We Chatted With Grace Neutral About Her Clothing Collection, Tattoos And Body Modification
The Debrief: Plus, what it was like having injections in her eyeballs...
The first thing you’ll notice about Grace Neutral is her eyes. Not because they’re piercingly green (although they are) but because she has bright blue sclera - the result of about 12 injections in each eye. This, along with her tiny, pointed ears and intricate facial scarification make you feel like you’ve stumbled across a real-life ethereal being.
She became a prominent presence on social media (she's only on Tumblr and Instagram, FYI) when her friend told her to get Tumblr and, in her own words, ‘something just sort of sparked and people started taking an interest’. Now, she’s amassed over 260,000 Instagram followers.
2015 hasn’t been too shabby for Grace - she made her fashion week debut in September when she walked for Ashley Williams and she’s collaborated with Motel to create her own clothes collection which drops today. Despite all this and her openness to future creative projects, she assures me that tattooing is her ‘bread and butter’ and if she doesn’t do it for a couple of days ‘I literally lose my mind’.
As we chat over the phone about her body modification, the fashion industry and her Marilyn Manson obsession, her soft voice, easy laugh and warm demeanour proves that it’s not just Grace’s unique look or her incredible tattooing skills that draw people to her: it’s because she’s as friendly and down to earth as they come.
Hey Grace, congratulations on the collection, it looks really cool! What inspired it?
I knew a few of the girls from Motel for years from tattooing some of them and I said wouldn’t it be cool if we did a collaboration and we just went from there. We wanted to reflect my artwork and tattooing in the collection; I mainly do pattern work and pointillism and geometry so it’s only natural that we used that kind of style.
Definitely. How did you become a tattoo artist?
I was a body piercer before I started. I did that for years and I drew every day in the studio whilst I was waiting for customers and then one day I was like ‘I’m gonna try tattooing’, so I tried handpoke [using a tattoo needle taped to a chopstick, rather than a machine] on my friend and just literally went from there.
Photo by Carl Wilson
Do you regret any of your tattoos?
[laughs] Yeah I’ve got loads of tattoos I don’t like any more – tattoos that I got like over ten years ago [Grace started getting tattoos when she was 16] but it’s mainly stuff that I’m working on now and covering up. I like really heavy blackwork now that I’m older so it works out really well cos I’m just covering all my old colourful tattoos on my legs with loads of blackwork and black patterns and things like that.
You’ve had a lot of body modification. What was the first thing you had done?
I had my tongue split when I was like 21. I’ve been obsessed with Marilyn Manson from a very young and I remember hearing that he had a split tongue and I thought it was the coolest thing ever so I just wanted it done. But it turns out that he doesn’t! I was soooo excited that I wasn’t even really thinking about the reality of what was going to happen. But yeah, it was fine. It was painful for a week afterwards, you know, it sucked that I couldn’t really eat anything, but it was fine.
Your tongue is actually two separate muscles that are attached together which is why the split works so well - you can individually control each one. It’s really cool you can pick stuff up and they play with each other! It’s literally the funnest thing ever.
Photo by Carl Wilson
I did not know that! What else have you had modified?
I had my belly button cut out so I don’t have one, I’m just all smooth.
Whoa, I did not know that was even possible!
Yeah then I got all my face cut so I’ve got scarification which is basically when they just cut and peel out strips of skin and then it heals obviously and leaves a scar and the scar is the pattern. So they did that on my chin and my cheeks and my forehead.
I also have my ears pointed like a pixie and my earlobes removed so I have the tiniest tiniest earlobes, like half a cm. I used to have big stretched ears and I didn’t want them any more; I wanted to look really ethereal and pixie-like.
Photo by Carl Wilson
Wow! And how was it with your eyes? Is it dangerous?
Yeah of course, there’s a risk in anything, you know. The eyes are so delicate and your sight is a really important thing so there’s a lot of risk involved and it’s not something you should take lightly. I really thought about it for a long time.
And how did it feel?
I’m not gonna lie it was the hardest modification I’ve gone through but it was the least painful. It’s a control thing, you know? It’s all done by injection, so I’ve had like 12 injections in each eye and each injection is like 15 seconds which doesn’t seem very long at all, but these small windows of time are so intense because you’re concentrating on not moving your eye so hard but there’s this uncontrollable fear inside you because you know that if you move you essentially could go blind.
Woah, that's intense. What made you decide that it was worth the risk?
I dunno, I just wanted it done so bad! I felt like it would be the final step that tied all my modifications together and made me feel way more comfortable than I’d ever felt before in my own skin. You know? And it did, I was right.
Photo by Carl Wilson
Have you got plans for any more body modification?
Not really, just scarification I think because I really like the whole ritual experience of cutting. Again it’s one of those things that I haven’t got planned. I know it’s going to happen but I don’t know when and I don’t know how. Also meeting the right person to like peel flesh out of you is a pretty important thing!
What would your advice be to someone wanting any body modification or tattoos?
Educate yourself and make sure that you research into your artist. It’s like anything: if you were going to get your boobs done you would do your research and get the best doctor you could find. Body modification is so underground and it’s such a grey area when it comes to legality and stuff, you really have to be careful. Nobody wants to be cut up by a butcher, you want a surgeon!
There's this assumption that people with body modifications and tattoos must be insecure. What's your response to that?
Yeah I think that’s because body modification and the whole look of it has been underground for so long that a lot of people just assume something really bad has happened to them in their past or they must be really mentally unstable and that’s not the case. It’s just that we find these things more beautiful and we live in a world where we are told what is beautiful and nothing else can be. It’s very narrow minded. I don’t understand that 'oh they must be really fucked up' mentality, you know?
Photo by Carl Wilson
You walked at Ashley Williams last fashion week and you're becoming better known. What response have you had from the fashion industry and people generally?
It’s been great. I was not expecting to walk for Ashley Williams, it was a huge surprise and honour, to be honest, that someone would want me to do that. I’m also really glad cos they are putting different things out there now and from what I read on blogs and reviews of the show, I think everyone’s on board.
That’s really positive! Do you think the industry is starting to change?
Yeah I feel like everyone is opening up to so many different types of beauty now. I don’t think everyone’s going to start wanting to look like me, but it sends a message of wanting to look like yourself and it doesn’t matter, there are no boundaries there are no rules, no barriers, and there shouldn’t be. It does start to feel like a uniform and that’s really boring. We just all need to express ourselves the way we feel comfortable.
Definitely. Thanks, Grace!
Check our Grace Neutral's Instagram...
Like this? Then you might also be interested in:
Follow Chemmie on Twitter @chemsquier
Pictures: Olivia Richardson
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating