For years now a tattoo artist in Ohio, Billy White and his studio, Red Rose, have been making the news for covering up hateful tattoos. They aim to help people in their life transition and letting go of hate. The first such tattoo he ever covered was for women of a family who each had a supremacist-related “Crazy, White Bitch” tattoo. "Eventually they started to walk away from that,” Billy recounts.
Shortly after violence erupted between white supremacists, neo-Nazi’s, antifa and Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, Billy became vocal about doing something. The Red Rose tattoo studio puts their artistic skills to work for free covering hate tattoos with the sincere hope for a better world.
Since the George Floyd protests, another group of artists in Kentucky, the Gallery X Art Collective, has, separately, taken up covering hate tattoos for free. They began using the hashtag: #CoverTheHate on their social media - and it’s caught on!
“We all came up with this idea of offering free coverup tattoos at the same time. My face gets more publicity because they [his colleagues] don’t like interviews,” says the unofficial spokesperson, Ryun King.
“Being under quarantine with a lot of time for reflection; seeing literally the whole world step up against inequality during George Floyd protests, saying ‘we’re ready to die for this equality…’ We said to each other: let’s use our platform. We've gotta DO something. And we thought of it almost the same second,” Ryun extolls his colleagues.
The Movement as It’s Grown for Billy White and His Red Rose Tattoo Studio
Billy and his studio have even been the subject of an Emmy-nominated short documentary film by Cy Dodson, Beneath the Ink.
“I wanna make my parents proud [who have passed away]. I wanna make my kids proud so when I’m gone they’re not like: ‘yeah, my dad was a guy. He just did tattoos,’ … Maybe he did something,” Billy can barely get his words out as he speaks emotionally about his family in the documentary.
He is known amongst tattoo artists and his notoriety is spreading into unexpected territory for him. From covering racist tattoos and prison gang affiliations, he is also now receiving requests to remove tattoos on victims of sex/human trafficking.
“Ohio is one of the biggest sex trafficking hubs. An hour east of Columbus it’s really big. People reached out to us before we even knew they needed us, but now we know there’s a calling for us,” in Billy’s voice there’s a mix of lament for the victims and a humble embracing of the call to be an instrument to help them.
Those "gung-ho" tattoo artists at Red Rose include Brian McCort, Jenn Siegfried and Marah Kelso.
Connecting the Dots: Ryun King, Jerimiah Swift and Jay Harvill of Gallery X Art Collective
Gallery X Art Collective was proactive and reached out to Billy White, who had, coincidentally, been watching their movement develop. Billy was able to talk over his experience with how to handle the many requests they are getting and Gallery X Art Collective credits Billy for having taken on this labor of love years before.
Furthermore, Billy says “We wanted to share our database of tattoo artists that want to do this, too.”
The collective isn’t a new kid on the block, though. For Ryun, tattooing is almost in the blood. His father was Jerry Rieggard, a famous tattoo artist from the 70s to the 90s, just the cusp of the wave where tattoos became hip and more mainstream. Ryun has photos of himself as a toddler holding tattoo machines and art was just a natural part of life.
The collective has now found itself inundated with media requests, contacts from filmmakers and are having a hard time keeping up with the demand.
Who Can Possibly Find Fault with This Initiative?
The CoverTheHate Haters
From the independent interviews with both Ryun King Kentucky and Billy White in Ohio, both have spoken of great resistance from many directions.
“You know, we’ve been getting some negativity," he says cautiously and with incredulity. "Old school guys with old school ways that say: ‘we ain’t doin’ stuff for free.’”
On the other hand, says Ryun, “There’s been a lot of people that have stepped up and I’ve been thoroughly impressed.”
“The backlash can be very heavy, from literally every side of the field.”
He gives just a hint of some of the expected challenges he’s faced: “Symbols and ideology are entrenched and run rampant here.” He describes his city of Zanesville, Ohio as economically depressed and 30 years behind, socially.
Billy elaborates in the documentary that people allege that those individuals actually haven’t had a change of heart, but only covered their tattoos because it was free work.
Which is one reason why Billy emphasizes:
“The vetting process is so important.” It’s so important, we will take the liberty to reiterate it: “The vetting process is so important.”
A Tale of Two Tattoo Studios
The two studios have a few things in common: they are both in mid-America, they are dedicating time and heart to help people with their major life changes … and they are both inundated with requests from people as well film and media attention and can barely keep up!
