Manuela is tattooist to Queen’s Roger Taylor, but first and foremost she is a fine artist, who has worked in film, sculpture, painting and illustration, ultimately arriving at ink on skin which in her words “seemed to choose me”. Tattooing is both a coming together of all her visual art ideas, and the lookout point from which her art is thought. She travels to Tattoo conventions all over the world, and has been deeply involved in elevating the South African Tattoo industry over the years.
Who is Manuela Gray?
I’m a tattooer and visual artist from Cape Town South Africa. I love traveling and work in Cape Town, London and LA.
What was your first tattoo and what is the story behind it?
My first tattoo was the Egyptian god Osiris holding an Ankh. Representing life and death.
How did you get to design an official range of merchandise for Queen?
I have tattooed Roger for quite a few years, and they asked me to design something that was influenced by my illustrative Tattoo style.
Are you are a fan of Queen?
Of course, I grew up listening to Queen
What other bands are you into?
I have a vast and varied taste in music, from Motown to psych rock to thrash metal and Blues! Some of my favorite bands are, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Eagles of Death Metal, Warpaint, Ravonettes
There is a fantastic picture of you tattooing Roger Taylor on your store page – what is he like under the needle?
Toughest person I have ever tattooed, he can sit there for hours! And an absolute pleasure to spend time with.
Did Roger come to you with ideas on what he wanted or did he see something he liked? Does Roger have a certain style when it comes to his tattoos?
Yes, he always has a very strong idea of what he wants but allows me the freedom to find the best way to make it work.
Is body art less taboo between generations now?
It is way more acceptable than before. So yes.
Is it true tattoos can be addictive?
In a sense. It gets easier to make the choice to get another tattoo, the more you have. And then I think the choice becomes more aesthetic, as in how you want your body to end up looking ie; body suit or full sleeve etc.
Who else in the world of Rock N’ Roll have you worked on? Notably, Vanilla Ice and Rufus Taylor.
Is there any rock star or pop stars that have particularly good body art?
Oliver Sykes , Tim Commerford RATM ,Adam Levine .
Do tattoo artists think ‘I would like to work or collaborate with 'XXX' famous person?'
Sure! It's always amazing collaborating with other creative people.
Can you expand further on the Killer Queen range you mentioned earlier?
Yes, absolutely .. I have designed bikinis and one piece’s out of vintage Queen tour t-shirts, as well as bandanas and embroidered satin jackets.
Did you have free reign to what was designed?
Yes, working with Queen has been a very satisfying experience.
You have worked on the band logo and the News Of The World robot, were there any other Queen imagery you considered?
I love all the vintage imagery, it’s nostalgic for me.
Apart from the Killer Queen range, what other projects are you working on?
I have just made a film on the tattoos of the prison gangs in Cape Town South Africa and have started an initiative to elevate and educate guys tattooing in the gang-torn areas of the cape flats. I will also be bringing out a book of imagery from the film.
You often hold pop up tattoo events, correct?
Yeah, together with my partner Sarina Taylor (Roger’s wife) we set up a private tattoo parlor in a Rock n' Roll members Hotel four times a year. We do a live tattooing event as well as exhibitions.
You have tattooed a couple of the Queen crew too, haven’t you?
I was fortunate enough to go on tour with the band in North America...so yes!
Where can people see more of your work?
Wildfiretattoos.com / Wildfiretattoocollective.com
The Killer Queen Collection is available now through the Official Queen Online Store.