Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Celebrating The Girls Who Stand Out!- Honoring Kauri

(Photo Taken by Cora Chaos)
The photo above shows the late, great Denver, Colorado tattoo artist, Kauri Tiyme. On Saturday the 18th of October, 2008, Kauri was killed in Denver. Kauri was not only my tattoo artist, she was my friend. When I met her in March 2007 at her studio in Breckenridge, Colorado, my life changed forever. Kauri was such an inspiring person. She got to live dream of being an artist and she was the epitome of real beauty, inside and out. Like many of us vintage girls, Kauri was often judged by others due to her style. Despite anyone's attempt to bring her down for her looks and/or choice of dress, Kauri held her head high. When I shared stories of people staring at me because of my vintage style, it was Kauri who taught me to smile back and say “hi.” Kauri was always full of boundless positive energy. Like the glittery makeup she wore, her soul just shimmered and shined bright like sun. Even though she was taken too soon from those who knew and loved her, I know Kauri's spirit is always going to be with us.

Here is the story of how I met Kauri Tiyme:

I wanted to repair a poorly done Chinese “Double Happiness” tattoo I had done in September 2001. The black ink was splotchy and it looked very stark against my skin. There was nothing special about it and I wanted to either cover it up with something else or add to it. Not only was I unsure about how to fix the tattoo, I was skeptical about letting another artist repair it. After some thought, I decided to take my time and think about what I truly wanted. I did not want to make a hasty decision that I could end up regretting later on. To find inspiration for my tattoo, I researched designs in books and on the Internet. Finally, after searching for several months, I chose a Japanese themed design that incorporated flowers, snow, and wind.

I had been going to Breckenridge off and on for ski trips since December 1996. Before leaving for vacation, I was curious if there were any tattoo studios in town. I searched online and found a listing for Breckenridge Body Art. I called the studio, gave a description of what I wanted, and made my appointment. I was told that my design would more than likely need to be at least a 'quarter sleeve,' preferably a 'half sleeve' due to the details of the piece. In addition, the studio informed me that the tattoo would probably require four hours to complete. I was excited and yet scared of the notion of getting tattooed for a half-sleeve. I only had little tattoos at the time and this was going to be my first 'big one.' I asked myself, "Can I tolerate the pain for four hours?" The very thought was making me question whether I should go through with it or not.

On the morning of my 'tattoo day,' I woke up feeling nervous and queasy. I told myself to calm down. I mean, it couldn't kill me right? Undeterred by my fears, I ate breakfast and skied a few runs on the mountain. After skiing, I returned to my condo and showered. The husband, Mike, and I left for lunch and then to Kauri's studio at 2:30 pm. The snow was swirling around and the late winter air felt crisp. As skiers and tourists milled about on Main Street, all I could think about was how I was in 'way over my head.'Despite the cold, I was hot and sweaty. As I entered the studio, Kauri greeted me with a big smile and warm eyes. Her long, natural black dreadlocks cascaded down her tall, thin frame. Their ends were wrapped in vibrant blue, red, and purple yarn. Shimmery, silver threads were beautifully entwined amongst the bright colors and as a result, Kauri's dreads sparkled as she moved. Her eyes and lips were twinkling with vibrant glitter and jeweled piercings adorned her graceful forehead. Her voice was light and sweet. She looked striking and powerful yet she had such a delicate energy about her.

Kauri showed me her sketch of my cherry blossom/snow theme and it was so beautiful. The drawing looked like the beginnings of an oil painting. Kauri's interpretation did not look like any tattoo I had ever seen before. It was hyper-realism for sure. As she went to her work station to prepare for my tattoo, I filled out paperwork and I was asked for proof of identification. I looked in my wallet to get my driver's license and I discovered that it was missing. I searched my coat and pockets and found nothing. At this point, my husband ran all the way back to the condo to search for it. After a while, he called my cell and told me that he could not find it. I was in a panic. I told Kauri that I lost my license and she was very sympathetic and understanding. She said that I could mail her a copy of it when I returned home. My panic subsided and I felt totally at east. Then, it was time to start my tattoo. I felt the nerves act up again. I was excited and freaked out all at once. Kauri wet my skin, shaved my arm with a disposable razor, and put on the transfer. As I sat in her tattoo chair, she showed me her unopened needles and disclosed each needle's function. Anyone who was tattooed by Kauri knew how strict she was about regulations and safety standards.

Then, the tattooing began. The first line was not too bad. It felt like a bee sting. During the tattoo session, Kauri and I talked about everything. We talked about art, our mutual love of Doctor Who, our adoration for cats and MAC makeup. We talked about physics, fractals, religion, skepticism, MC Escher, our mothers, people who judge, music, Anime, Ghost in the Shell, and Indian food. Over the course of many hours, the level of discomfort varied between the downright intense to the somewhat tolerable. But what really made the process bearable was Kauri herself. Talking to her and getting to know her a little made the session actually fun. Also, Kauri's touch was the most gentle I ever felt from any other artist. When Kauri finished the last white highlights around 8:30-8:45 pm, I just couldn't believe we were done already. Those hours just flew by. However, I have to confess that I kept asking her "are we done yet?" near the end. I even apologized for whining and she immediately assured me that I was fine and that I "sat like a rock."

Before leaving the studio, we hugged and I told her that I would be back for sure. I felt sad the day was over with Kauri but I was happy because I knew I would see her again. As I shut the door behind me, the night air felt colder than before. Yet, I was filled with warmth and exhilaration. I just had an amazing experience with a wonderful person.

I met with Kauri again on Saturday, September 1, 2007. Mike, my brother-in-law Scott, and I were in Aspen for business. Before our trip, I called Kauri and made an appointment to have a red hibiscus flower and water design added to my right shoulder. The day of the appointment, we rented a car and drove on Highway 82 towards Independence Pass. The drive was breathtaking but it took a long time. I called Kauri and told her that we were more than likely going to be late. She was so kind and never gave me the impression that she was put out or annoyed. She was sympathetic and told me not to worry because I was her only client that day. Kauri said that she was glad I was her only client because she wanted to hide away from all the tourists in town for Labor Day weekend. After three hours in the car, we arrived in Breckenridge. We were only about 45 minutes late. Kauri showed me her sketch and it was gorgeous. I loved it but I also panicked a bit. I was worried that the piece was too big and I would look “too tattooed.” As a result, I opted only to have the hibiscus done. Kauri happily obliged.

As Kauri started the tattoo, Mike and Scott left the studio to walk around town. Kauri and I spent the time talking. My sessions with Kauri seemed more like spending time with a good friend than having a tattoo done. During my tattoo, Mike and Scott visited the Irish pub and had a few beers. They came back to the studio and then hung out until the piece was finished. Like my previous session, Kauri and I talked about everything from lipstick to the Bible. We also discussed the music Kauri was always playing in the studio.

Kauri loved VNV Nation, Type O Negative, Informatik, and Skinny Puppy. She often played VNV and Informatik in her studio. I have to admit that even though I liked the electronic beats, I did not find myself intrigued. Yet, over time, I grew to love the music she played. In March 2008, Kauri burned a CD featuring nine VNV Nation songs, and literally from that moment on, I became a huge fan.

After three and a half hours of sitting in Kauri's tattoo chair, my hibiscus was done. The colors and details were just amazing. I was so happy but I was also tired, hungry, and in a little pain. Kauri wrapped my new tattoo in clear plastic wrap and then we said our goodbyes. Again, I was sad to leave but I was happy because I knew that I would be back to her studio again. I left Kauri's shop with Mike and Scott around 9:00 pm. We went to a nearby burger joint and refueled my drained body. After a well-deserved meal, the three of us drove back to Aspen. The night felt cool and the moon was half full. During our drive, we stopped at the Continental Divide Park on Highway 82. The landscape was draped in colors of black and deep purple. The moon illuminated a few passing clouds, giving them a silvery glow. The altitude was so high that the stars seemed to be right on top of us. I had never seen stars that close before. It was truly a magical night.

I met with Kauri again in early March 2008. She added an orchid, a frangipani, and rain drops to my red hibiscus. Mike also started a huge half-sleeve, Japanese-themed design that featured a beautiful koi turning into a dragon. This visit was so wonderful because I got to spent two days in a row with Kauri. Again, we spent a majority of the time talking. On the day of Mike's tattoo, he dozed off while Kauri and I discussed various topics.

In June 2008, Mike and I visited Breckenridge for the first time in the late spring/early summer. We had only visited during the winter and the late summer/early fall. The daytime temperatures ranged from the low to high 60s and at night, they averaged around 35-40 degrees. Most of the days were bright and sunny and there were no clouds in the sky. However, on the morning of our first full day, Mike and I woke to a cloudy, cold morning. As I went into the condo kitchen to make coffee, I looked out the window and saw that it was snowing! Snow in June? I could not believe it! Even though it snowed off and on for most of the day, the snow did not stick to anything. However, for the reminder of the week, the weather was sunny and the temperatures averaged 65 degrees during the day.

A couple of days later, Mike and I met with Kauri again. Before our appointment, I made Kauri vegan raspberry and dark chocolate bar cookies. Even though Kauri loved them, she told me that she was kind of allergic to chocolate. She went on to say that she loved chocolate but “did not lover her back.” Mike's appointment took place the day before mine. This would be his second session for his giant koi/water design. The next day, I sat for my Colorado columbine flower tattoo. This design covered the black outlined triple moon piece I had done in 2000 and 2002. Kauri added snow, gray shadowing, and a lovely snowflake. As Kauri worked on my lower leg/ankle, I actually dozed off a few times! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be able to tolerate a needle on my skin, let alone snooze while it was happening! That just goes to demonstrate how skilled Kauri was. Nevertheless, it was during this visit that she told me that she was not only leaving Breckenridge to start a studio in Denver, she was getting a divorce as well. She wanted to start fresh and have the ability to do the type of art she wanted. I was sad she would not longer be in Breckenridge, but I was happy and excited for her. Kauri had amazing plans to turn the Denver space into an art venue, music experience, and of course, tattoo studio.

In August 2008, Mike and I traveled to Denver for business. We also got to meet with Kauri again and this time, we got to see her new studio firsthand! Kauri's studio was a warehouse-type building that had once been a recording studio. It was located at 3050 East 43rd Avenue, near the exit for I-70 East. On the day of our appointments, I called a cab to drive me to the studio because my appointment was at 3:00 pm and Mike was still working at his client's offices. When I arrived, I called Kauri on her cell and she came outside to greet me. From the outside, the building looked very industrial and very nondescript. However, upon entering, the studio was not only huge, it had a very hip, minimalist feel. Kauri had painted a mural of an atomic bomb/mushroom cloud on a door that was near a stage area. There were three cute cats running around. One was Kauri's cat, Myscha and the other two were her boyfriend's cats, Dorian and Ro. As I walked through the studio, I saw the skeleton and skull design that Kauri painted on the floor. The colors were intense and the detail was just gorgeous.

Then, Kauri and I entered her tattoo studio room, which was located in the center of the building. Kauri painted a brightly-colored tiki-like skull with red feathers on the floor. There was also a silver, mechanical-looking skeleton form painted on the back of the door. The walls were gray and the floor was lacquered, charcoal-colored concrete. As Kauri prepared for my tattoo, I asked her how her ex-husband was doing since her move and the divorce and she told me that “he was having a hard time letting go.” I learned that he was still in Breckenridge and had no work. He was trying to help Kauri sell her condo that was located just outside town. Kauri was quite stressed about her condo not being sold. The ex actually called her as she was got ready for my piece. Her voice was kind and at no time did she seem annoyed.

Then, it was time for my tattoo. We probably got started around 3:30 – 3:45 pm. Before my appointment, I had sent Kauri a picture of a rosy paintbrush flower. I wanted her to cover the cherries I had done in 2006. Even though I thought the cherries were cute, the design was amateur at best and after having Kauri's art, I wanted everything to look uniform. This was also the first time Kauri did not use a created stencil/transfer for my tattoo. She just looked at the photo and drew freehand on my ankle with a light green sharpie! Now THAT is talent! Kauri ended up incorporating the cherries in the flower piece but she covered most of the remaining parts with deep blues. As Kauri was tattooing me, Mike finally came to the studio. This was his third session for his koi piece. We ended up finishing around midnight. But before we left, Mike and I got to met Kauri's boyfriend, Peter. He was a very cool guy. When I met him, I got a great feeling from him.

A month later, Mike and I went to Denver again. Mike had to finish his work with his clients and pick up the computers he left. On Monday, September 22, Mike and I met with Kauri at her studio. Mike sat first and finally finished his koi piece. It was so pretty! Then, Kauri repaired the frangipani design I had done on my right inner wrist in 2006. Even though the piece was supposed to look like a flower, people thought it was a starfish! Also, the lines of the flower were uneven and shaky. The artist who initially did it was really digging into me and as a result, I was shaking due to the pain. When I told Kauri this, she said that they guy should not have been tattooing anyone. Kauri not only made the lines of the flower perfect, she intensified the color and added green and blue droplets. And when she tattooed me, it was still very tense, but the pain was tolerable. Kauri's touch felt like a comfort the entire time. It was also during this visit that Kauri told us that she was having troubles with the tattoo artist who took over her former studio in Breckenridge. She said that he was not paying his rent and was being rude and belligerent. She was worried that he was going to come to Denver and “throw a brick through her window.” Mike told her to get a lawyer and she said that she was going to meet him in Breckenridge that coming Thursday. We told her not to worry and that the deadbeat tenant had no leg to stand on. Before we left, we got to talk to Peter again, who just got off work. Then Mike and I said our goodbyes and went off to eat a lovely meal at our favorite Italian restaurant in Denver, Piati.