On the Gallery X Art Collective Facebook page, aside from setting guidelines for coverup requests, they are raffling; using paper ballots and randomly choosing the next to be tattooed.
Billy has been building a database of tattoo artists who want to commit to this to refer national and international clients to artists that work closer to them.
“The database has been a blessing,” he says. One of the reasons these people haven’t paid to cover up tattoos themselves is because they don’t have the money to pay for the artist’s time, much less to travel halfway across the country to get to Ohio.
Want to Connect with the #CoverTheHate Movement?
Non-tattoo artists: if you have the means, contact them at the links below to sponsor a free tattoo for someone who is letting go of hate and anguish. Red Rose Tattoo has been doing this for years, and the Collective has covered so many this year alone. Sometimes the clients do leave a tip, but the tattoo artists earnestly are not expecting a thing for their work... except a better world.
If you are a tattoo artist with the time, the will and are capable of covering up some tattoos, contact Billy White or Gallery X Art Collective right away to get on their database. This way, you’re coordinating with them to help the many they've already spoken with. They need you!
"We need talented artists that believe in redemption and have the skill set that can help as many people as we can.
There are many people who have walked away from gang life. There are many victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking. Tattooing is healing. We want to continue to help," is Billy's plea.
Inquire about a guestspot at either studio. Specifically, the Gallery X Art Collective is looking for someone to join their team on a medium – long-term basis and take a seat in their studio. Currently, Ryun shows up to work some days early to sit for three hours answering the many messages that enter their email address dedicated to #CoverTheHate. Both studios are open.
Artists: use the hashtag #CoverTheHate wherever you post your coverup work! If you’d like us to see your work on Instagram, tag us at @FKIrons.
Strongly suggested: visit the Gallery X Art Collective Facebook page and familiarize yourself with some helpful guidelines that Billy and Gallery X use so that you can begin to think about what kinds of work you would like to do.
Both of the gentlemen advise you that you'll hear some very personal, haunting stories.
"Emotionally, you’re never really prepared for it. You’ll hear so many explanations and so many heartfelt stories. It changes from one extremity to another. A drunken night, to being held captive for two years. You have to regulate that in yourself. Coverups are hard work as it is, but also dealing with emotional side..." Ryun finds it difficult to give advice.
"It's been a personal awakening for me. In giving you actually receive more. No matter how overwhelming it gets, it’s super rewarding. Many look up to you because they're impressed by your work and quality. When you help somebody, you can see the change in the life and their eyes. I sleep like a baby," concludes Ryan.
How Clients Have Been Supporting the Tattoo Studios' #CoverTheHate Work
"With all of the Covid-19 closures, hour restrictions for businesses and rescheduling, our clients have been so supportive. They're like: 'We’re cool. We know what you’re doing.'" Billy sends some love to his clients.
How FK Irons and the Body Art Alliance (BAA) is Helping
FK Irons and World Famous (BAA members) hold these tattoo artists in high regard for the extraordinary manner and passion with which they are helping others.
“Everyone at the shop is gung-ho on this. We pretty much stay active. Our waiting list is… long,” Billy reveals how much in demand his studio is, even during COVID-19 limited hours.
Ultimate Tattoo Supply and Tattooderm, who sell World Famous inks, are partners in the Body Art Alliance, almost immediately began supplying some needles, ink and aftercare to them to support their initiative.
The FK Irons Pro Team Ambassador and the FK Irons Marketing Director reached out to Gallery X to ask how we could support them. Completely unprompted, Ryun says he’s used the Spektra Xion from the get-go (loves it!) and calls the wireless Flux a “game changer.”
We’ve, then, offered to lay out the framework for a website to help him organize, as well as send needles, gloves, bibs, disposable grips and other supplies as soon as we can.
What’s Next for These Tattoo Studios and #CoverTheHate?
The Red Rose tattoo studio is looking forward to filming, as well as more photos from his photographer, Daniel. You can follow Daniel’s work on Instagram at @Daniel or on the Red Rose tattoo studio’s account at @red_rose_tattoo.
They've also been working on other charities, such as Lace Up For Kids shoe drive and more. In Billy's experience, community involvement is an important step towards helping people turn away from hate groups.
For the Collective, they will have a website to help them manage some of their spike in fame, as well as hopefully help with their calls for coverups.
Join the Body Art Alliance in wishing them the best and doing something within you power to encourage them.
Follow them on Instagram, leave your words of encouragement in comments of their work, follow their hashtag and remember you can always sponsor a tattoo.