and working in art. I was drawn to iconic imagery and putting something on someone that has meaning. There's a long tradition of tattoo artists finding work that inspires them and putting their own spin on classic themes. In old sailor tattoos, you can tell they're derivative of Japanese pieces."
If you walk into her Uptown studio in Minneapolis Tattoo Shop on any given day, you might find anything ranging from indie rock to '90s hip-hop in the background as she works on a drawing or a tattoo for a client. Yet, classical music is what pulls her in at the end of a long day. Robinson says, "It's calming for me, because my mom was a concert pianist and taught piano. She performed before I was born, and we would play games in the car as we were driving. We would listen to the classical station and guess the instruments as they came in. My favorite classical pieces are piano-based, because it's similar to what my mom would play at home.
"I listen to a lot of Yann Tiersen, otherwise I'll bounce around. I often find myself gravitating towards classical at the end of stressful days, because it helps me unwind. I love that I get to mix something so time-honored like classical music with something so revolutionary like tattoos."
Youa Vang is appreciative of all genres of music — even country. When not writing about music, she can be found working on her standup comedy and cross-stitching mischievous sayings while watching The Simpsons.