Two days after my our appointment, Mike and I went out with Kauri and Peter. Mike and I drove to the studio and picked them up. As we drove towards Colfax Avenue, we were listening to the 80s station on the Sirius radio. We all shared stories about certain songs, concerts, and funny moments growing up. We soon arrived at our destination, Watercourse restaurant. This is a vegetarian/vegan establishment that not only serves food but has a complete bakery on the premises. We ordered vegetarian nachos and vegan buffalo wings. The food was really good and even Mike loved the wings! For our main courses, Kauri ordered a custom-made salad and I got the cannoli bean pasta. Everything was so tasty and we all had such a great night laughing and talking. It felt so great finally hanging out with Kauri. The night was just amazing. As we left the restaurant and made our way back to the car, a strange black lady came up to Kauri and told her that Kauri's hair was so pretty and she even tried to touch them. Even though Kauri was sweet and kind, I could tell she was a bit weirded out! We all were actually and we laughed about it. We drove back to the studio and said our goodbye. She and I talked about going to see VNV live together the next time they came to Denver We also discussed our plan to fix the Double Happiness tattoo I had done in 2001 and to cover my pentagram with a peony. We all hugged and Mike and I drove back to our hotel. The next day we flew back home with the hopes of returning soon.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, October 21st, I was randomly searching the Internet to see of anyone was talking about Kauri’s Denver studio, Transposed Fusion. I stumbled upon a blog and I read that Kauri was dead. The post stated that she was found in a Denver Marriott Tech Center hotel room by the housekeeping staff. Apparently, she had died the day before. The last person to see her alive was her ex-husband. He was no where to be found and her car was missing. After reading the blog, I started to panic and felt a wave of total disbelief. I thought it was a mistake, if not a cruel joke. I was shocked and I did not believe it was true. I mean, I just saw her less than a month before and there was no way this was happening. I shook with fear. I told my husband and burst into tears. We called Peter at his work and he sadly confirmed it was true.

For the remainder of that week, I was a wreck. I could barely sleep and I experienced bouts of crying and moments of numb disbelief. I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night and unable to sleep. I kept thinking about Kauri and trying to figure things out. My mind was swimming, almost drowning with thought. I felt everything from sadness to rage. How could someone hurt this beautiful person? It was not fair.

On Thursday, October 23rd, 2008, the ex-husband was spotted by US Marshals while driving Kauri’s car in northern New Mexico on Interstate 25. He tried to evade capture by deliberately wrecking the vehicle. He eventually crashed and rolled the car. He was treated for minor injuries and extradited back to Denver. As of this writing, he sits in Denver Jail, awaiting trial.

While I was trying to coax myself to sleep one night, I asked myself, "What would have happened if I decided not to go through with our first appointment?" I realized that I would have missed out on meeting Kauri. I would have missed out on having tattoos that are so amazing, people actually stop to compliment me. Her sense of expression and style were truly special. Kauri took tattooing to another level that most artists will never be able to emulate. Kauri's tattoos are precious to me now more than ever. They are reminders of time spent with Kauri as my friend. I once told Kauri that she would be the only person to ever tattoo me and I meant it. I will never get tattooed again.

I realize that if I canceled that appointment, I would have never had the honor of knowing Kauri Tiyme. With that said, I am glad to have taken that chance. I am thankful for it every day.

I miss you, Kauri. Thank you for everything, precious girl.

And to all the vintage gals, tattooed divas, and alternative queens out there, I want to say thank you for being you! I celebrate all of you (and myself) each day! Treasure your unique spirit and always march to your own beat!


  1. Tragic, but beautifully written!It's great that you took the opportunity to really forge a connection with your artist... not everyone does, and it's a shame. I would love to see pictures of the work she did for you.

    I love VNV Nation myself, and the friend who introduced me to them passed away in 2005. I can't help but think of her every time I hear "Beloved" and I'm sure that after reading this post I will be thinking of your friend as well.

  2. Nicole,

    Thank you for your lovely comments. I really appreciate it. I will be sure to post pictures of my tattoos. Kauri was such an amazing artist and a lovely girl. She was always beaming. Every tattoo session with her was incredible.

    As for VNV, I have been to two of their shows. If you have not seen VNV live before, you have to go! If you have been, you know what I mean.

    When they play "Beloved" (especially Beloved) and "Illusion," I just lose it. When I was at my first show back in July 2009, Ronan actually saw me crying and he called me over the stage. He took my hand and told me, "Whatever it is, it is going to be okay. I am not sad so you shouldn't be." I was so totally blown away. It was a powerful moment. Talk about sensory overload!

    Yet, when I hear "Perpetual," I know Kauri is still out there. She is that "never-ending light."

  3. a beautiful remembrance of a beautiful woman. thank you.

  4. Thank you for your lovely comments, Shrinky Inky. Kauri was indeed beautiful.

  5. Its such a blessing when such strong, beautiful and kindred spirits become a part of our lives.
    Thank you for sharing the wonderful memories of your friend.

  6. Thank you for your touching response, Moxie Tonic. I feel truly blessed for having been Kauri's friend and client. I know she is always going to be with me in my heart but I often still wish the whole thing about her being gone is just a bad dream. I know I have to move on and celebrate her instead of mourn. Her energy was just too powerful to be "gone." I sometimes feel like her energy is still here.