Andy's Gang

by Cindy-jo Dietz

ANDY AND ALAINNA HOWL opened Howl Gallery/Tattoo in 2009 in downtown Fort Myers, and now offer tattoo enthusiasts quality tattoo work by Andy himself, Matt Lackey and Steve (aka Bananas). Fine art by Andy, Matt and other like-minded artists are exhibited in the gallery along with special shows changing monthly.

Howl graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 1998 and expects his artists to have a trained eye for illustration as well. He explains, “A lot of people come to us and want to tattoo. They have a tattoo portfolio, but no art training. That really is a big deciding factor in who we hire. If you have no art training beyond high school, you’re probably not going to be as competitive in the tattooing world. It comes down to having a trained eye — where you know what good art looks like and you can produce it.”

“Everybody here has their own strengths,” says Howl. “We’re not trying to compete with each other. We’re all just trying to find our own niche. Steve, Bananas is a solid tattoo artist. He’s been here almost since we’ve opened. Everybody loves him. Matt Lacky is a painter who started tattooing. We have three, going on four artists and I’m going to be training another tattoo artist, Mandelin, soon. She’s going to be starting her apprenticeship in May.” Andy anticipates a minimum six month apprenticeship before she will be ready for tattooing the public.

A native of Williamston, Michigan, Andy grew up right outside of Michigan State Uniuversity. “I was encouraged to be an artist from a young age.” he says. “My earlier influences during college were artists like Charles Burnes, (black and white graphics) and Bernie Rightson (comic bookish, but also kind of Victorian).” When asked about his current influences he admits, “I’ve kind of fallen out of concentrating on specific artists. It’s more now where I’m just looking at everything all the time — like stuff that’s on Tumblr.com, tattoo art, photos from magazines.”

He describes his own style as, “Influenced by comic Books, but it also has a kind of Pop and Japanese tattoo-oriented element in it.” A few of his upcoming projects include t-shirt art for the local band After The Fact and artwork for placement in The Dean building in downtown Fort Myers. “It will be like historic downtown ‘Fort Myers meets Attack of the Giant Monsters’, he notes, “That’s kind of been the vibe of a lot of what I’ve been doing — mixing historic elements with more Pop and contemporary art.” In fact, the gallery’s exhibition in June of Howl’s work is titled, ‘Monsters Attack Fort Myers’. The opening reception is June 1, 6-10pm, during Art Walk, and will be on view through June 29.

Like many artists, Andy has a very personal way of approaching his pieces. “When I look at a piece of art I can see in my own mind whether it looks correct or not, in some kind of cosmic kind of way,” he explains. “There’s always going to be a consistency to what I’m producing. The medium might change, but you’ll still be able to tell that I did it because of how I see things.”

Andy is excited about his upcoming shows at the gallery. “We’ve got a couple group shows. One of them is a local show in May that we do every year,” he says. ‘SWFL Lives!’ is the fourth annual group show featuring artists from Southwest Florida. The opening reception for the event coincides with Art Walk on May 4 and can be viewed through May 31.

When asked how he decides who to display at his gallery he says, “We like contemporary art. We like Pop art. We like the whole Low-Brow, West Coast scene. It’s a mix of those things.” Howl’s website, HowlGallery.com, features portfolios of the tattoos Andy, Lackey and Bananas have designed and also of work by artists the gallery represents.

Andy explains why he chose to balance fine art with tattooing into one business. “It’s a special type of person who wants to buy original art whereas tattooing appeals to everybody. The two things fit together very well.” But he notes, “The tattooing is our bread and butter.”

He continues, “We looked for a long time to find a space and this was definitely the best. Not just because of the inside, but because of the patio out back, too. There are only so many locations that have that.”

Not only do the Howls host talented tattoo and fine artists alike, but they also utilize their back patio by inviting local musicians to perform at events such as Music Walk. Andy boasts, “We’ve become known for having a really good venue for original bands. Local favorites After The Fact, FLF and Ghost Dog will be performing on May 18, 7-10pm.

They also present live music on their patio during Art Walk, but with a slightly different flavor. “We decided to keep Art Walk a little bit more mellow,” he says. “We usually have the What We Do drummers. They’re a whole group of guys that drum, a guy who does guitar work. And they have awesome belly dancers. It’s a different vibe, and that’s what we wanted.”

As one of the co-chairs of Art Walk and Music Walk, Andy has been instrumental in the rejuvination of Fort Myers’ River District. Downtown had just finished enduring an extended period of heavy construction and road repaving and it needed something to re-brand and re-market the area to the community and to vacationing visitors. Art Walk did just that. It’s been a huge success and it continues to grow. He opines, “The collective marketing effort is way more effective than just trying to market each singular entity. I think that without the Art Walk collective marketing effort downtown it wouldn’t be nearly as important as it is now to the area.” Art Walk is on the first Friday of each month and Music Walk is the third Friday of each month. •

May-June 2012

Audrey Snow Photography
“It’s a special type
of person who wants
to buy original art
whereas tattooing
appeals to everybody.”
Howl Gallery/Tattoo
historic River District
downtown Fort Myers
Andy Howl