When I met with Chris Allen at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to talk shop, it seemed like an unlikely place to meet a man who is responsible for some serious live paintings, tattoos and art in the hip-hop industry. The young 36-year-old man who was sitting in front of me was cordial, respectful and hilarious, as well as a recovering addict, a freelance tattoo artist and the owner of his business, Inkproof. Upon sitting down to set up for the interview, I noticed there were drawings sprawled out all over the table. As the conversation progressed, it quickly became clear to me that the man just doesn’t stop. I immediately liked his artwork – but that is not the extent of Chris’ appeal.
Born in Washington, DC and raised in Maryland to a middle-class family, Chris had a fairly normal childhood, or as a he put it, a “somewhat normal childhood; as normal as a childhood can be.” He discovered his passion for drawing at a young age, using whatever he could find around the house to draw on his parents’ walls. “I would use my mother’s make-up pencils and essentially anything to draw on the walls. At a certain point my parents were starting to get fed up, but also curious,” he recalls. He was a playful child who enjoyed the spotlight and making people laugh. This normalcy continued until he was about the age of 13 when his parents started drinking more, Chris explained. His father had been involved in politics and had a large social network; “they would often have parties, and I was immediately drawn to that world,” Consequently, an early addiction developed. He had always been intrigued by his parents’ lifestyle. He told me he wanted to live it up and be a part of something like they were. And so throughout his teens, he dove deeper into the world of alcohol and drugs, inevitably blurring his vision and passion for his future life. He always knew he loved hip-hop, being a part of the music industry and free-hand drawing, but at this point in time he couldn’t see the thread that tied it all together.
At 21, when his reality became too hard to handle, and his eyes were forced open, he got the help he needed and started his life over. “I’d like to say I met myself at 21,” Chris chuckled, “but I’ve also met myself another 10 times since.” At the treatment center he went to in Minnesota, in 1999, he began to draw as a way of coping with his environment and people started to notice his talent. “People would ask me if I got paid to do my art, and I knew there was money in it. But it was never about the money in any case. Every day since I’ve been 21 my art has been in my life,” he says.
The years following Chris’ rehabilitation, he threw himself into his work and developed a solid network of hip-hop artists who called upon him for various types of his art. He did CD covers and murals, commissioned paintings, as well as live painting at the infamous First Avenue, a happening night club in Minneapolis. Some of the artists he has painted at shows for, tattooed, and some of whom he considers himself fortunate to call his friends now include DJ LORD from Public Enemy, DJ Premier, Common, Atmosphere, Unknown Prophets, Mixmaster Mike, Talib Kweli and the list goes on. DJ GrandMaster Flash, the man behind the turntable, flew Chris out to New York to work on an album cover for him. Suddenly, Chris began to realize he was well on his way. His idols were now calling on him to help them showcase what they value artistically and what they feel represents them through the eyes of an equally talented artist. In 2008, he was contacted by his friend Kerry Dikken, with Blasted Art Inc., a company that is known for sand blasting into glass panels, to design a mural project with him for the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis. That project lead to 11 Minneapolis landmarks sand blasted into glass, which are now permanently installed in the Hilton lobby. Concurrently, he began his tattooing career as an apprentice under Shane Wallin, in Minneapolis. “Starting out your career at 27 isn’t easy,” he said with conviction. “I certainly wasn’t riding around in a limo. Well, not that I am now either.” Due to increasing popularity, his tattooing became full-time and he was eventually featured in different magazines, such as XXL Magazine in New York City and Industry and RIFT magazine in Minneapolis, as well as many more. In 2012, he moved to Montreal and started working out of Adrenaline, Montreal’s professional tattoo and body piercing shop known for tattooing the likes of Angelina Jolie, Wu-Tang Clan members, Jay Baruchel and Sheldon Souray.
Considering the ups and downs he’s had along the way, being sober is still extremely important to him. In order to keep things the way they are, he tries to stay fit, eat well and promote a healthy work/life balance (even when he is at his wit’s end). His mother’s sobriety and his father’s passing, in 2010, have also made Chris more aware of how important being sober is to him. “At the end of the day, I just need to recharge,” he continued. “My mornings are like everyone else’s. I fear the cold, but I get up, grab my coffee and go. On the metro, I have a secret mix of songs that I listen to; they help keep me focused and prepare for the day. When I get into the shop, if I have a busy day before me, I try my best to take a couple of moments to acknowledge how lucky I am to be here and how much further I want to go.” Chris regularly visits schools and youth centers to help kids understand the importance of staying true to their goals and to themselves. “The kids feel like they can connect with me because I was a young guy going through the same things they were going through. The fact that I’ve been somewhat involved in the hip-hop scene helped too,” he laughed.
Chris’ life thus far has truly been notable, no doubt about it. He is Inkproof, but more importantly he is the man behind his dream, continuously trying to make the world around him more beautiful with his art, and with his soul. When I asked Chris how he was going to continue living his notable life, he said: “By trying to stay focused with what I want to do with my art. I used to have a lot of expectations of what the final plan would amount to, but I learned in the last couple of years, that it really doesn’t matter. It’s about the journey, as cheesy as that sounds.”
Chris’ final thoughts: “I need more coffee.”
#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)
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