20 Years of Whistler Artistry: An Interview with Dave Petko
An artist, a visionary, a true Whistler local. If you don’t know Dave “Pepe” Petko, you’ve seen his work- on gallery walls, at festivals, on the streets and, for the most part, on people.
Born in Ontario, Dave moved to Whistler in 1995 and hasn’t looked back. Known not only as a tattoo artist and owner of Black Ohm Tattoos, he works in many mediums. After being a huge part of the Whistler art scene for the last 20 years, we felt it was overdue to sit down and chat with the artist – how he got here, what he’s done, and what he’s planning to do.
So how did you end up in Whistler?
I came to Whistler to work at Toad Hall Studios, I managed the sticker printing department. I have a diploma in screen printing and was working at a printing shop in Vancouver which closed and after a couple of months being unemployed got bored not working and heard Toad Hall was looking for someone to work there. I made a phone call and after an interview was offered the job.
Were you always an artist? When did you realize your artistic talents
I would say I always liked drawing and painting (I helped my folks paint our house when I was 3 years old and when their backs were turned I painted half our neighbour’s car) I took a couple of art classes in high school and never looked back. Art seemed natural to me but it has been something I have worked at in order to better my practice.
How did you get into tattooing?
At Toad Hall Studios back in the day there were mainly artists working there who didn’t make gallery friendly art, so we decided to organize an underground art show at Maxx Fish the year it opened. We all had our hands at building and decorating and painting Maxx Fish; Jorge Alvarez was managing the nightclub, so it seemed the obvious venue. I was approached by the original owner of Black Ohm Sonja Prevost and was asked to be her apprentice.
You’re celebrating 20 years this year – how does it feel?
It feels great!
Any favorite tattoos (or customers) over the years?
I have tattooed musicians, Olympic athletes, artists, people from every walk of life. It’s hard to pick a favorite tattoo.
You do other art as well – can you tell us more about it?
I do quite a bit of art besides painting and tattoos. I do some sculptural work; sketch in my sketchbooks; life drawing; screenprint; create digital works. I have been making large scale art installations at music festivals as well. It started with BassCoast when that event was in Squamish and every year I help out with building my own installations or act as art director for the two main stages. I am part of an art collective called the Guild and we have been designing and building art installations as well as environments at music festivals such as Pemberton Music Festival and Tortuga Festival in Florida. We designed and built the entrance gate trees as well as 5 other installations of art at the last Pemby Fest. It’s a blast using pneumatic staplers, skill saws and other power tools building these large installations, it’s quite different than sitting on my ass pulling lines with a tattoo machine or a paintbrush.
AW: Do you have a favourite piece?
Not really. I have so many paintings it would be hard to pick favourite. Whichever piece I am working on at the time would have to be my favourite.
What is your favourite medium?
Again, it’s hard to pick a favourite, I really love working on skin and the challenges it brings.
Anything new you’ve haven’t done yet that you want to try?
I have yet to do foundry work. I have been interested in casting metal for a while but have not even looked into yet as my time is taken up by other artistic pursuits. I have made molds and have cast concrete as well as epoxy but not yet metal. I think that would be amazing working with molten metals such as bronze and silver. Something else I want to do is sculpt digitally and then 3D print what I have sculpted. I am teaching myself the basics of a modeling program called Z Brush with the intent of bringing this dream to life.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a solo exhibit of paintings. I have two venues I can exhibit at, one is in Whistler and the other in downtown Vancouver.
How has Whistler changed for you over the years?
It has gotten busier with visitors. When I first was working here we had shoulder seasons where there was no work and we used to go hang out at lost lake at the dog beach. Now there are events every weekend. There is no shoulder season anymore. I have always lived and worked in Function Junction and even Function is busier with cars and foot traffic.
The art of tattooing has changed too – what are the biggest differences between tattooing now versus 20 years ago?
That’s a big question and I will bring up two major changes. One is rotary machines and the other is needle cartridges. Those two things have made tattooing simpler and have made it more accessible to art school grads and people who don’t know a thing about electronics, springs and magnets to get into tattooing and make incredible artwork on human skin.
AW: What’s next for you?
DP: I am going to keep doing what I am doing. I enjoy my life and am living my dream. I have been living my dream for almost 30 years now when I came out west to “be an artist”
Check out Dave’s work:
Black Ohm turns 20 years
October 20, 2019
Black Ohm Tattoos turns 20 years and they’re having an open house at the studio 4-6 pm, followed by a party at Whistler Brewing Company 6-10 pm.
– Tunes by Vinyl Ritchie
– Door prizes and fun stuff happening.
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