A N DS
R I C K G E N E S T
I LEARNED HOW
AT A FRAGILE
When I was 15 years old I found out I had a brain tumor. The doctors said I had a very small chance that I could outlive it. The only alternative was to get on a long waiting list for open face surgery in hopes of removing it. I guess the first blessing happened on my 16th birthday, when the surger was scheduled. I found out shortly after waking from the surgery that they went into the palette of the roof of my mouth instead of opening up my entire face. I guess you could say that was the second blessing. But the real blessing was that I overcame it completely and I survived something that most people never live through. I was close to death and I escaped it, and now I celebrate life because of it.
IAfter this WANTED
literal escape from death, I had some challenges at home and left at a very young age to spend my teenage years literally on the streets. I started with a hitchhiking tour all t h r o u g h C a n a d a . Essentially I was homeless, sleeping on rooftops and under bridges and free. I met tons of interesting people, and experienced life to the fullest. Surviving the death sentence of a brain tumor was like
F R defyingE death.E.
I felt like the walking dead. I wasnâ€™t supposed to be here. The doctors had told me there was no hope. But here I was, alive and breathing and being so free to live my life. When you live on the streets, you really appreciate just being alive. On the streets, you donâ€™t have first or last names. So they started to call me Zombie, a person who is living but so close to death.
TAT TO O ARTIST BODY AS A
I grew up in an environment where face tattoos were very common. Many of my friends were heavily tattooed and had piercings. By the time I was 22 years old I was already half-way tattooed as a Zombie and starting to get featured in tattoo magazines. I was very young to have this recognition with this kind of extreme tattoo. Then the first real international magazine wanted to fly me out to do a story, but I couldn’t get a passport because of all my mischief from living on the streets, whatever those things kids do when they’re homeless. So, Bizarre magazine came to Montreal to do the first big global story. They did an article about me and distributed it all over the world, and then all the requests came pouring in and I started getting tons of attention.
A B O DY TAT TO O I S L I K E A WA L K I N G A RT F O R M . A body tattoo is like a walking art form. Frank Lewis, my tattoo artist from Montreal, did most of the body artwork and took my project seriously. Frank is like an artist who uses reference material of actual skeletal images to create his designs and you can see all the details in there. But he does all the designs free hand with the marker and then just puts his gun to it. It’s an original design and a totally free style. Sometimes we even have to erase parts and draw up certain places in a couple of times. It is a work in progress, and a long process to get to where it looks today. It doesn’t happen overnight. No one goes to the tattoo parlor and asks for a full body tattoo. I just got a new section inked last week. I think it should be done in about a year. But it took over a decade to get here.