Palm Black Trading Co.

This space is a lot of things. 'Creative hub' isn't one of them

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

“I f***ing hate that term,” says Raoul Goetze, who is busy prepping inks, machines and artwork for a client who is about to be permanently marked. Palm Black Tattoo Co. is perched on top of the mezzanine level that overlooks Raoul’s empire, Palm Black Trading Co., which has Nico Nigrini running his menswear label, Stiebeuel; Derick van Wijk doing design work; Ian Jepson and Simon Berndt screen printing and Rose Marie, who assists Raoul, sharing the ground floor.

“I was at Wildfire before where I apprenticed Manuela Gray and this is the first space that’s all mine. I do appointments only. It’s a bit calmer that way. Wildfire was great for foot traffic, but I’m quite anal and I like things planned ahead.”

There’s a second, empty plinth, which Dave Chaston was working from before heading back east, waiting for the next travelling or guest artist.

“I was struggling to find a suitable space for a while, and then stumbled across an ad on Gumtree, which had no photos, but I took a shot in the dark and when I did see the space I took it as it had the potential to be a lot of different things in one space.”

The workshop at the back made renovating the space, which had been used as a photographic studio and editing suite, easy.

“I knocked shit out. Put things up. That sounds like I know what I’m doing, but is not the case. Now I just like being here. It’s kinda like a new baby. I just want to sit here and be in here and stare at stuff. Keeping the fridge stocked with beer makes that easier. And it’s really rewarding having put in so much work, making it look so rad and then having people acknowledge it.”

What’s been celebrated for a while now is Raoul’s tattooing, a mixed bag of traditional work, dot work and sacred geometry.

“It’s hard here in South Africa. We’re not quite there yet compared to overseas. If you’re going to create a niche, you’ll struggle. There just aren’t enough people. So I do bits of everything. Which I don’t mind doing as it’s a bit more challenging going from one style to the next.”

Is there anything Raoul won’t do?

“What, like placement or subject matter? I’m not going to tattoo some guys O-ring if that’s what you’re asking. It’s also really hard saying, ‘Dude, this thing you’ve been pondering for the last two years is so shit!’ So you try help people. Steer them in a better direction. It’s not really about being offended, though. I’d do anything, really. What’s offensive to me won’t necessarily offend someone else.”

When Raoul isn’t tattooing he’s busy with the bar that he runs with Benjamin Cox at The Old Biscuit Mill. Or Psych Night.

“Sometimes I hate myself for it. I have a tendency to stack the plate a bit too much. I guess it keeps things fresh. When I left Wildfire I took a holiday, and then when I started again I really appreciated tattooing again. Sometimes the one thing is great, and then the other thing makes something else feel like a holiday.”

Raoul’s other labour of love is music. He used to play for a bunch of bands, the most recent being The Wild Eastern Arches, and now he’s happier behind the scenes bringing down bands that include Night Beats, The Golden Animals and Allah Las.

“Right now we’re busy negotiating and sorting out red tape for the end of the year. Psyche is a weird term; I suppose that’s bands that draw inspiration from the 60s and 70s, an umbrella term that allows us to have a variety.  We don’t take anything from Psyche Night and everything we make goes into the next one. It’s really fun. Allah Las came down before the show and we surfed and drank and almost forgot why they were here.”

And that’s the beauty of what Raoul does, it doesn’t actually feel like work, he’s just doing what he does and having a good time while doing it.

Nice work if you can get it.